VITAL LOCALLY-LED PROJECTS for boosting business, supporting local communities and regenerating high streets in England are at risk due to UK government delays in approving councils’ investment plans.

The Local Government Association, which represents councils, said clarity is urgently needed on when they will receive their respective allocations from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), for which the plans have been drawn up. The Government has previously committed to approve local investment plans by October, but the decision has repeatedly been pushed back.

These delays reduce the time for councils to deliver the first year allocations for the fund, with less than four months remaining of this financial year. The LGA says the Government should therefore work with councils and combined authorities, including providing them with greater flexibilities on how they use this funding across the three year programme, to minimise the impact of the delay.

It comes as inflation and rising costs also makes councils’ ambitious plans to level up their communities more difficult to achieve, underlining the importance of a prompt decision by government. The LGA says the Government can go further and enable councils to make longer term investments, by providing them with the same time span and amount of funding as its predecessor European programme.

The UKSPF, which replaces the seven-year European Structural and Investment Fund, is intended to be used by councils and combined authorities to create jobs, support small and medium enterprises, invest in communities and improve pride in place across the country.

£250 million was allocated directly to councils and combined authorities for the first year of UKSPF, for 2022/23, out of a total of £2.6 billion and was originally intended to be spent between October 2022 and the end of March 2023, but this period has now been squeezed due to successive delays.

It comes after the recent Autumn Statement confirmed that the second round of the Levelling Up Fund allocated at least £1.7 billion to priority local infrastructure projects, with successful bids to be announced before the end of the year.

Cllr Kevin Bentley, Chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board, said: “Local leaders want to get on with the work of levelling up their communities, but are waiting on government to give them the go-ahead when it comes to the UKSPF.

“Investment plans, setting out how they intend to boost businesses, high streets, community support and a whole range of other areas, have been submitted by councils and combined authorities, but continual delays in approval make it harder for them to deliver their ambitions. What is needed now is a clear decision from government on the UKSPF, so that these vital projects – which are so essential to our economic growth and recovery – can be kickstarted before inflation and prices rise further.”

* More about the UK Shared Prosperity Fund here.

* Source: Local Government Association