On November 1st, the Government published the Towns Fund Prospectus which laid out the details on the thinking and research behind the need for the fund and the process Lead Councils should follow to administer the £25m fund, set up a Town Deal Board, and develop Investment Plans to apply for the funding by the summer of 2020.
On January 16th, Thanet District Council (TDC) posted an advertisement on their website with a job description for the role of Chair of the Margate Town Deal Board. The deadline set by Thanet District Council for applications is February 10th. The job description listed a series of attributes/skillset for applicants. These are not from the government Prospectus:
- Proven ability to think strategically
- Relevant experience of a senior or influential position demonstrating strategic leadership and effectiveness over a significant period
- Experience of providing effective direction and leadership, including developing, implementing and monitoring corporate business strategies
- Ability to apply interpersonal, influence and networking skills to build commitment and consensus within a wide constituency of business community and political stakeholders and to deliver agreed outcomes
- Knowledge of Thanet is desirable
- Experience of regeneration and economic development
- A background in the private sector, which could include a Community Interest Company"
According to the Government Prospectus published in November, TDC will have received capacity funding of £162,019 to cover the costs of:
“- Running business and wider community engagement events;
- Developing Town Investment Plans;
- Providing technical expertise for business case development;
- Convening [a] Town Deal Board.”
The Government Prospectus outlines a specific process and states that Lead Councils should publish the Town Deal Board’s governance and ways of working. Following which, the assembled Town Deal Board appoints a Chair:
“2.23 The Lead Council should publish the Town Deal Board’s governance structure and ways of working, such as a statement for how the board will engage stakeholders and agree decisions over time. Lead Councils should set out how capacity funding will be spent, and how that will support the process of developing a good Town Investment Plan.
2.24 Whilst the Town Deal Board serves an advisory function to the Lead Council, we expect all members to adhere to the Nolan Principles, set out clear Terms of Reference, and agree to a Code of Conduct.
2.25 While we recognise that each place is different, Town Deal Boards should appoint a Chair. Where appropriate we expect this Chair to be from the private sector.”
- The Prospectus states the process of setting up the Town Deal Boards and the development of Investment Plans should be ‘open by default’.
- That the terms of governance and ways of working should be published on the Council’s website.
- And, crucially, that the Town Deal Board should themselves appoint a Chair.
- The funding already allocated of £169,019 should be utilised from the beginning of the outlined process to engage with local people in the community.
- Local people have talents and knowledge. Funding is stated as eligible to be spent on bringing in business expertise, should it be required, to support the work of the board. What’s imperative is that the process is open and transparent and seen to be so.
Background to the Towns Fund scheme
The fund Prospectus mentions ‘levelling up’ of a number of regions in the UK that are the background to this funding allocation. Margate is a coastal town on the east coast. This is related to recently published research that identified some of the UK’s areas that are facing unique challenges in combatting deprivation levels.
Why is Margate one of the 101 towns chosen for funding?
The Towns Fund Prospectus references research that was commissioned by Local Trust, an organisation that was established in 2012 to run the National Lottery-funded Big Local scheme. This committed £1m each to 150 neighbourhoods across England. You might have heard of the Big Local scheme in Newington, also in Thanet. Through their work with communities, Local Trust found that some towns and areas suffering high deprivation faced further difficulties and challenges, predominantly around the lack of meeting spaces, connectivity and transport. This restricts the ability of communities to come together to meet, organise to rejuvenate. Local Trust commissioned research consultancy Oxford Consultants for Social Inclusion (OCSI) a spinout from the Social Disadvantage Research Centre at the University of Oxford. The resulting research is covered in the report Left Behind? Understanding Communities on the Edge report, published in September 2019.
“The report suggests that places to meet, connectivity – both physical and digital – and an active, engaged community are vital to secure better social and economic outcomes for people living in deprived neighbourhoods.” Local Trust, 2019OCSI have now developed the Community Needs Index. This is available to public authorities and organisations.
The data within the Community Needs Index lists two Wards in Margate: Cliftonville West and Dane Valley.
Cliftonville West Ward
Dane Valley Ward
It makes sense, therefore, that investment funding from the Margate Towns Fund is prioritised to benefit those two areas within the future Margate Town Investment Plan. This is because the data behind the Left Behind? Report, the Community Needs Index are referenced in the Towns Fund prospectus and thinking. Margate is identified as eligible for this funding, because of the challenges identified within Cliftonville West and Dane Valley. That’s not to say that 100% of the funding should be allocated there, but it’s evident that improving the lives of people living in these two wards and should be a clear focus.
OCSI kindly provided me with data sheets to share, illustrating this. Google Sheet here. There are other areas of Thanet within the Community Needs Index (Eastcliff, Newington and Northwood). However, they are not part of Margate and the 101 towns selected by the government this time around for funding.
More information from Local Trust on the Community Needs Index:
"It supports the case for new solutions to ‘level up’ civic infrastructure (such as community centres, libraries, green spaces) and improve connectivity and community engagement. It asks government to answer the call of the Community Wealth Fund Alliance for the next wave of dormant assets from stocks, shares, bonds, insurance and pension funds to be invested in left-behind neighbourhoods for this purpose.
The report also asks government to establish a joint cross-government/civil society task force to consider evidence and develop recommendations to improve social and economic outcomes for people in left-behind areas, and to allocate an appropriate proportion of the £3.6bn Stronger Towns Fund and the proposed UK Shared Prosperity Fund to them.’"
What needs to happen, is that local people are actively involved and invited to participate with the entire process, and this should include the decision-making and assembling the administration of the funding scheme. This should include recruitment to the Town Deal Board, the appointment of a Chair and setting the priority areas of Cliftonville West and Dane Valley for the fund to benefit. There shouldn't be a prescriptive, top-down approach that overemphasises the so-called corporate skillset of board members or Chair. There is money to bring in business support and guidance should it be needed. What's key is that this fund is administered with an understanding and the trust of the communities it is set up to assist.