Business urged to step up as councils struggle to shape bids for funds

Warrington Youth Zone backed by Assura

The North West Business Leadership Team has urged businesses to support resource starved local councils in funding bids in order to develop active place strategies in the towns, cities and communities where they operate.

Citing a series of case studies including BAE Systems work on Barrow’s town investment plan and the role of Assura in funding a new Youth Zone in Warrington and Bruntwood’s activist role in Bury, the report calls for businesses to provide challenge to ideas and proposals for improving places, especially in helping establish what the real benefits of a project might be and whether it provides value for money. 

Andy Hulme, Head of Innovation and Growth at NWBLT said there’s an opportunity for businesses to contribute to bidding processes because councils are increasingly strapped for funding and capacity .

“This impacts on their ability to deliver the day-to-day help and support that business needs — and also on their ability to deal with the additional challenge of trying to access competitive funding competitions designed to help boost place and ‘level up’, or major projects the like of which might only rarely pass through an economic development or planning team’s desk. We wanted to consider how the private sector can help through genuine partnerships and collaboration in place,” he said.

Assura, through its Community Foundation has so far given out around £1.4m in grants to community health projects across the country. One of the most significant of these is being a founder patron to the new £6.4m Warrington Youth Zone which opened in July this year. 

Bruntwood, which sponsored the report, formed a new joint venture with Bury Council to buy Mill Gate Shopping Centre in 2022. The report argues that Bruntwood’s role extends beyond the physical development and operation of a shopping centre, and they are using their commercial and partnership experience to help rejuvenate the town centre. An advisory board, which Bruntwood’s Director for Towns chairs, has been set up and tasked with creating a Place Plan that will bring businesses, communities and the public sector together around shared aims and coordinate the investment that is going into the town over the next five years. 

BAE Systems took part in a successful application for £25m of government funding to improve the town centre, including plans for a £10.4m Barrow Learning Quarter.

Working with the UK2070 Commission and NWBLT Members including AECOM, Arup and Bruntwood, the report aims to stimulate discussion about “the positive role of business in the debate about place and place-based economic regeneration”.

The report claims anecdotal feedback on the 100+ initial bids to the Towns Fund suggests that the best submissions were those that were able to demonstrate meaningful engagement with, and leadership by, business. 

Stephen Gleave, cities director at Aecom, who helped to lead the work, said: “This approach also has benefits for businesses directly including building better, more positive relationships with local authorities and communities for ‘doing business’. We recognise the many financial and capacity constraints that public sector agencies currently face when trying to develop and deliver place-based projects and initiatives and we are keen to continue to explore what more business can do to make a positive impact to the places in which they are located.”


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