Valuing towns. People make the difference.

June 20, 2019

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by Pippa Coutts, Policy and Development Manager, Carnegie UK Trust

This month Carnegie UK Trust was pleased to join the Community Wealth Fund Alliance, a network of civil society organisations and funders campaigning for the next release of dormant assets to become a long-term endowment for deprived communities. A resource that communities would manage.

Many of these communities will be in towns potentially eligible for the Stronger Towns Fund, announced in March. More details on the fund are due soon in a prospectus, but at the moment it sounds slightly prescriptive, with the Stronger Towns Fund aiming to create ‘new jobs and growth’ in towns. Carnegie UK Trust, along with other independent funders, Community Wealth Fund Alliance members and towns’ stakeholders are thinking about what we’d like to see in the prospectus.

Carnegie UK Trust has for several years argued for the place of towns in policy. The voice of towns has often been lost in a focus on cities (28 City Deals have been agreed in England and within those there is scant attention to the towns). An unbalanced focus on cities is harmful to towns as it doesn’t take into account the strengthens and needs of towns (where two in five people in the UK live. We think, policy makers need to rethink their relationship with towns to maximise the impact of any investment there.

There is no strategy or vision for towns within the UK Government, with policies and funds spread across departments, which dissipates their impact, as they don’t necessarily join up or support each other. Alongside this, there is a lack of transparency about the funds available for the economic development of towns and regions across the UK. For example, when the Stronger Towns Fund was released, social media and online responses described it as ‘a drop in the ocean’ compared to the funding cuts from other directions: local authorities in England will suffer cuts of 37% (over £1.3bn) to the Revenue Support this year.

Towns’ flourishing has been hampered by a lack of a coherent vision, but also by a lack of local control. We believe it is important to develop the capacity of towns, and their local leaders, to make decisions, including on spending priorities. We are seeing this happen across the county through our projects, such as Twin Towns, which fostered local leadership development and peer support, and the partnership with The Stove in Dumfries with artists leading local regeneration. And it’s not only us – the Big Local programme has directly funded and empowered 150 deprived communities to make spending decisions, and there are frequent stories of towns turning themselves around without external support to the extent that it’s been called ‘a local uprising’.

If you look at these stories, you will find that towns don’t often take matters into their own hands because of lack of economic growth – what’s important is parks, pools and public meeting spaces. People are looking for a change in systems to have more say over what happens locally and often this is around ‘social infrastructure’: that is buildings, facilities and services that promote connection and community wellbeing.

At Carnegie UK Trust we are continuing to ask ourselves and others what his means for policy makers, for the promised structural funding like the Stronger Towns Fund, and for philanthropic and lottery funders. To hear more about some of our thoughts look out for the release of our short videos on Valuing Towns, to be released on our website this summer.