Questions raised and recommendation made on future Levelling Up Funding.

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For anyone needing to keep a handle on where the evolving, post Brexit mechanisms for future economic development and structural funding, both in England and in the devolved Nations might now be heading, it would prudent to take a look at today’s report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on recent levelling up and associated funding awards.

As ever, any Parliamentary committees’ findings and their recommendations are just that; recommendations. HMG has two months in which to respond and that response could be to reject and do nothing about some or all of the 7 main areas highlighted by PAC. However, this committee, by the nature of its remit, is relatively influential.  Its finding on this occasion do appear to have substance and it is therefore likely that HMG and the relevant department will have at the very least have to acknowledge some of the comment and implied criticism and make appropriate adjustments to what is a (the?) critical leaver in a (the?) key domestic policy area for the PM and the current administration.  The happenstance timing of the publication is therefore also perhaps relevant, in that it is perhaps more likely than at any other time to excite Departmental and Cabinet Office level interest and hopefully elicit positive responses?

Given the nature of some of the comments made by the committee and expressed previously elsewhere regarding the potential motivation behind the selection for inclusion in some of the funding programmes (Towns Fund in particular) it should be stressed that PAC’s remit is to look at how public funding is spent and not why.  Even with this caveat the report’s first conclusion and recommendations are very critical of a lack of transparency and therefore fairness in selection.  The tone of committee’s press release is even more robust than the report itself in this respect.

Obviously, I (this) could have waited until HMG or more accurately in this case Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) pronounce, probably near or on the 2-month deadline in late July early September. However, I am aware and indeed one of the report main findings is that: “There remains considerable uncertainty for Local Authorities around funding, structures and responsibilities for local economic growth”.  On that basis alone, spreading the news now that the PAC have at least recognise the issues and Government will have at least to respond to it in some way is important and shouldn’t be delayed.

There are numerous different versions of the report available in both summary and full report form, from the PAC committee’s public/press release page. (here).  Although the press release is worth a quick scan in itself, if only to get a feeling for the committee’s critical tone that is not fully reflected in the report itself, I would recommend that colleagues take time to look briefly at selected sections of the full report itself (see below).

If you are not sure how relevant the full report is to you, you need only scan the short summary and introduction paragraphs, pages 3 and 4 and read the dozen plus sentences containing the conclusion and recommendations, all highlighted in bold at the top and tail of the 7 individual sections, pages 5 to 7, to understand what the issues and the suggested remedies are. It’s a couple of minutes effort at most (here) and it has several advantages over reading the (longer) summary report in full.

If a specific area/issue is of particular importance to you or your destination, you can read the whole paragraph not just its top and tail.  The complete detail behind each conclusion and associated recommendation can then also be easily found in the rest of the report which you will have to hand without the need to go looking for it elsewhere.

While it may not be unreasonable to assume that colleague working directly in economic development or with other close interests in the subject of future structural funding avenues will be aware of today’s report, I’d be inclined to suggest it is best not to assume and better to get word of something twice than not at all.  Please consider circulating this note or your own version, internally and externally, as necessary. 

My instinct is that, with everything else going on at the moment, this unintentionally well timed intervention by PAC may be rather more important than it might first appear and equally, very easily missed when set against the backdrop of the prevailing difficult domestic and international circumstances. I am therefore all the more keen to see the report widely circulated and hopefully, as a consequence, HMG encouraged to respond to it as positively as is possible.

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