Investment Plan to be issued as a supplement Thursday 30 June
Members considered a report which set out the draft West Lindsey UK Shared Prosperity Fund Investment Plan and sought Member’s approval, that the Plan be submitted to the Government.
The UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) was a central pillar of the UK Government’s Levelling Up agenda and a significant component of its support for places across the UK. It provided three year’s funding for local investment, with all areas of the UK having received an allocation; West Lindsey District Council’s being £2.7 million.
In order to “unlock” the allocation, local places were required to develop an investment plan, setting out priorities for investment, and what a place could achieve through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, for its places, residents, communities and businesses.
Whilst the opportunities presented by the UK Shared Prosperity Fund were recognised, it was also acknowledged, the Fund alone, could not address all of the identified local challenges.
The West Lindsey UK Shared Prosperity Fund Investment Plan set out a shared endeavour and was based upon a robust evidence base, established and adopted strategic priorities and wide-ranging stakeholder engagement. The Plan proposed how the Fund could be invested across the three Government priorities of: -
· Communities and Place
· Supporting Local Businesses; and
· People and Skills.
Within each priority, the report proposed a set of high-level interventions, which, once further developed into business cases, would deliver the desired outputs and outcomes, as set out in the guidance.
The submission to Government required local authorities to set out strategic priorities. A two-stage approach, that would satisfy the Government requirements, for submission, whilst allowing work to continue in the development of business cases, for each of the investment priorities, had been adopted.
Each business case would be the subject of a future decision by the Corporate Policy and Resources Committee. Once the Investment Plan was submitted, it was understood there would be a process of engagement and discussion with Government, ultimately ending in a funding contract.
In support of the published report, Members received a detailed presentation from the Director of Planning, Regeneration and Communities.
During the presentation, Members received information relating to: -
· The creation and intention of the Government’s Shared Prosperity Fund;
· The two phased Approach (Phase 1. Submission to UK Government, Phase 2. Business Case Development for Internal Sign-Off) which had been developed;
· The stakeholder engagement which had been undertaken;
· The key challenges summarised in the Themes;
· The key opportunities in West Lindsey;
· How the Plan had been shaped, the Investment Plan Framework; the Over-arching Vision and Golden Thread;
· The key structural challenges in West Lindsey;
· Interventions being developed and the approach;
· An overview of the proposed projects;
· The Investment Plan – Financial Strategy and the funding split by investment area; and
· The Governance and Next Steps.
The UKSPF was a £2.6bn programme for local investment distributed, via a funding formula. The fund was part of a suite of investment made available under the Levelling Up agenda and succeeded EU Structural Funds. The fund could support interventions that ran from 1st April 2022 to March 2025.
Guidance published by the Government set three investment priorities – under which local places could build their own package of investment proposals. The three priorities were:
· Communities and Place
· Supporting Local Businesses
· People and Skills
The Investment Plan set out proposals under each of the objectives and the £2.7 million allocation made to West Lindsey would be equally split over the three financial years. Plans had to include a minimum capital spend of 10%.
The Council had ambitious plans to support the inclusive growth and regeneration of its communities, with much of the two policy committees’ focus, over the last year and more, having being on creating the policy context and funding environment, which supported its growth agenda.
In establishing the project, as well as the two phased approach adopted, four key pillars had been developed: -
1. A strong evidence base – reviewing and reconfirming understanding of key challenges across the district, checking these with partners and ensuring evidence drives action.
2. Collaboration – it was very important that our Members, our staff and our partners were engaged through this process and their knowledge and understanding of local issues was fed into the plans
3. System leadership – seeing the Council’s role as one of bringing together our partners and understanding opportunities to work towards a common goal
4. District wide focus – ensuring that the needs of all of our places are understood and that the benefits of regeneration are felt across our diverse mix of communities
Importantly, the timing of the UKSPF had also presented an opportunity to align the work to that of the planned refresh of the Corporate Plan.
Phase 2 of the approach would happen post submission and would see a business case for each of the three investment priorities developed for sign off by Committee.
In order to maximise the impact of the UKSPF on communities, places and businesses, it was intended to develop a best in class approach to mobilisation, delivery and oversight of the interventions, using the adopted five-point business case model to ensure thorough, robust and assured processes.
The four key pillars that would guide the investment plan implementation were outlined as follows: -.
1. Future proofing of the Council operating model
2. Partnership delivery
3. Long term sustainability
4. Monitoring and evaluation
The collaboration undertaken to date was outlined, and all those stakeholders involved thus far were thanked. This had included; workshops with Members, Officers and Partners; Engagement with existing structures such as the Employment and Skills and the Place Boards; Discussions with neighbouring councils, the LEP and providers to understand current delivery and options for the future.
This engagement had helped shape the Plan to-date, with more engagement to come in Phase 2, with stakeholders being a key element of further developing the detailed interventions and their delivery models.
The Investment Plan provided a detailed analysis of the needs and opportunities across West Lindsey which were set out in Chapter 3; these had been considered across the three investment priorities.
This analysis and review had provided the basis for the development of the Theory of Change (page 7 of the draft Plan), which set out: -
· what problems are the Council trying to solve?
· what can the Council do to address the problems?
· what outcomes would be delivered? and
· what is the long-term change that the Council will contribute towards?
The rationale for using the “The Theory of Change” approach to investment planning was outlined. This was deemed best practice and recognised by the Government when reviewing such Plans.
Key challenges that had arisen as core issues for the UKSPF to consider were-
· Social isolation, limited and difficult to access services including leisure and culture
· Pockets of severe deprivations and areas at risk
· Lack of accessible and quality green spaces
· Limited investment in research and design
· Narrow traditional economic base
· Low educational attainment and low levels of provision
· High levels of health inequality in places; and
· Young vulnerable people lacking in support
Opportunities identified included:
· Building on successful events and spreading the benefits across the district
· Collaborating with partners to deliver shared outcomes
· Existing strong sectors such as agriculture, tourism and manufacturing provide huge potential
· Our micro businesses are flexible, fleet of foot and keen to grow and develop
· Our employment and skills partnership is supportive of developing the skills and employment opportunities across the district
Officers highlighted how feedback from stakeholders had been incorporated into the Draft Plan presented to Members. A key message from the engagement had been that communities should be the focus and ensuring that the benefit of investment was felt in places that need it the most. This ethos had informed the place-based approach to delivery (set out on page 35 of the Plan) and the development of three delivery models:
· District wide interventions
· Community led grant funding
· Targeted interventions
Elected Members, in particular, had wanted to see the issues of crime, fuel poverty, community infrastructure for the young and elderly, access to broadband and education and training featuring more heavily in the Plans.
Officers demonstrated how from the Government’s intervention framework the Council had shaped its Plans using the design principles, particularly noting how the work of the Committees, through approved plans and polices, had fed into the emerging overarching objectives of the West Lindsey UKSPF Investment Plan.
The Vision for achievement by the Investment Plan, had been driven by the Council’s ambition to make West Lindsey “a place where residents can live the best lives they can. Where businesses and economies can thrive and the environment is managed in a sustainable way, ensuring that this District builds on its local identity, recognising its heritage and natural assets.”
This Plan showed how the Council, working with partners and local communities, could ensure that West Lindsey was “a place that stands out as an area where residents can have a good quality life and where businesses and communities continue to thrive.”
In the context of communities and places, this meant resilient communities and well-connected places, where people felt safe and were happy to live.
Recognising that the key to this was prosperous towns and villages across the area, to support this, the District’s businesses needed to be resilient and productive, operating in a context where the historic and natural environment were maximised. In context of “People”, barriers to work needed to be removed and it needed to be ensured there was the opportunity to engage in training which was accessible, with end results meeting the needs of local businesses.
Whilst the vision and interventions had been developed based on the 3 investment priorities, three cross cutting themes, that underpinned all the investment priorities, had been identified; namely: -
· Sustainable development
· Health inequalities
· Empowering Communities
Details of how each project could align and support the golden thread themes were highlighted to Members and were set out at pages 31-33 of the Plan.
The needs and opportunities expressed in the Plan, had been aligned with the priority areas and intervention framework developed by UK Government. It was recognised that there were other key structural challenges within West Lindsey that residents faced, whilst these were largely beyond the reach of the UKSPF, it was vital that these were addressed to improve life chances.
These challenges, included: -
· Education and Skills;
· Accessibility and Connectivity;
All required co-ordination with, and significant input from, Central Government and other public sector partners, and could not be the sole responsibility of West Lindsey District Council to address. In line with the system leadership principle, efforts would be focused on understanding opportunities for working with partners to design a holistic, system-wide approach to mitigate barriers.
It was imperative, the UKSPF investment was considered in the wider context of existing and future funding streams. The Corporate Plan – the Council’s overarching strategic document – was being developed in parallel to the Investment Plan, ensuring there was a comprehensive vision for the District and plans for interventions that fell beyond the scope of the Shared Prosperity Plan.
Emerging interventions had been considered for their alignment with UKSPF investment priorities, alignment with the interventions, outputs and outcomes set out in the guidance and alignment with funding timescales and allocations, resulting in a “short list” of proposed interventions for the UKSPF as well as a list of matters for wider consideration as part of the Corporate Plan refresh.
12 proposed interventions, considered to deliver the best outcomes for West Lindsey’s Places, Communities and Businesses having taken the needs analysis, opportunities information, engagement feedback and guidance into consideration, had resulted.
Noting that these remained high level, and again referencing the two-phased approach, the interventions were outlined as follows: -
For Communities and Place: -
Flagship Community Grants Programme
The Plan proposed to build on the Council’s community grants work by developing a community grants programme. This would be a ”main stay” of the UKSPF work, providing community organisations with funding and support for them to grow and develop, whilst also allowing access to funds for project delivery.
Supporting our Town, Village and Neighbourhood Centres
The success of the Council’s welcome back fund programme in Market Rasen, Caistor and Gainsborough had demonstrated that by working with town and parish council’s, important improvements could be made to improve town, village and neighbourhood centres across the District. The Plan proposed the project be rolled out to other places across the District.
Safer Streets West Lindsey
This project particularly responded to Members’ concerns regarding crime and perception of safety. The intervention could include improvements to CCTV provision and coverage, expanding the Council’s “Safer Streets” work across the District and tackling important issues such as re-lighting.
Multi Year Signature Events Programme
The Investment Plan would allow funding and support to sustain and enhance the Council’s events programme. With the Trinity Arts centre delivering more outreach programmed, the aspiration was to build on the legacy of Mayflower to ensure events attracted people and businesses to retail areas.
West Lindsey Walking Cycling and Wayfinding improvements and Green Space Management and Community Project Development
Sustainability and access were at the core of the two interventions and the Council would seek to offer more opportunities to connect its places through walking and cycling, whilst offering improved green spaces and the capacity for community management of these.
For Supporting Local Businesses: -
Flagship West Lindsey Business Support
Throughout the Pandemic the Council had shown it could engage with its business community, understand their needs and deliver flexible programmes of support and funding.
This intervention aimed to build on that experience, the flag ship business support programme would ensure that Lincolnshire growth hub was sustainable, delivered a capital / revenue business grant scheme and provided for locally tailored and responsive business support.
Maximising the Visitor Offer
The visitor economy provided huge potential. The recently adopted VE strategy had demonstrated that there was scope to maximise this offer by making best use of assets, developing, networks, partnerships and packages.
The intervention was targeted at improving the levels of research and development across the District, to drive up innovation and place West Lindsey at the heart of plans to develop the ‘what’s next’ for the UK Food Valley.
Supporting West Lindsey Markets and Retail Centres
This intervention built on the work of the Policy Committee’s over the last year or more, reviewing support for markets across West Lindsey, which had highlighted the importance of the District’s street markets and the potential to offer additional support to traders and the places that host the District’s markets.
It was being proposed that UKSPF funds could be used to develop this type of support further and also used to ensure that enlivening activities made the markets feel like real events celebrating the best of the District’s places and its businesses.
For People and Skills: -
Local Skills Programme and Skills for the Future
This area had posed a challenge in developing the Investment Plan, as the Government guidance had been clear that funding was only available in the final year of the programme, unless supporting critical delivery, currently funded by EU monies.
The approach, set out in the Plan had been tested with partners through the Employment and Skills Board and would see the UKSPF allocation used to influence and scope provision to meet local needs, whilst recognising this could only ever be a contribution to an overall programme.
The fund would allow for the development of a future plan and thinking around a Lincolnshire wide collaboration to be developed. The approach aligned with the approach being taken by the County Council to develop the Multiply Programme and West Lindsey would continue to work with the County in delivery.
Areas which would feed into the Corporate Plan, were also highlighted to Committee.
Section 4 of the Committee report set out the financial strategy that underpinned the Investment Plan. Members were advised the Council were required by Government to profile expenditure over the three years of the programme by Investment Priority. The proportion of funding, proposed for each of the investment priorities was demonstrated to Members.
The allocation had been based on a detailed intervention scoping exercise, which had ensured the proposed expenditure profiles were accurate and deliverable. The allocations also responded to specific local challenges and priorities that had been identified.
It had been made clear, through engagement with Members, that investment in the District’s communities was the priority, and to ensure that West Lindsey was a safe, happy place to live for its residents.
As such, 49% of the total funding available (nearly £1.3m) had been allocated to the Communities and Place Investment Priority.
Whilst match funding was not a requirement of the Plan, it did set out where Officers believed private sector match funding would be enabled. More work was required to set the match funding requirements for the business grant programme, but it was clear that businesses would be required to match fund any grants. The financial strategy also proposed to utilise WLDC funds to match elements of the programme.
Members were advised a total of 4% of the overall allocation could be utilised to support the resourcing of the programme. The Council would need to bring in additional resource and a recruitment process would need to begin over the summer, subject to agreement of the Investment Plan with Government.
Restricted Appendix 1 (restricted to safeguard the Council’s position due to work needing to be delivered through contracts not yet tendered for) included more detail about each of the proposed interventions, possible delivery model, targeted outputs, funding proposals and profiles.
Members also noted that significant work was still required to turn the interventions from the high level detailed into detailed plans for delivery (Phase 2)
The proposed funding split by investment area and allocation were also outlined to Members, with efforts focused in the development of the grants programmes which it was anticipated would deliver clear and tangible outcomes and benefits to communities, places and businesses.
In concluding the presentation, the Director spoke of Officers’ and Members’ ambition for West Lindsey, not just as a place but for its people. The UKSPF provided the Council with an opportunity to focus on the social fabric, weaving together local communities in order to foster the shared sense of pride in where we worked and where we lived. The Council would work in Partnership with its communities to deliver the UKSPF and would develop a governance structure that put people at its core and allowed a culture of inclusive and pragmatic governance that valued outcomes not outputs and sought to build long-term prosperity and resilience to grow.
It was considered there was real opportunity to grow capacity within communities and deliver long-term benefits, and the UKSPF could be used as a testing bed for new ways of working and supporting organisations.
The Government have chosen to deliver UKSPF through District Councils and West Lindsey’s approach demonstrated the Council’s capability to develop a robust plan that was based on evidence and engagement.
The next steps, if the Plan was approved, were briefly summarised, Members were reminded that if any detailed discussion regarding the content of Appendix 1 were required, these would need to be held in closed session, before lengthy debate ensued.
Members complimented the quality of the submission and recognised how the Investment Plan built on and complemented current and previous work. The level of engagement undertaken in creating the final draft was both applauded and welcomed, both internally and with external partners. Members recognised the opportunities the UKSPF brought and considered it would prove a useful tool in the fairer funding for rural areas movement, and supporting the case for devolution.
Members did question whether Secondary schools or schools in general should have been included as a Stakeholder, noting they were the residents of the future, and also whether micro businesses should have been better represented. Members also considered it of paramount importance that the Investment generated real tangible, noticeable lasting change, citing previous large scale EU funding and the like, where outcomes had arguably not been as great or lasting had been hoped.
It was suggested the intervention relating to “Supporting West Lindsey Markets and Retail Centres” needed to be clear and specific from the outset, with sharp outcomes, recognizing it should be more focused on looking at how to promote the events and the specialist markets.
The work related to social deprivation and community building was very much welcomed and indication was sought as to how the District Council were or would be linking in with other partner’s ongoing projects, citing two being hosted by the County, to ensure that the most benefit was delivered by the Fund.
There were some reservations, as to whether the Plan was too ambitious given the District Council’s size and the number of large-scale projects already in delivery phase.
In responding to the comments and questions posed Officers indicated they were in agreement that the inclusion of young people in these programmes was important and central. Members were advised that once the detail of the projects had been further developed there was considerable scope to involve that Stakeholder Group, examples being, where small town centre improvements were needed. Ways in which even the youngest of children could actively engage in such activities were outlined and planned.
Regarding micro-businesses again the comments made were concurred with. The Council had realised some real successes with its own independent business adviser and as such it was being proposed that that model and not just have the growth hub model be supported and extended. Given feedback received this type of service, it was considered better reflected the need; light touch, easy access was the ethos in which this had and would be developed.
Regarding monitoring, evaluation, achieving tangible outcome, Members were advised the exempt appendix demonstrated the types of outputs that Government were mandating around the Programme. However, to date the monitoring and evaluation framework had not been released. Experience had been used to form proposals thus far and consideration had been given as to how it was envisaged monitoring and evaluation could take place. There was a risk that the framework once released would not be as expected, the position continued to be monitored, and would be re-assessed post the document’s release.
Officers confirmed and outlined the numerous ways the Authority were working with Partners and neighbouring authorities, including an Officer working group of the 10 authorities across Greater Lincolnshire within Planning, collaborating on some of the work.
There was a strong central Lincolnshire contingent, working to align, particularly approaches to town centre regeneration and business support. Additional conversations had been held with the LEP and the County Council and it was anticipated these would increase and formalise as the delivery phase was entered, particularly where commissioning was required. The benefits of joint or single commissioning to streamline resources was recognised.
Recognising the length of the Investment Plan and that the language used served the Government’s requirement but not necessarily everyone’s, Officers undertook to look at producing an easy to read version. Finally addressing, the points regarding the level of ambition, Officers agreed it was an ambitious programme but it would be managed in a similar approach to the Levelling Up programme. There were detailed next stage plans converting aspirations in the Investment Plan into delivery mode, but a really important factor on success was securing additional resources. If approved recruitment would commence (confirmed employment subject to the funding position). This approach had proven dividends in the Levelling Up Agenda, allowing it to progress a pace.
It was questioned by a Member whether the current working arrangements, with home-working “the norm” was a risk to delivery, with a suggestion, in his view it was. It was suggested less regular contact with staff, made project management more difficult than it maybe had been previously.
The Director indicated work style was something which continued to be debated at a Management Team level, however in her view, the bigger risk was to force people into roles and that didn’t maximise productivity. The Pandemic had seen a lot of learning about the organisation and its staff were trusted to work where the work was required, with examples quoted. By not offering flexibility in employment opportunities, the Council risked not attracting quality candidates. The current recruitment climate was not an easy one and flexibility was an attractive selling point. Members were advised to approach Directors if they had individual concerns regarding staff availability.
Members considered there were pockets of excellence across the District which the Council needed to harness, citing examples, its enabling role was crucial if success was to be delivered with Members acknowledging the District Council could not resolve all matters on its own. Members wanted assurance that engagement with young people was not tokenistic
In responding to further points regarding how the economic climate may impact, the risk of “going over old ground”, and re-using interventions that hadn’t worked to-date, the Market being the cited example, and how the cycling and walking interventions may materialise, Officers advised that the Prosperity Fund allowed flexibility to enable feasibility studies to be conducted. Areas which supported wider programmes or where further funding may be available would be targeted. Walking and cycling was an area where WLDC would not seek to “do everything” but seek to engage with its Partners, with the County Council.
The Investment Plan set out the envisaged “spectrum role” of the Council, direct delivery, all the way through to enabling communities to do that delivery, citing pages 41-42 as detailing further information in respect of this.
The sense of uncertainty regarding the economic future was acknowledged in intervention 2. 3. The Shared Prosperity Fund was not considered to hold all of the answers to the economic success of the District but could act as a tool to help unlock future potential. Intervention 2.3 would allow there to be a real focus on the future for the UK food Valley, working with the University of Lincoln, the County Council and the LEP to consider sustainable technology-based developments in the agri-food sector.
Officers highlighted the buoyancy of the market in this sector, with demand for business space outstripping supply. Sector leaders had advised of the kind of technological advances, within the sector, which was driving the market.
The Shared Prosperity Plan, in terms of the economy, was considered forward looking. It sat hand in hand with the WLDC Economic Recovery Plan and the wider plans of the LEP. It was anticipated, that traditional manufacturing, due to the economy, was an area which would need some support through the business support intervention. One aspiration for the grant program, being proposed, would be to help those types of business focus on their sustainability, providing specialist support to such businesses in planning for a move to more renewable fuels sources.
In response to suggestions that there should be a greater focus on economic development, job creation given the market, physical assets and something more permanent. Officers advised that unemployment was at its lowest rate in recent history. Feedback from businesses suggested it was difficult to recruit, with vacancies at an all time high and unemployment at a low. Regarding economic prosperity, over the last 12 months alone in Gainsborough, the large-scale development by Sterling, (Foxby Lane) of light industrial, hybrid office, warehouse space was now in Phase 3, with Phases 1 and 2 fully let, 16,000sqft and 25,000sqft, demonstrating significant inward investment.
Mehdi Trade UK, a medical equipment manufacturer, had recently secured full planning permission for the site off Somerby Park 25,500 meter sq for their storage and distribution, further demonstrating big investment in the town, real buoyancy was being seen.
Regarding “permanency” of the Prosperity Fund, Officers advised the Government had set a really defined suite of outputs, for each intervention (which were also Government defined). Examples offered being: -
· number of facilities supported and created
· number of organisations receiving grants
· number of neighborhood improvements’ undertaken.
The Authority would be required to monitor against those as detailed Appendix 1, which had been selected by the Authority from multiple options. It was envisaged the way the funding worked would mean there would be considerable negotiation between the Authority and Government before the Plan was signed off. However once signed, it would be clear what the Government would be essentially buying into. Whilst some of this investment would be capital assets, some investment would be in services.
An aspiration being developed through the Community theme of the Plan, would be to leave a legacy, not necessarily of physical assets but a group of community organisations that were more sustainable and able to engage in activities like Neighbourhood Planning and the Community infrastructure Levy in the future, building capacity in community organisations.
Members spoke of the importance of ensuring the Market Place remained central in Gainsborough and of the need to encourage footfall back to the Markets, with Officers highlighting the funding which had been made available through Levelling Up to support the market, also.
In responding to Members’ comments and concerns regarding education in the District, Gainsborough in particular given recent announcements, and the real skills shortage and low pay, Officers again considered the Councils role was to bring stakeholders together to investigate delivery methods. It was acknowledged it was a key challenge for the District , and hence education and skills, from Early Years through to University and workplace skills, appeared as a key structural challenge. How the funding mechanisms were set up through the programme for employment and skills, meant the Council could only play a contribution, using that contribution to shape local provision, it could not be a leading programme. Members were again reminded of the forth coming Information session which would allow Members to engage directly with the College, and of plans to create a Stakeholder Group, subject to Prosperous Communities committee approval
Following lengthy and detailed discussion, having been moved and seconded the Prosperous Communities Committee’s recommendations were put to the vote.
In accordance with the concurrent procedure, following an alphabetical roll call, with a total of 10 votes cast in favour, and with no votes against or abstentions it was
RESOLVED that: -
(a) the Investment Proposals, set out in Section 4 of the Investment Plan, be approved; and
(b) the submission of the West Lindsey UK Shared Prosperity Fund Investment Plan, to the Department of Levelling Up Homes and Communities, be RECOMMENDED to the Corporate Policy and Resources Committee for approval.
Corporate Policy and Resources Committee confirmed they were content to move straight to the vote on their respective recommendations, with them having been moved and seconded.
Again, in accordance with the concurrent procedure, following an alphabetical roll call, with a total of 11 votes cast in favour, and with no votes against or abstentions it was
(a) the recommendation from Prosperous Communities Committee be accepted and the submission of the West Lindsey UK Shared Prosperity Fund Investment Plan be approved;
(b) post committee housekeeping, assurance changes and amendments required, if further guidance on monitoring and evaluation is released, be delegated to the Director of Planning, Regeneration and Communities in consultation with the Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee;
(c) the draft Funding Strategy, as set out in Section 4 of the report, be approved; and
(d) a final Business Case for each of the three Investment Objectives, namely;
> Communities and Place
> Supporting Local Businesses; and
> People and Skills
be submitted to appropriate meetings of the Corporate Policy and Resources Committee for consideration.