Wirral Council looks to move forward with ‘Levelling Up’ finances trial

Wirral Council looks likely to move forward with a government trial that could see it have greater control over how it manages £73m for regeneration.

The Levelling Up pilot set up by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities would see Wirral be one of ten local authorities taking part in the scheme across the country.

The project intends to streamline government funding for local councils to help them “maximise their return on spending” and speed up urban regeneration and levelling up programmes by offering greater flexibility when it comes to spending.

Next week councillors have been recommended to approve taking part in the scheme at a senior policy and resources committee meeting on 13 September.

Wirral Council was eligible for the pilot because it has received funding from three different sources including the Levelling Up, Town Deal, and Future High Streets funds.

This includes more than £70m of investment into Birkenhead as well as £3.2m for New Ferry improving the area following the 2017 explosion there. The total comes to nearly £73.5m.

Deadlines for funding has also been extended to March 2026 giving Wirral Council more time to complete projects if it takes part in the pilot.

This would mean it would have two more years to spend £25m in Birkenhead and £3.2m in New Ferry with a one year extension for £19.6m of levelling up funding due to be spent around the Woodside Ferry Terminal.

Illustration of proposed public realm design for New Ferry. Credit: New Ferry Regeneration

The three government funding programmes will also become one funding pot with the government tracking this investment as a whole rather than each project individually. Wirral Council will only need to get approval from the government if they are making a substantial change to any project over £5m.

Councillors are also recommended to delegate control of regeneration projects to the Director of Regeneration and Place Dave Hughes for any change in funds up to £1.5m. Any changes above £1.5m but below £5m would then go to councillors for approval.

In terms of oversight from the government, “All local authorities will be required to monitor the spend, outputs and outcomes that have been agreed within their investment plan.” This includes summaries every three months and detailed reports every six months.

When the pilot was announced, Wirral Council leader Councillor Paul Stuart said, “Being invited to join the small number of councils selected for this pilot project shows how our regeneration work in Wirral is being recognised around the country and at the very highest levels of Government.”

He added, “Taking part in this pilot will help reduce bureaucracy and give greater ability to make decisions locally to ensure we are able to deliver the regeneration the people of Wirral want and need, bringing more prosperity to the borough, boosting the economy and inward investment, and making this borough an even better place to live, bring up families and to visit.”

The news was also welcomed by the Conservatives in the council. Cllr Jeff Green said, “I’m sure we can all agree that this is a good thing.”

Lead image: Woodside Ferry Terminal. Credit Liverpool City Region Combined Authority

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