Wirral Council to join ‘levelling up’ trial

Wirral Council will be part of a trial giving it more control over how it spends millions on town developments.

The Simplification Pathfinder Pilot is a new pilot brought in by the government’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC).

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.

Wirral will be one of 10 councils included in the England pilot and the only one within the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority.

This is because it has received government funding from three different funding programmes making it eligible for the pilot. It has received more than £144m from the government in grants.

The Future High Streets Fund is going towards projects regenerating parts of Birkenhead and New Ferry, the Town Deal fund going towards Birkenhead regeneration, and Levelling Up funding going towards Woodside Ferry Terminal and the surrounding area.

The pilot will give councils greater flexibility on where it spends money on particular projects with the government arguing this will reduce bureaucracy and inefficiency with delivering projects.

The three government funding programmes will now 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 of over £5m.

This comes as Wirral Council faces a huge year ahead with an expected £86m spend on regeneration, consultations on a new business park and 3,500 flats and homes.  Funding deadlines for a number of projects needing to get off the ground are now fast approaching.

The council is also in the process of filling vacancies in two key roles in charge of planning and regeneration and it also has a new director of regeneration David Hughes who took over the role earlier this year.

To take part, councils “will be asked to complete a light-touch investment plan” which will set out how Wirral plans to invest the government funding it’s received.

In terms of oversight by the government, “the pilot will be testing an approach to reporting that reduces local administrative burdens whilst still providing DLUHC with the required levels of delivery data and assurance.

“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.

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.

“This will now mean Wirral Council is able to spend the grants from the Towns Fund, Levelling Up fund and Future High Streets programme totalling tens of millions of pounds in a more flexible way.

“Being involved with this pathfinder project will further support our regeneration ambitions which encompasses the whole Left Bank from Bromborough and New Ferry through Birkenhead and Wirral Waters, Seacombe into Liscard and on to New Brighton.

“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.”

Image: Proposed new Birkenhead Market. Wirral Council

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