As we ‘build back better’ from a year in and out of lockdowns, the Government has released several funds to support the renewal and regeneration of towns and communities. Ren Piercey explores whether there is scope for these to support food and farming initiatives.
In his latest March budget announcement, Rishi Sunak outlined several government funds which will be directed into local communities to support building back the economy on the back of Covid. As a nation, one in seven people are employed in the food sector, a sector which spans across so many different industries, so there is a key opportunity here to harness these funds to invest in local good food economies.
Investing in a good and sustainable local food economy has multiple benefits; improved health and nutrition, local job creation and climate friendly, farmer focussed supply chains, to name a few. Brexit continues to affect international food supply chains, and it is more important than ever to increase access to affordable nutritious food particularly with the clear links between obesity and the impact of Covid-19, and moreover the general health of the nation. These new funds should prioritise investment in infrastructure, skills and support for the food sector. Local food economies will help keep money within regions, strengthen cultural identities and inspire new food enterprises to feed communities.
So, what are the funds available and how could they support local good food economies?
100 places across the UK have been selected based upon level of need to apply for the year-long Community Renewal Fund to pilot projects which will stimulate economic growth locally, and which could be replicated and up-scaled when the UK Shared Prosperity Fund is introduced in 2022. Each local authority can apply for up to £3million and projects must focus on investment in: skills, local business, communities and space, and supporting people into employment.
Ideas for pilots to support the good food economy:
For more ideas, check out our report: Putting good food jobs at the heart of the economic recovery
The role of the Lead Authority is to invite bids from a range of Project Applicants, appraise and prioritise projects up to a maximum of £3m per place and submit a shortlist to UK Government by noon 18 June who will select projects based on the published assessment criteria. Local authorites are expected to run an open bidding process and invite projects from private, public and third sectors, including voluntary and community organsations. Any legally constituted organisation can bid for funding but bids from private sector and registered charities will only be considered for projects where the intention is not just to further their own business/ organisation. In Northern Ireland, applications will not go through local government.
To input your ideas, check if your region is a priority area and reach out to your local authority. There should be information on their website. If you are part of a local food partnership, this is an ideal opportunity to make sure all of your work on food is being recognised (and funded)!
The UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) is a long-term fund to replace the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) which aims to ‘level up’ the country. The fund will be available to access in specific areas of the UK where there are high levels of deprivation, job insecurity etc. It is expected to be introduced in 2022 and total £1.5bn a year. UKSPF intends to support domestic priorities and grow local economies and will be locally led to focus on place-based projects but the Government has yet to announce who will be responsible for these funds.
Local authorities can apply for £20million to invest in capital infrastructure to regenerate the region through investment in transport, town centres, cultural assets and community owned space through the new Levelling Up Fund. All areas can apply however 123 regions have been earmarked as ‘high priority’ as part of the levelling up agenda. Local authorities must partner with relevant stakeholders including businesses and community representatives to write up a bid. The number of bids a region can submit is based on the number of MPs within the 'place'. MPs can also champion one bid of their choice.
Ideas for investment
Local authorities received guidance and package bids in March and bids must be submitted to Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local government by noon 18 June 2021 so get in touch with your local authority to have your say. In Northern Ireland, bids will be accepted at a local level.
The local authorities have not been issued with any formal guidance on how they should be engaging with local stakeholders so there is incentive here to be proactive to engage with both your local MP and council.
Community groups across the UK can apply for up to £250,000 match funded to transform local community assets into a community owned business through the new Community Ownership Fund. Taking over an asset as a community strengthens local infrastructure, promotes social cohesion and boosts the local economy. When the community buys local food enterprises (pubs, cafes, farms) this not only creates new jobs but can also promote healthier neighbourhoods because for example, the community-owned pub has more flexibility to source from local suppliers, host pop-up enterprises, provide healthier options and offer community services and so on.
Ideas and examples
Power to Change support community businesses across England and some examples of food enterprises that have been taken over include:
Applications for this fund open in June alongside a detailed application pack. Community groups can only apply if they have formal governances in place, for example a Community Trust. Most food partnerships have community group partners so if you are unsure what it means to set up a community group or create formal governance structures, please reach out to your food partnership.
In 2019, 101 towns across the UK were identified to apply for up to £25 million of the £3.6 billion Towns Fund to support economic growth. The chosen towns created a Towns Deal Board, involving private, public and third sectors in the region to draw up proposals for capital investment to improve connectivity, enterprise development and urban regeneration in the area.
In March, Sunak announced that 45 Towns were selected to receive a share of £1bn to implement their Investment Plan. The remaining Towns will be announced later this year. Whilst the Town Plans have been finalised, it is likely they are still putting together business cases so there is a real opporunity here to work with the Towns Deal Board to weave in a sustainable food into the existing projects. If your town is one of the priority places, you will be able to find their Plan online.
Also, the website seeking ideas from local people about how and where the money should be spent is still live, so it’s worth having a look to see what has been suggested in your area.
Government funding, especially relating to building back better and regeneration, often seems out of reach and more for corporate visions and developers. However, with the most recent funding announcements, the words ‘community-led’ and ‘place based’ crop up a lot in the documentation and so it’s our role to make sure they live up to their promises.
Food partnerships are ideally placed to support local authorities and community groups access the funds above. The structure means they represent voices across public, private, third sector and community groups. Many food partnerships work closely with the local authority or are even hosted within them and are therefore already a trusted voice. They are also well linked into local networks and structures so are acutely aware of where the needs are and how to deliver funding successfully using the most relevant stakeholders.
This year, and beyond, there is going to be millions of pounds invested into priority areas, many of which are represented by a food partnership. This is a prime opportunity to ensure food is top priority on the agenda.
For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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