Today’s review by the National Audit Office describes the process by which the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (the Department) selected the 101 towns that in September 2019 it invited to bid for up to £25 million, or up to £50 million in exceptional circumstances, from the £3.6 billion Towns Fund for England (The Towns Fund).
The Towns Fund aims to provide a selection of towns across England with funding to address issues such as ageing populations, limited regional economic opportunities and lack of investment. Each selected town has been invited to put forward a plan for how they will spend the funding and what it will achieve, which must then be agreed with the Department to form the basis of a Town Deal.
This review describes the process followed by the Department to select the 101 towns. First, this involved an assessment – scoring, ranking, filtering and prioritising – of all 1,082 towns across England by the Department’s officials against a range of criteria. Second, ministers selected the towns to be invited to bid for Town Deals using the officials’ assessments to guide them.1 The Department published the list of selected towns in September 2019 but did not publish the basis on which they selected the towns.
We set out in this review:
- The criteria, process and sources of evidence used by the Department to assess and rank towns.
- The results of the assessments and ranking of towns, which towns were selected, and the rationales given for selection.
This report considers only the process for determining the 101 towns invited to develop Town Deals. The two other, separate strands of Towns Fund – the Future High Streets Fund and the upcoming competition for towns – are outside the scope of this report. While the Department has committed to a further competitive element of the Towns Fund, it has not yet decided what this will focus on and ministers have not considered the priorities or criteria to be used to select towns. The Department intends to design the process and any associated methodology for the competitive element of the fund in due course.