The Director of City and Organisational Strategy reminded the Members that the Government had, in its Budget in March, as part of its commitment to “levelling up” prosperity across the United Kingdom, announced a number of investment funds.
He submitted for, their consideration, a report which provided details of two of funds which were of particular relevance to the Council, namely, the Community Renewal Fund and the Levelling Up Fund and set out the Council’s approach and bidding plans in relation to them.
He provided information on the level of funding which Northern Ireland was likely to receive under the Community Renewal Fund and pointed out that support would be available for investment in skills, local businesses, community and place and/or supporting people into employment. Officers were currently preparing funding bids around skills development for the green economy, information technology and digital transformation for small businesses, details of which would be presented to the Committee ahead of the formal submission of an application by 18th June. Discussions were also taking place with SOLACE and with other councils to determine if a collaborative bid was possible ahead of the application deadline, with adjustments to be made, if required, to prevent duplication.
He highlighted the fact that officers had explored the potential for submitting bids in the investment in communities and place category, however, no projects were sufficiently advanced to allow for a submission by the deadline date. Funding for projects in this category could, he pointed out, be explored through other funding opportunities.
The Director of City and Organisational Strategy went on to provide details of the Levelling Up Fund, which would allow for investment in infrastructure, local transport and cultural and heritage assets which would have a visible effect on people and communities. He confirmed that the themes for the first three rounds of funding would focus upon investment in transportation, regeneration and town centres and culture and outlined a number of challenges being faced by the Council for round one, primarily around the submission of applications, the challenging timeframe, the funding allocation and the need for clarity around the eligibility for future rounds.
He recommended that the Members of the Committee:
i note the contents of the report;
ii endorse the three Community Renewal Fund bid proposals, as outlined, and agree that they be moved forward to application stage for submission by 18th June, 2021;
iii grant approval for officers to adjust the number and scope of proposed Community Renewal Fund bids, should discussions with other councils on collaborative bid(s) provide the opportunity to provide improved outcomes for Belfast citizens; and
iv agree that officers continue the development work to prepare suitable bid(s) for future bidding rounds of the Levelling Up Fund and that the Council does not submit a bid under Round 1 of the Levelling Up Fund, in light of the considerations which he had outlined.
The Members of the Committee agreed to recommend that, in accordance with the Council decision of 4th May, the Chief Executive exercise her delegated authority to adopt the recommendations and to approve any eligible projects which might come forward in relation to the investment in communities and place category, in advance of the submission date.