The Towns Fund is at the heart of the government’s ambition to levelling up places that have historically lacked investment across England.

The £3.6 billion fund has given selected towns the opportunity to realise their full economic potential by working with their communities, public and private partners, and investors to develop their own proposals for a ‘Town Deal’ of up to £25 million. 101 towns were chosen for the programme, each receiving their Town Deal offers, paving the way for the delivery of nearly 800 projects across England.

From the outset, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) recognised that specialist advice and support would be essential for towns to secure and deliver their Town Deals, and they commissioned a delivery partner to provide that support.

Arup was appointed to lead the Towns Fund Delivery Partner (TFDP) consortium, consisting of six private sector organisations working as one team, each fulfilling distinct strategic functions and bringing market-leading expertise to projects.

Economic planning at the heart of development

Between May 2020 and November 2021, the TFDP provided technical assistance for the 101 towns in one of the largest economic development and regeneration programmes in the country. We helped towns across four cohorts develop a local vision through their Town Investment Plans to secure Town Deal offers; following that, we provided support to help them develop rounded and compelling Business Cases for their projects.

The Delivery Partner programme represented a new way of working for government that would help inform the shape of future funding delivery models and programmes.

Putting towns' needs first

As the TFDP consortium lead, we created a culture of partnership and co-delivery with our consortium partners and DLUHC. Our vision was to develop a delivery model that was innovative and delivered consultancy support to towns that would put their capacity and capability needs first, in a groundbreaking way that would be a first for government.

Each town had its own dedicated relationship managers, known as the Town Coordinators. These Town Coordinators offered day-to-day advice, were the first point of contact throughout the programme, and the gateway to discipline and topic specialists providing either customised or targeted support.

We created the Towns Fund website; a ‘go to’ online resource for towns, featuring online resources including good practice guides, case studies, downloadable tools and templates. We also put in place customised support and peer-to-peer learning resources, alongside targeted one-to-one advice to engage with each town’s unique and complex challenges.

Based upon a town-centric and continuous learning approach to understand towns’ needs, the TFDP was able to design and refine the support we offered as the programme progressed. We delivered advice and support at various levels that aimed to add value rather than duplicate the resources already available to towns.

We have been really very impressed with Arup’s approach to how they have led the consortium, from how quickly they were able to mobilise their teams and get up and running during the inception period so they could begin to support all towns. This really set the scene for the rest of the contract in terms of developing a highly collaborative and professional working culture that everyone bought into.

Louis Mayhew

Funding Delivery Portfolio Office, Cities & Local Growth Unit, Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities

Co-design and partnership for monitoring and social value

We worked alongside the Towns Fund central team in DLUHC and Cities and Local Growth Unit (CLGU) Area Leads in government and adopted a bottom-up approach to identify the level and type of support required to help towns.

TFDP programme performance was measured using bespoke KPIs and monitored via dashboards and reports, providing insights to allow us to focus on developing our support to towns and adapt delivery to meet evolving town and programme needs.

We applied social value principles to our role, drawing from a diverse team working for small and large businesses across the UK. As part of the TFDP, we spearheaded the creation of a ‘Panel of Brilliant People’, bringing together local representatives from 23 communities across England to tackle the question of how good green growth could work for everyone. In participating, panellists gained new experiences, development and networking opportunities that culminated in presenting their recommendations to government at an event at the Houses of Parliament.

The levelling up legacy so far

The Towns Fund Delivery Partner programme was extended by government in early 2022 for a further 6 months to support towns as they complete their business cases and prepare to deliver their projects. We will also provide further emphasis and support on net zero, place leadership, project and programme management, and attracting investment. This is a testament to our positive working relationship with the towns and with government.

Although it will take time for towns and communities to experience the tangible success and positive impacts of the projects, government, towns, local authorities, local people and businesses have already responded positively to the TFDP’s support.

We have helped the towns secure their Town Deal offers and prepare them for the following stages towards delivery. Local authorities have gained collective knowledge through peer-to-peer learning, helping create new connections and mentoring between towns. For local people, we have supported the creation of an environment where they can shape the future of their towns and build confidence in their new capabilities to deliver their Town Deals and other future initiatives. Finally, government have experienced a new approach to delivering government investment programmes between central and local governments, informing the shape of future policy and delivery.

Read some of the stories as told by town representatives, capturing the learning, creativity and hard work of the people involved here.