Councils risk 'missing out on millions' after failing to bid for levelling up funding

Black Country councils have been warned they risk missing out on millions of pounds in regeneration cash after failing to submit bids for Government funding.

Dudley Council has come under fire over its handling of the Levelling Up Fund
Dudley Council has come under fire over its handling of the Levelling Up Fund

Local authorities have been invited to bid for a share of £4 billion from the Levelling Up fund to transform "left behind" areas, with councils able to apply for up to £20m for each parliamentary constituency.

But since its launch last year the only bid submitted has been from Wolverhampton Council, which landed £20m for a new learning quarter.

Dudley Council has today come under fire from borough Tory MP Marco Longhi, who urged council bosses to "get their act together" ahead of a potential third round of bidding.

The Conservative-run authority did not apply for any funding in round one, which closed in July 2021.

It is planning to submit bids for Halesowen and Stourbridge in the second round, with Dudley South and Mr Longhi's Dudley North constituency forced to wait until round three.

Ministers are yet to confirm whether a third round of bidding will take place.

Mr Longhi said: "My colleagues and I are extremely disappointed that Dudley Council declined to bid on two separate rounds of Government funding.

"It is now going to miss out on tens of millions of pounds that our town desperately needs. These are key funding streams the Prime Minister made available to level up and improve towns like Dudley.

"The criteria for bidding are well known well in advance, so if we are lucky enough to have a third round of funding from Government, I would hope that we are fully prepared to bid for it by then, having assessed all risks and having prepared for a ‘plan b’ if our preferred projects fall through."

Dudley North MP Marco Longhi is not happy at missing out on funding

Dudley council leader Patrick Harley said he was confident the authority would eventually get funding for projects in all four of the borough's constituencies.

He said they had "held back" on bids, as any poorly planned scheme would be considered a “pig with lipstick on” by Government chiefs and was likely to get rejected.

Councillor Harley said: “It’s not just about saying ‘we want to build this here’, it’s about putting in the ground work behind each scheme to make sure it has the best possible chance of success.

“What we don’t want to do is put a bid in and have it fail, so we believe we are better off going in the second or even third round of bidding.

“If you rush it and it’s not quite right then you risk missing out altogether.

“The guys making these decisions are no fools, and if it’s a pig with lipstick on they will find out soon enough.

“We’d sooner take our time and wait for the next round rather than rush something in and fail.”

He said the Stourbridge and Halesowen bids were “very strong” and had been “firmly backed” by MPs.

“I am confident they will be successful and in time we will also have successful bids in place for the other two areas,” he added.

“Our track record is pretty good. We got the money to knock down Cavendish House, the £15 million for the new road structure around Portersfield, the funding for the interchange, and very light rail, plus the towns fund bid for the new university park.”

Councillor Harley said a proposed Dudley North scheme had been "parked" for the time being due to uncertainty over the future of the Trident Centre, which had been lined up for homes.

A Dudley South scheme for a new education centre had also been held back after it was deemed to be "not ambitious enough" by Mike Wood MP, he added.

Wolverhampton Council was successful in a bid for £20m for a new learning quarter

The authority has spent £125,000 in Government funding to bring in consultancy firm Arcadis, according to a report to the council’s ruling Cabinet by director of regeneration Helen Martin.

She said: “There was a first round of bids in summer 2021 for which Dudley Council did not submit any bids. The second round of bids are to be submitted on July 6, 2022.

“At the present time there is no guarantee if there will be a third round of bids.”

Walsall Council said it did not bid in round one due to the "tight timescale", but has two bids prepared for round two, which closes on July 6.

Sandwell Council also missed out in round one, while Wolverhampton Council has two bids in the pipeline for round two.

There were 104 successful bids in the first round of the fund, which ministers confirmed last October.

They included Wyre Forest, which received £18m for schemes including work on the Town Hall, and Cannock Chase, which got £20m for town centre regeneration.

Stoke-on-Trent received £56m for three separate schemes, while three projects were backed in Birmingham to the tune of £42.5m.

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