Ministry of Housing, Communities
and Local Government

Nichols played a key role for the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) on the Towns Fund, a £3.6bn programme announced in 2019 to enable 101 towns in England to level up and drive long term sustainable economic regeneration to deliver economic and productivity growth and to improve prospects for their communities. Towns were required to develop a Town Investment Plan and business cases for capital projects in connectivity, land use and economic assets including cultural assets, skills and enterprise infrastructure.  As part of the Towns Fund Delivery Partner, Nichols was selected for its expertise in providing strategic advice on complex projects and programmes and joined a consortium with other specialists in urban regeneration, stakeholder management and financial advice to support towns with development of their investment plans and business cases.

Challenge
The Towns Fund programme is central to Government’s commitments to level up the UK economy and is in keeping with recent Government policy of devolving funding decisions away from Whitehall.  101 towns were selected by Government to consider and propose capital projects which would best enable them to grow and ‘level up’.  Each town was required to establish a Board of local political, private sector and community representatives to create investment plans for up to £25m of funding, or up to £50m where regional or national significance could be shown.  

Learning from previous funding programmes indicated that these Boards and the associated local authorities were likely to require specialist, independent advice and technical support to develop sound bids and business cases for their projects.  MHCLG also required a delivery partner to run the Towns Fund programme efficiently and at pace.  The Delivery Partner was responsible for ensuring that each place was able to access the bespoke support it required, and, crucially, also ensuring that lessons were learned across towns and there were opportunities for knowledge sharing between them.

The devolved approach enabled the 101 towns to develop very diverse proposals to address their own high-priority challenges, meaning support had to be tailored to local context and needs.  The programme commenced as COVID-19 began to impact in the UK, so the range of support offered by the delivery partner had to be provided entirely remotely, and to be responsive to changing conditions across the UK.

Experience
Nichols established the Programme Management Office (PMO) and led rapid project inception using a combination of our experience of managing complex programmes alongside creativity to be agile and innovative.  This enabled the Towns Fund Delivery Partner to bring on over 100 people remotely and virtually within weeks, reaching as many as 215 people within the consortium at the peak.  We put in place appropriate programme controls, including risk management, reporting and frequent reviews with the client to ensure continuous improvement.  In parallel we developed a digital framework to support the programme and deliver for stakeholders, including a new website and dashboards.  As the programme transitioned from inception to delivery, our team took lead central roles, including Chief Operating Officer and Head of PMO, responsible for ensuring partnership working across the consortium and delivery against Key Performance Indicators.

Nichols fulfilled key roles in directly supporting over a third of the towns included in the programme with strategic and technical advice.  We were able to bring significant experience of engaging and managing stakeholders across a diversity of sectors, including an understanding of how to navigate the local government landscape.  Our advice included helping local Town Deal Boards to understand the criteria for funding, their roles and responsibilities and to manage tension and conflict where required.  We provided critical challenge to enable Boards to make effective decisions on proposed projects, with clear rationale for doing so.  We also provided and coordinated technical support from other experts, including how to set strategy, prioritise projects and engage stakeholders and funders.

Lasting economic and
social regeneration

As the towns received funding deals from central Government, we transitioned our support to provide guidance and strategic advice on developing Green Book-compliant business cases and to build project initiation capability within the local authority teams that would be delivering projects.  

Benefits
In order to ensure our support was focused on the Towns, we established efficient PMO arrangements, enabling resources to be used to directly help real people and places.  The client was delighted by the reporting developed by our PMO and shared it more widely as an example of best practice.

We built a strong relationship with our client and have been trusted to review and advise on their own strategies, plans and processes.  Throughout the programme we have added value by looking ahead and anticipating opportunities, challenges and strategic risks, and helping the client to take appropriate action to address these.

We will leave a legacy of digital resources and good practice which local authorities can continue to use for future funding opportunities and when delivering other projects.  In addition, our intelligent clienting solutions have been shared with Government to consider and use when developing guidance on how to implement other policies related to local economic growth.

As this programme continues, Nichols is proud to have supported communities to create plans that will bring real and lasting economic and social benefits.  Building capability and enabling knowledge transfer were key features of this programme, and they will be critical to its success. 

Stories

Crossrail London 2012 Olympic
and Paralympic Games
Towns Fund Department for Transport Low Carbon Contracts Company Global Technology Company Palace of Westminster Oslo Airport High Speed 2 Nuclear Decommissioning Authority Sellafield Office of Rail and Road

Iconic Stories

AVIVA Highways Agency Transport for London Docklands Light Railway Hong Kong West
Kowloon Expressway
Crossrail 2 Jubilee Line Extension Crossrail Early Years Department for Transport Intercity Express Programme Transport for London
Capital Programmes
Delivery Capability
Hong Kong
Highways Department
Network Rail Black Diamond Thales A Major UK Bank Anglo American