This week, Prime Minister Theresa May revealed plans for a £1bn fund to boost economic activity in more deprived parts of the country. Much of this investment is likely to be focused on reviving town centres, with communities, supported by local enterprise partnerships, to draw up plans for their towns.
However, while much of the noise around this announcement has centred on the political aspects – Labour has described it as a 'bribe' to gain the support of some of its MPs in favour of May's Brexit plans – the way in which the fund is used will be far more important in the long run.
For too long, there have been those in government and the public sector who have sought to hold back the tide of change on Britain's high streets. Money has often been brought forward from a central government pot designed to act as a sticking plaster, propping up dying high streets across the land.
The hope today is that, by involving local communities and local businesses that can see what is happening – and what is needed – this money will not simply be thrown after the previous sums in a vain and ultimately doomed attempt to create high streets that boomed in the 20th century but are no longer fit for a 21st century consumer.
Gone are the days when everyone headed to town on a Saturday morning to spend the day shopping, whether for essentials or pleasure. The rise of the internet means growing numbers are choosing to do their shopping via their computers, rather than dragging the family through the frozen food aisles once a week.
And while there are still plenty of people who enjoy browsing in person, there is a growing trend to simply head home, bag-free, after a day at the shops to see how much cheaper you can get those items online. Shops acting as reference libraries does not provide a sustainable business model.
All of this, then, means that the way the town centre and high street are viewed needs to change. Some more forward-thinking authorities have already shunned the traditional model, in favour of using their town centres as hubs for the community, co-locating a variety of services, such as library, leisure centre and even health facilities, at the heart of their community.
This is how those looking to access this new form of funding need to be thinking – and to do this they will need to involve not just the local public agencies and small businesses, they will need to engage those who have place-making skills to offer a wide range of examples of what might be achievable.
Although it might not be a popular way to describe it to central government at present, it seems that using some form of public-private partnership would be a natural way to make the most of the Stronger Towns Fund.