Phil Prentice, STP Chief Officer speaks to Kate Shannon, Holyrood Magazine.

While economic strategies across the world have focused on the importance of cities, Phil Prentice believes it is now widely acknowledged that “towns and villages provide the arteries to the beating heart of the city”.

Currently seconded to STP, Prentice usually heads up economic development, regeneration and employability services within East Renfrewshire Council.

In Scotland there was an appreciation that 70% of Scotland’s population live in towns

Speaking exclusively to Holyrood, he says: “I come from a local authority background and for the past 20 years or so I’ve been working around economic development and regeneration in East Renfrewshire. The council itself is recognised as one of the most innovative councils in terms of towns.

“Scotland’s Towns Partnership was formed as a private limited company in 2012 and originally it was a group of practitioners who were very interested in towns and communities.

“We were working on a voluntary basis but at that time the Scottish Government came to recognise that a lot of focus was being directed towards city economic strategies. To be honest, this was a global phenomenon - everyone was moving towards these urbanised strategies - however, in Scotland there was an appreciation that 70% of Scotland’s population live in towns.”

Recognising the importance of towns and villages, the Scottish Government set up an independent review chaired by architect Malcolm Fraser, tasked with coming up with some possible solutions to the many problems facing towns across the country.

It published its findings in June 2013 and the Government responded with its town centre action plan in November the same year.

In October 2014, the Scottish Government awarded STP a £186,000 two-year development grant to strengthen its role as the body for information, advice and sharing of expertise around town centre development.

At the time, STP chairman Professor Leigh Sparks said: “I am obviously delighted by this very welcome news of Scottish Government support. Scotland’s Towns Partnership looks forward to working with towns and communities across Scotland, and with the Scottish Government, as we all seek to drive forward local action in support of the town centre action plan and the recommendations of the town centre review.

"Scotland’s towns are a vital resource for the country and the Government’s keen interest in their enhancement and improvement has been well recognised in recent years. This support for the work of Scotland’s Towns Partnership will enable further and more rapid progress on this vital issue.

“Scotland’s Towns Partnership provides essential support for anchor organisations seeking to rejuvenate Scotland’s towns; enabling them to deliver best value, sustainable projects and empowering their local, business and wider communities."

Prentice added: “The Government very quickly started a dialogue with us to say ‘we need you to deliver the action plan’.

“They provided us with a grant and at that point I approached my director in East Renfrewshire and said I’d be keen to take this forward. The result of that is I’ve been seconded from the council to work for the partnership for 15 months.

“My function is to get the towns partnership up and running, and to deliver as much of the action plan as possible. STP is to become the single go-to body for everything to do with towns and community development across Scotland. We’ve been developing an online portal, which will go live in March, and within that there will be a host of different toolkits for towns to help improve and share best practice.

“We’re really excited about this, it is going to be an excellent tool for towns across Scotland.”

Source: Holyrood Magazine

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