Communities secretary John Denham said 57 councils comprising the bottom third most deprived local authority areas - as measured on the Index of Multiple Deprivation - would receive grants of £50,000 each in a bid to help them bring shops that have closed down as a consequence of the recession back into use.
The recipients include 18 councils in the North West, ten in the East Midlands, nine in the North East, eight in Yorkshire and Humber, and seven in the West Midlands. Hackney was the only London Borough to receive a grant while only one council in the South East and South West will receive cash.
The fund was initially announced in April but was delayed while officials in the Department for Communities and Local Government determined how to distribute the money.
Denham said councils in receipt of the grants would be able to use the money as they saw fit on ideas to boost town centres and transform boarded up shops into something useful, such as a meeting place, a learning centre or a showroom for local artists.
He said: "There is no need to see unused shops on our high streets going to waste, especially when we know that it doesn't take a lot to turn a vacant shop into something beneficial for the community."