High street regeneration fund unused and mispent

The Momentum UK Team 15 March 2013

A £10 million fund, designed to provide local councils with money to regenerate their high streets has been left largely untouched one year on from its creation.

The fund, set up under the recommendation of retail expert Mary Portas, provides councils with the necessary funds to invest in local shops and services, in an attempt to encourage shoppers to return to the areas and inject money back into their local economies.

However, in a freedom of information request seen by the BBC, it is evident that the majority of the money is being left unused.

In an inquiry, of the 72 councils that responded, 47 had not spent a single penny of their share. Going by these figures a total of £519,363.22 has been spent so far, but this accounts for about 7% of the money available.

However, in a statement to the BBC, the Department for Communities and Local Government said:

"We would rather councils spend this money strategically and wisely, to ensure long term success for our High Streets, than rush to spend it and waste taxpayers' money in the process."

Yet despite the government's claims that the money is to be spent strategically, when broken down the things that councils are choosing to spend on appear to be items far from the original intended purpose.

For example, one council chose to spend £10,900 on their Christmas Decorations, whereas another spent £10,038 on a ramp for their train station.

Swale Borough Council spent £164.60 on a snow machine, although they claim that they are still to be allocated the majority of their fund, saying that when they do it will be used to smarten up their high street and increase footfall.

One of the success stories however is that of Wyre Forest Council, who chose to spend £12,000 on regenerating 10 disused shops. This has brought in new businesses to the area and will hopefully start a process of regeneration in their local economy.

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said:

"We are absolutely committed to reviving the nation's High Streets which is why we gave the 100 councils with the highest numbers of empty properties a share of £10m to attract new businesses into their areas.

"We've also given local authorities powers to offer business rate discounts and have simplified planning restrictions to allow new businesses to set up on High Streets.”