£10m fund to save UK's high streets goes on stunts - or in the bank

 

Public money handed to local councils to revitalise their high streets has been spent on apparently frivolous items including a £1,500 Santa Claus and £1,000 reindeer.

The Government gave 100 local authorities millions of pounds last March in a high-profile initiative designed to attract shoppers to town centres.

But a year later most councils have spent precious little of the £10m High Street Innovation Fund on creative ideas. More worryingly, they seem to have wasted much of the initial expenditure on short-term and whimsical items, which would typically form part of their overall budget.

In addition to the Santa Claus and reindeer, one council spent £5,124 on a portable stage and PA system, while another spent £37,000 on a salary for a business manager.

Among the 72 councils that responded to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, they have spent just £519,363, or 7.2 per cent, out of the £7.2m awarded to them. Many councils, such as Birmingham, Bolton and London’s Westminster, the heartland of MPs, had not spent a single penny from their £100,000 grant by 31 January.

The figures follow this paper’s revelations about how councils involved with another retail initiative – the 12 so-called Portas Pilots associated with the retail expert Mary Portas – have been similarly slow-moving, with one also spending £1,600 on a Peppa Pig costume for a day.

The slow progress of the High Street Innovation Fund – dubbed “Portas Plus” – comes at a time when many local high streets are in crisis, with a vacancy rate of more than one in seven shops.

Retail expert Paul Turner-Mitchell, who uncovered the FOI data, said: “It’s hard to see how council spending from this fund is encouraging innovation. Councils are continuing to throw taxpayers’ money at the same stale ideas they’ve been peddling for years. They really are just fiddling while Rome burns and the fact that it’s being done under the banner of ‘innovation’ adds insult to injury.”

Despite Ms Portas saying that the money should not be “spent by the usual suspects sitting round a table planning Christmas decorations”, Kingston upon Hull splashed £5,563 on a nativity street theatre, while the Vale of White Horse lavished £1,000 on reindeer and £485 on a children’s farm for a “Christmas Extravaganza”.

Stephen Brady, a councillor at Kingston upon Hull, said: “Last year we attracted more than 70,000 visitors to events in the Old Town area that gave a significant boost to footfall.”  Suzanne Malcolm, at South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils, said: “The particular Christmas projects you refer to were a great success.”

A spokesman for North Tyneside Council, which splashed out on the Santa, said: “Our local chambers of trade have been consulted about the use of the funding and supported using a small percentage of it to pay for elements of a wider Christmas events and marketing campaign.”

Tonight a spokesman for Ms Portas said: “The Portas Pilots Scheme has resulted in 400 towns across the country coming together and creating town teams to help reinvigorate their high streets.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on