Only one local authority has spent the money awarded for the second wave of Portas Pilots, it can be revealed.
Following heavy criticism of the wasteful and slow spending of the first 12 towns to be awarded Portas Pilot status, Freedom of Information requests have revealed that a similar lack of urgency has been shown by the second wave of 15 towns. Of £1.5 million awarded to 15 towns in July 2012, only 13 per cent of the money has been spent.
7 out of 15 towns awarded Portas Pilot funding have not yet spent a single penny
7 of the 15 towns awarded Portas Pilot funding had not spent a single penny. Among these is Tower Hamlets, whose Roman Road market has been filmed to feature in Portas’ forthcoming TV programme on her progress in bringing the high street back to life which airs next week.
Critics of the scheme said the latest spending figures showed that rather than being a dynamic force for change, the pilots remained bogged down in bureaucracy.
“The rate of major chain closures is increasing dramatically and we are seeing high streets turn into ghost towns,” said retail commentator Paul Turner Mitchell (@Paul25Ten on Twitter). “We want to see councils mounting an urgent fightback but it looks like all they’re doing is twiddling their thumbs and scratching their heads. The problem is that local government thinking is so risk averse and bureaucratic nothing gets done – and this just makes the problem worse.”
Former high street minister, Grant Shapps, constituency (Welwyn Hatfield) were awarded £100,000 yet have seen Empty shops rise from 14.3% in December 2011 to 23.3% in November 2012!
One of the most high profile pilots in the second wave of funding is Welwyn Hatfield, the constituency of Conservative Party chairman and former high street minister Grant Shapps. At the time, Shapps referred to the Pilot awards as “golden tickets”, yet although his local council has spent £44,000 of the £100,000 they were awarded it has had little impact on the high street. Empty shop levels in the town have shot up from 14.3 per cent in December 2011 to 23.3 per cent in November 2012.
Controversy dogged Welwyn Hatfield’s bid, as it emerged that they were the only applicant to have had a meeting with officials at the Department of Culture and Local Government ahead of the decision. Shapps denied any wrongdoing and said the award of Portas Pilot status to Welwyn Hatfield was “completely proper”.
Shapps promised that pilots would be the “vanguard of a high street revolution”
Despite promises by Shapps that the Pilots would be the “vanguard of a high street revolution” the spending breakdown shows that a large amount of the money awarded by Government has gone on activities that can hardly be described as revolutionary.
In Lambeth, for example, they spent £14,200 to design market stalls and £3,350 on “test trading”. In Loughborough over £13,000 has been spent on studies, £350 for posting on Facebook and £150 on a photographer to take a picture of Mary Portas when she visited. In Rotherham £3,981.50 was spent on getting local businesses “mystery shopped” and £1,100 on media workshops. While in Lowestoft, of the £2,016 spent, £862 was claimed by expenses for town team members attending conferences etc.
The only Pilot to have spent all their money was Lewisham. The town has seen pop up shops, a retro market and a community hub spring up as a result although spent £10,000 has been spent on a town team consultant.
Urgent action was called for by Portas, but it seems that sense of urgency has not influenced her pilot towns.
In 2011 when Portas published her Portas Review into the high street, she said, “unless urgent action is taken, the casualties will only continue to multiply.” In the top 650 town centres in 2012 the total number of retail and leisure units that closed was 25,872 according to the Local Data Company.
Background: Portas Pilots – Tranche 2, awarded 24th July 2012
Spending by Pilots 8 months on
|Local Authority/Pilot Area||Amount Received||Amount Spent (as at 31st March)|
|Liverpool (Lodge Lane)||£100,000||£0|
|Northumberland (Berwick upon Tweed)||£100,000||£0|
|Mid Devon (Tiverton)||£100,000||£0|
|Brighton (London Road)||£83,485||£0|
|Lewisham (Forest Hill, Kirkdale and Sydenham)||£80,000||£80,000|
|Welwyn Hatfield (Hatfield) (Note 1)||£100,000||£44,562.50|
|Warwick (Leamington Old Town)||£100,000||£2,016.35|
|Lambeth (Waterloo – Lower Marsh and the Cut)||£97,000||£24,691|
|Tower Hamlets (Chrisp Street, Watney Market & Roman Road) (Note 2)||£99,000||£0|
Note 1 – Grant Shapps constituency. Vacancy rate increased from 14.3% in December 2011 to 23.3% in November 2012 (source: Local Data Company)
Note 2 – First programme of Mary Queen of the High Street starting on 7th May at 9pm on Channel 4 features Roman Road.