Local authorities have spent a fraction of the £10m awarded to them to fill empty stores as part of the Government’s attempt to help revive UK high streets.
Data from the 72 local authorities that responded to 100 Freedom of Information (FOI) requests showed just £519,363 of the £7.2m High Street Innovation Fund available to them has been spent.
In addition, of those 72 local authorities who responded to the requests 47 have not spent any of the fund.
Last March, the Government awarded 100 local authorities £100,000 each from a £10m pot to help them fill empty stores and continue the clear up of any damage caused by 2011’s riots.
It emerges after it was revealed last month that the Portas Pilots towns have so far spent just 12% of the money awarded to them the Department of Communities and Local Government.
The fund was awarded in the wake of Mary Portas’ review of the high street, published early last year.
The FOI figures reveal that few towns have used the money allocated to them to fill vacant stores. Some examples include Blackburn, which spent £109,000 on Christmas lights, Stevenage which spent £10,038 on a leisure centre ramp and Derby which spent £25,150 on a retail destination study.
Paul Turner-Mitchell, a Rochdale independent shop owner and contributor to Portas’ high street review, submitted the FOI requests and blamed local authorities not spending the money on “council bureaucracy”.
He added: “Looking at these figures you can only conclude that councils are either complacent about the problems on the high street or they simply don’t know what to do about it. Either way ministers need to look at ways of getting high street funding out to the coalface much quicker. Bureaucratic dawdling is the last thing we need.”
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 £10million to attract new businesses into their areas.
“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.”
But commenting on the 7% spend Simon Danczuk MP, a member of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee said: “It is very worrying seeing an innovation fund being used for tired, unoriginal ideas.
“At a time when there’s not much money to go around, we shouldn’t be just doling millions out willy-nilly.
“There are plenty of people with fantastic ideas who could have put this money to much greater use than a concrete plinth or a Santa Claus outfit. The Government really needs to get to grips with high street policy. It’s as though they never think beyond the press release.”
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