Council fails to spend £100k 'Mary Portas' high street fund

A £100,000 government grant aimed at boosting trade on Southwark's high streets is still sitting unspent in the council's bank account over 18 months later, it has been revealed.photo-creative-commons-license-7.png

Southwark was awarded the cash in March 2012 following a government review of high streets led by TV's 'Queen of Shops' Mary Portas. It was one of a number of councils to benefit from a £10m High Street Innovation fund set up to rejuvenate town centres, bring empty shops back into use and support new business start-ups.

But enquiries by Liberal Democrat councillors have shown that so far not a single penny of the money has been spent.

It comes just a week after the council was criticised for sitting on hundreds of thousands of pounds meant for people struggling to cope with welfare changes.

The council has now said that the money will instead be rolled into a 'town centre growth' initiative, which is "still being worked up".

Liberal Democrats say the money should already be helping to boost local trade and have urged the council to make use of the fund now. They have hit out at the council for "letting down" local businesses and failing on basic financial management.

Southwark Liberal Democrat Group leader Cllr Anood Al-Samerai said:

"Many of the businesses who are seeing their profits squeezed will feel let down that the council is sitting on this cash instead of using it to boost local trade. Shops and small businesses in Southwark want a council that is on their side, but it doesn't always feel like that is the case. Instead there seems to be a lot of complacency about rejuvenating our high streets and getting the local economy moving."

"Southwark Council needs to give our high streets a helping hand and start spending this money sooner rather than later."