The cash was announced by the Department for Communities and Local Government last April in the wake of retail guru Mary Portas’s review of the high street, and was intended to be spent on projects to deal with empty shops.
But a Freedom of Information request suggests that only around 7 per cent of the money awarded to councils has actually been spent, while one local authority – Calderdale Council – even rejected the cash.
Large chunks of the money that has been spent – £520 000 out of a possible £7.2 million allocated to councils who responded to the FOI request – have gone on projects such as hiring a Santa Claus and installing a leisure centre ramp.
Paul Turner Mitchell, a Rochdale independent shop-owner and contributor to the Portas report, submitted the FOI request.
He says, ‘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 to the coalface much quicker. Bureaucratic dawdling is the last thing we need.’
Simon Danczuk, Labour MP for Rochdale, says, ‘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.’
A spokesman for the DCLG says, ‘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.’