Northumberland Country Council takes control of Portas fund from Berwick town team

Northumberland County Council has taken over the Portas Pilot fund from Berwick Town Team Ltd, after less than £10,000 of the £200,000 was spent

Mary Portas, who was behind the scheme to boost flagging high streets
Mary Portas, who was behind the scheme to boost flagging high streets

Management of a fund seeking to breathe new life into a border town high street has been transferred amid concerns over the pace at which projects were being delivered.

Northumberland County Council has taken over the Portas Pilot fund from the hands of the Berwick Town Team Ltd, after less than £10,000 of the £200,000 was spent.

However, the town team last night insisted it had committed a quarter of its total budget in its first five months and brought in-kind benefits to Berwick of £100,000, and claimed the council’s actions were “unprecedented.”

Berwick was awarded £100,000 under the government scheme, which seeks to regenerate town centres in July 2012. The county council as supervisory body for the grant agreed to match the £100,000, creating a £200k fund.

Berwick Town Team took on responsibility for managing the pilot and, after a number of personnel changes, Berwick Town Team Ltd (BTTL) was formed in January 2013, beginning operations a month later.

However, a report to a council meeting next week reveals that there was further “board instability”, with chairman Ed Swales resigning at the end of last August.

By the end of September, less than £10,000 of the fund had been spent.

As a result, the county council deemed “the situation was not tenable” and took responsibility for the project from BTTL, transferring it to Northumberland development company Arch and then Berwick Town Council, in a bid to “accelerate delivery progress” and “ensure fit for purpose delivery arrangements”.

BTTL was given a “project champion” role. Last night, town team acting chairman Chris Hardie claimed BTTL had committed more than £50,000 in projects between its launch event in May 2013 and October, 25% of its budget.

He also said the town team had been given £100,000 in “in-kind” benefits.

Mr Hardie said of the council’s move: “It was a huge shock at the time because the developments we had done were really sustainable and had made a real difference, and had all been done in the space of four or five months.”

He claimed the national Portas bosses had been “very supportive” and had deemed the council’s actions “unprecedented”.

Mr Hardie said the team had been told “they did not expect groups to spend money willy nilly” and that they “wanted sustainable projects that made a difference to the commercial viability of the town”.

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