Scarborough Council spends over £1m on consultants to assist Towns Fund bids

Scarborough Borough Council has spent almost three times more on external consultants to chase government funding for levelling up projects than their regional counterparts, Freedom of Information requests have revealed.

The council initially used £189,586 of money provided by the Government on the services of AECOM to support a bid for £50m of support for Scarborough and Whitby in the £3.6bn Towns Fund. It was subsequently the bid had resulted in the granting of £37.3m for the area - £20.2m for Scarborough and £17.1m for Whitby.

But the council has then spent a further £873,262 of its own cash on external consultants for a further £25.5m worth of projects it hopes to win Towns Fund money for. These include work on a £5m for Scarborough Harbour West Pier for which Mason Clark Associates have been paid £254,000 for and £6.5m for the Scarborough Station Gateway for which AECOM has received £353,000 for.

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A spokesperson for Scarborough Council said the authority considered the spending to be "value for money".

Scarborough Council is aiming to win more Government cash through the Towns Fund.

"As a result of the expenditure on consultant support we will see approximately £37.1m of Town Deal investment, and a further £30m-plus in funding from our own capital and private sector investment over the next four years. The work also provides us with the information to apply for and secure up to a further £20m from the levelling up fund in 2022."

The spokesperson added: “Ideally funding should be allocated where there is greatest demonstrable need.

“The Towns Fund does this to a certain extent by identifying those key target areas where levelling up is most required.

“The Town Deal part of the Towns Fund is not a competitive process. Allocations are made on the basis of evidenced local need and are assessed at a local level using the revised Green Book criteria, which now includes greater elements of social and community value in its consideration.”

Across Yorkshire and Humber, councils and mayoral combined authorities have collectively spent £3.3m on external consultants - using a mixture of Government funding to support the bidding process and their own funds.

Scarborough has spent the most at just over £1m, following by Bradford Council which spent £353,000.

Over £220,000 of this came from Government funding to support the Towns Fund bidding process and was used to pay the Faithful + Gould Limited project and programme management consultancy. That bid saw Shipley receive £25m and Keighley £33.6m.

A further £130,000 of the council’s own money has been spent on the services of Faithful + Gould and PricewaterhouseCoopers to support a £20m bid to the Levelling Up Fund to help pay for a new leisure centre. The bid was confirmed to have succeeded in last month’s Budget.

The Budget saw £187m worth of money granted to 10 projects in Yorkshire in what is the first tranche of allocations from the Levelling Up Fund.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the Government’s levelling work was “restoring the pride people feel in the places they call home”.

Rotherham Council was the third highest spender on external consultants, paying out £322,921 in total. On the Towns Fund, Rotherham Council used Government money to pay £164,076 towards five companies involved in supporting its bid for £35m. It ultimately received £31.6m.

Six other firms were employed on a series of bids for funding totalling nearly £60m from the Levelling Up Fund, with the council using £150,000 of money provided through the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority’s Gainshare Emergency Recovery Fund. It was announced Rotherham would receive £39.5m from the Fund, which will be put towards finishing the Culture and Leisure Quarter in the town centre and creating new visitor and hospitality centres at Wentworth Woodhouse.

A further £7,850 of the council’s own funds on external companies to support bids for £4.7m worth of bids to the Community Renewal Fund. A scheme called Anything’s Possible, Rotherham! has now been awarded £607,000 from the fund.

But one of the biggest winners from the recent Levelling Up Fund announcement was one of the smallest spenders on consultants. Sheffield Council spent £57,000 on consultants for two bids - both of which were successful and received the full £37m that had been sought. The money will go towards the regeneration of the Castlegate Quarter and the creation of a Centre for Child Health Technology in Attercliffe.

Firms working for rival bids deny any conflict of interest

Companies which represented several Yorkshire councils submitting rival bids for the same pots of funding have insisted the situation did not cause conflicts of interest.

Mott MacDonald worked on Levelling Up Fund bids for Doncaster, Leeds and South Yorkshire, as well as Towns Fund bids for Calderdale, Doncaster, Scarborough and North Lincolnshire.

A spokesperson for Mott MacDonald said: “We are proud of our work advising local authorities up and down the country and have helped them secure grants and investment from the UK Government, including from the Future High Streets Fund, the Towns Fund, and the newly announced Levelling Up Fund.

“We are delighted to have helped secure £131M from these three funds for local authorities in Yorkshire.

“Local authority clients appoint us to work on these funding bids based on our experience. We always act in the best interests of our clients and while protecting confidentiality we are transparent about our work on other projects.”

Arup worked on Towns Fund bids for Rotherham, Doncaster, East Riding and North East Lincolnshire.

An Arup spokesperson said: “Arup has consistently provided a high standard of expertise to all clients it has supported in accessing funding from the UK Government. As a global company, with around 6,000 staff in the UK, we have sufficient resources and a robust conflict of interest procedure that delivers the highest standards of transparency and fairness.”

Genecon worked on Levelling Up Fund bids for Barnsley and Wakefield and Arcadis worked on Towns Funds bids for the same two councils.

Neither company responded to request for comment.

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