Fears that favouritism saw Swindon miss out on Portas cash
SWINDON Council’s Labour group says the town could have been robbed of thousands of pounds to improve the town centre following allegations that preferential treatment was shown to a town in a Government Minister’s constituency.
Swindon was one of more than 370 authorities which applied to the Government for up to £100,000 as part of the so-called Portas Pilots scheme, launched with the backing of retail guru Mary Portas.
But, despite revising its bid after failing in a first round of funding, the town was again not named among a second wave of 15 new pilot areas which Minister Grant Shapps announced in July.
It has since transpired in a national newspaper that a Conservative councillor for Hatfield, in Mr Shapps's constituency, was the only person to have a face-to-face meeting with senior civil servants over securing the cash.
The Hertfordshire town was one of only 15 “town teams”, from nearly 400 bidders, to secure the £100,000 grant.
Prior to September's cabinet reshuffle, Mr Shapps, who is also the Conservative Party chairman, was responsible for the scheme.
Coun Jim Grant, Swindon’s Labour group leader, said: “If the allegations are true, then Swindon has missed out on much needed funding for our town centre without being allowed to make our case to ministers.
“The Government will be facing questions as to why is it only the constituency represented by the Conservative Party Chairman’s who gets access to Whitehall officials.
“I am deeply concerned as to why Swindon is being left out of the whole process. Swindon has a larger population than Hatfield, and is, in my opinion, in far greater need of town centre improvement.
“I would now like to see Swindon’s two MPs taking this matter up in Parliament, South Swindon MP Robert Buckland said: “My understanding of the Portas Pilots is they were really targeting town centres in a more difficult economic situation than Swindon and I’m absolutely sure that any favouritism was not part of the decision-making process.
“I cannot imagine Mary Portas, who is not political or part of the Government would want to be part of any political process.”