Liskeard hits back at claims scheme is 'waste of money'
A Cornish town central to the Government's Mary Portas-driven blueprint to revive the high street has hit back at suggestions the scheme is wasting taxpayers' money.
Freedom of Information requests have revealed 12 towns – dubbed "Portas Pilots" – have spent just 12% of the £1.2m awarded in May, indicating that progress has been slow.
Ms Portas, the retail expert and television personality, famed for her show Mary Queen of Shops was parachuted in to lead the initiative.
The requests showed that by the end of 2012, seven months after the money was awarded, Liskeard in Cornwall had spent just over £5,000 of the £100,000 it had been awarded.
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But members of the Liskeard Town Team said it had actually committed to spending £73,000 of the money.
Some of the other 11 towns drew criticism after councils and their "town teams" appeared to have squandered chunks of the cash they were given on seemingly wasteful items, such as £1,600 on a Peppa Pig costume and nearly £1,000 on postage.
Sally Hawken, chairman of the Liskeard Town Team, said: "The town team board was first formed in mid-September.
"We've only been in a position to look at how we can spend the money since then.
"By the time the article went to print we had actually committed to spending £73,000 of the money.
"At the moment the biggest spends we are looking at are the ongoing marketing and bringing in an event organiser and festival coordinator. The tenders have already gone out for these."
Ms Hawken said that lots of projects are under way and the money is being put to good use in Liskeard. Members of the team have recently distributed leaflets across Cornwall advertising what the town has to offer and the group is designing a new website.
Markets and arts events have also been held to help bring people into the town.
The team has also secured an extra £25,000 from the Arts Council to help support arts events locally.
As part of the original bid, the Town Team set out plans to help fill empty shops in Liskeard. "We have more shops filled up than we had six months ago," Ms Hawken said.
Meanwhile, trade magazine The Grocer has reported that a national progress report on the "Portas Pilot" project, due to be published next month, has been shelved.
Insiders apparently told the magazine ministers feared the management of the pilots had been so "ineffective" and "inconsistent" that the planned appraisal of their progress would "not be worth the paper it was to be printed on".