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HIGHLIGHTED: Glastonbury accelerator funding audit

HIGHLIGHTED: Glastonbury accelerator funding audit

Image: LDRS

Financial “anomalies” surrounding five projects designed to regenerate Glastonbury town centre have been highlighted by an official audit.

The government provided £500,000 of “accelerator funding” in October 2020 towards five projects in Glastonbury ahead of a full bid to its £3.6bn towns fund.

An audit by the South West Audit Partnership (SWAP) raises questions about how the money had been spent, claiming there had been a lack of correct documentation and citing “questionable items” within the accounts.

Mendip District Council has responded that all five projects were delivered on-time and on-budget, and that all relevant government procedures had been followed.

Which projects received accelerator funding?

The five projects selected for accelerator funding in late-2020 were:

  • Renovations of Building C within the Red Brick Building on the A39 Street Road (£250,000)
  • New cycle racks on High Street, with new trees, hanging baskets, a wrought iron entrance arch in Hanover Square and improvements to two nearby toilet blocks (£100,000)
  • Improvements to Herbies Field on the B3151 Meare Road, including new parking facilities to enable the return of the Tor Fair (£55,000)
  • Refurbishment of St Edmund’s Hall and the surrounding green space within the Windmill Hill part of the town (£50,000)
  • Upgrades to a seven-mile circular route around the town, which includes Glastonbury Tor, Wearyall Hall and views of the Somerset Levels (£45,000)

Following the accelerator funding, Glastonbury was granted £23.6M from the towns fund for a further 12 projects, with the money being gradually released over the next five years.

The Glastonbury town deal board, which is overseeing the projects, comprises representatives of the town, district and parish councils, as well as Wells MP James Heappey, the Glastonbury Festival and other relevant organisations.

What did the audit say?

SWAP conducted an audit of these projects, publishing its findings before a meeting of the council’s audit committee in Shepton Mallet on Wednesday evening (August 11).

While acknowledging the government’s desire for a “light touch” approach (to ensure the projects could be completed quickly), the audit found there was “ineffective monitoring” of the projects.

Furthermore, payments were issued “without the required cashflow documentation”, which would ensure the funding was only being allocated to the intended areas.

Auditors also found the expenditure reports surrounding Building C “contained anomalies and questionable items”, which had not been queried at the time that the work was being undertaken.

 

 

They further claimed the town deal board did not have a code of conduct, a formal process for its members to register gifts or hospitality, or a means for members to declare personal or financial interests for any of the projects.

 

How has the council responded?

The district council (which is the responsible body for the town deal) said they had followed guidance from the government and none of the funding for any of the projects had been misused or wrongly allocated.

A spokesman said: “When the contracts were agreed with the individual projects, the requirements were detailed as to how the funds would be distributed.

“However, once the projects commenced, this had to be adapted to provide appropriate funding for the projects to start, as the organisations could not cashflow the outlay for the projects. All the projects were proposed and run by established community organisations.

This will not be the case for the projects in the Glastonbury town investment plan (TIP), where we are required to follow the guidance from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and the Treasury’s business case process.

“We always follow the relevant government guidance, and the town deal board is also committed to doing so. This robust and detailed process is in place and has already started for the 12 projects that make up the Glastonbury TIP.

“The projects were monitored regularly, over a short delivery timescale, with regular reports being made to the board.

“All the funding was appropriately used and was checked thoroughly as the projects progressed, some of which was outside the audit point. Any discrepancies were resolved without issue by the end of the projects.”

Regarding the work on the Red Brick Building, the council said the anomalies had arisen due to the multiple different funding sources for the project on top of the accelerator funding.

A spokesman said: “Building C received funding from a number of sources with differing criteria, which led to some initial administrative anomalies in terms of how expenditure was allocated to each fund.

“These differences have now been resolved between the funds and there are no outstanding issues.”

The council also stated the town deal board has a code of conduct, which is available on the council’s website, and there had been no interests declared to date.

A spokesman added: “Due to the commercial nature of the projects within the town deal, it will not be possible to hold board meetings in public, but all minutes are available on our website once they have been approved by the board.”

 

Words: Daniel Mumby, Local Democracy Reporter


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