A day after MPs announced an inquiry into the government handling of the Portas Review, a separate investigation has revealed that a huge proportion of the funding behind the project has either not been spent at all, or frittered away.
The government gave 100 councils a share of £10m as part of its high-street innovation fund dubbed ‘Portas Plus’.
But a Freedom of Information request of 72 councils, almost exactly a year on, reveals 47 have not spent any money at all.
Of the £7.2million shared between those who responded, just £519,363 has been spent on efforts to help struggling businesses.
The investigation, submitted by Paul Turner Mitchell, a Rochdale independent shop owner and contributor to the Portas Review, also reveals that of the money that has been spent, much has gone on Christmas decorations.
Blackburn spent £10,900 on Christmas lights, Ipswich spent £10,000 on a Christmas light switch-on, while Vale of White Horse District Council spent £1,000 on a reindeer.
However, other major cities, including Liverpool, Birmingham and Leicester, have still spent nothing.
Yesterday MPs launched an inquiry into the government’s handling of the Portas Review and the high-street crisis.
The all-party business, innovation and skills Committee, chaired by Labour MP Adrian Bailey, will examine the support given to the retail industry as it struggles against the shift to online and soaring operating costs.
Turner Mitchell said he feared the government was waking up too late to its lack of action and accused towns of being allowed to “fiddle while Rome burns”.
“It’s maddening to think of councils having this money sitting in their bank accounts while all around shops have been closing.”
Today, Mary Portas said the collapse of the High Street had happened “faster than she thought”, adding her work as High Street Tsar had been “at times extraordinarily lonely”.