Fund of £3.8m to improve Kettering untouched for ELEVEN years

A pot of cash totalling almost £4m set aside to better the borough of Kettering has not been used for more than a decade.

Thursday, 6th June 2019, 6:00 am
Kettering's town centre has ben hit by a number of closures.

Kettering Council has a reserves fund earmarked for economic development and regeneration with a current balance for £3.863m.

It can be used to pay for one-off projects or to provide resources for council services, aiming to improve the borough’s offering.

But no money has been withdrawn since 2007/2008, when £100,000 was transferred from the reserves.

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Cllr Jim Hakewill, pictured during his year as mayor, was the last council leader to use the fund.

Opposition leader Cllr Mick Scrimshaw (Lab, William Knibb) said he was extremely disappointed.

He said: “I am not saying we should be writing cheques willy nilly without any sort of strategy but there are things that could be paid for by the council using these reserves.

“That money belongs to the people of Kettering and it is simply not being used.”

Analysis of the council’s accounts showed no money has been transferred to or from the fund since 2012/2013, when £220,000 was put into it.

Cllr Mick Scrimshaw questioned why the council had not made use of the fund.

Previous years had seen totals of £400,000, £55,000, £361,000 and £1.037m put in but it’s as far back as 2007/2008 that money was last taken out.

Cllr Scrimshaw said the cash could have been used to subsidise two hours’ free car parking or pay for a feasibility study into the now dead-in-the-water swimming pool proposal.

Kettering town centre has been hit by a series of big name closures in recent years and the Labour group leader said it should have been obvious to use the money.

He said: “We’ve lost M&S, we’ve lost Woolworths, we’ve lost New Look.

Kettering Council said they had a history of investing in Kettering over the past decade.

“What on earth are they waiting for before they press the emergency button?”

At a council meeting earlier this year the ruling Conservatives argued the money was not available as it was used elsewhere and for internal borrowing. Cllr Scrimshaw disagreed, saying that the money was available for its intended use and that it was the council’s responsibility to manage their cashflow so that it was.

It is not clear from council papers at the time what the £100,000 was used for in 2007/2008.

Cllr Jim Hakewill (Ind, Slade) was a Conservative and leader of the council at the time. He could not recall what the fund was last used for.

He said the fund could have been used in recent years to safeguard the future of some of the borough’s under-threat libraries.

He said: “If anyone reading this story had been given £3m-plus 10 years ago they would have made something of it.

“It’s entirely wrong that the council is just sitting on it rather than using it for the benefits of residents and businesses in the borough.”

Despite their lack of use of the fund the council does have plans to improve their flagship town centre.

The authority is one of 300 to make bids for up to £25m from the Future High Street Fund. Last month the council’s executive director Lisa Hyde said they would share their plans when in place.

Nearby Northampton has already published their vision which includes an indoor food hall and new parks.

In Kettering the council developed a town centre delivery plan in 2017 which has 19 projects to work towards becoming a community hub. They want it to be a legacy they build on.

Meadow Road park will be redeveloped this summer with a plan to develop the former police station and magistrates’ court in progress.

A Kettering Council spokesman said: “The council has had a long history of investing in Kettering and in other town centres over the last decade, maximising investment from developer contributions as well as its own spending.

“We will continue to use all of the resources that are available to implement the delivery plan, to match fund bids for external resources such as the government’s high street fund, and to realise projects which will emerge from the current consultation and engagement work on the long-term shape of the town centre.”

With Kettering Council soon to be scrapped and replaced by a new unitary authority there are fears that not using the reserves fund will be a missed opportunity.

Neighbouring Corby Council proposed to shell out £5m last year on upgrades to their swimming pool, council offices, shopping precincts and more ahead of their abolition.

A Kettering Council spokesman added: “The council’s economic and regeneration reserve is one of the possible funding sources that the council could utilise when considering how best to move the town centre development plan forward in a sustainable manner.”