NORTH EAST councils spent thousands of pounds on consultants in their attempts to secure government funding to improve their communities.

More than £300,000 was spent by authorities in the region to help them with their bids for cash from levelling up projects between 2020 and 2021, The Northern Echo can reveal. 

But not every application proved successful and some councils splashed the cash in vain after their bid failed to convince the Government to hand over the funding. 

Announced by the Government earlier last year, the Levelling Up Fund is a pot of £4.8billion that is being handed out to areas across the UK. Constituencies draw up bids, aimed at funding projects such as smaller scale transport schemes, high street regeneration, and boosting cultural assets. 

Some areas, such as ex industrial areas and more deprived constituencies, have been deemed higher priority for receiving money from the fund. 

The first lot of funding projects were announced last October. 

Read more: Success of levelling up for the North questioned

A series of Freedom of Information responses to The Northern Echo reveal different councils submitted bids while employing the same consultancy firms to make their cases to the Government. 

Durham County Council proved the biggest spender in the region as it paid out £163,575 to three different consultants to help with its successful Bishop Auckland bid. 

  • Jacobs - £138,335
  • Atkins - £17,740.00
  • Taziker - £7,500

A further £86,985 was paid to Jacobs for its 'further rounds viability works' while Tracsis received £5,645 from the council. 

In a response explaining why the consultants were used the council said it had a "lack of internal expertise for specialist elements".

The successful £20m bid will go towards the £30.91m total cost of reopening Whorlton Bridge, re-routing the A68 to by-pass Toft Hill and enhancing the Locomotion heritage attraction at Shildon, all in the Bishop Auckland constituency.

The Northern Echo: The Locomotion site in Shildon will be improved through Levelling Up fundingThe Locomotion site in Shildon will be improved through Levelling Up funding

Stockton Council said there were three instances where external consultants were appointed to secure its £20m Levelling Up funding. 

The authority submitted two £20million bids for the Labour Stockton North and Conservative Stockton South consistencies to regenerate Billingham high street and to build the an exhibition centre in Preston Park and improve Yarm town centre respectively. 

However, the Stockton South bid, backed by Tory MP Matt Vickers, was the only project that was accepted. 

The Northern Echo:  Preston Park and Museum Preston Park and Museum

The consultancy firm Jacobs were also used by the authority alongside Arup and Howarth Lichfield Partners. Their work, the council says, was "funded through money provided by Government to support development of bids into Levelling Up Fund". 

The council did not reveal its individual spendings but said an overall cost of £44,000 was spent. 

Explaining why it employed the firms, it added: "The decision was based upon the requirement for specialists that have the right expertise and knowledge in the development HM Treasury Business cases, which is the model used by the Government when bidding for such funding mechanisms."

Redcar and Cleveland council submitted an ambitious near £40m bid, which included £7m for urgent highway repairs including bridges in east Cleveland and £5.5m to redevelop Redcar central station. However, it was not approved by the Government. 

The authority said it worked with one consultancy firm - Capita - and paid them £6,742.51. 

"The use of external consultants is a mechanism by which the council can access temporary additional capacity or specialist knowledge which is not available within the organisation," the council explained. 

"This is employed as required, often (but not exclusively) using development funding associated with the relevant fund. Where a commission is valued at over £10,000, a decision is made under delegated authority procedures, the detail of which – including the specific reasons for the decision taken - are published on the council’s website."

The Northern Echo: The dilapidated Redcar Railway StationThe dilapidated Redcar Railway Station

Three councils - Darlington, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool - said they didn't use any external consultants to pursue funding. 

It is not known if Darlington or Middlesbrough councils submitted an application to the Levelling Up Fund. However, Hartlepool did and its £20m bid was rejected. 

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said the use of consultants is down to councils.

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