THE working of local government is rarely fascinating; sometimes, though, it can take centre stage. It has become so for me as the founder and cheerleader of The Auckland Project for the last 11 years. 

Durham County Council is forcing me to a decision which I never thought I would face:  to suspend all future payments from The Auckland Project until the situation is resolved. If it is not resolved, then the project will end. 

What is the significance of this?

Read more: Proposals for £50m funding spend in Bishop Auckland revealed

In 2011, I turned my attention to the plight of Bishop Auckland, a small market-town with a population of some 25,000. I am proud indeed to be a part of the town. 

My motivation arose from a deep love of place, and a determination to help the community find a full abundance. I resolved to be a drainpipe – whatever resource came to me would go in at the top end and come out the bottom end. 

It happened that it came on floodwater scale – the town is now poised for prosperity. 

The Northern Echo: Jonathan Ruffer has pumped millions of pounds into Bishop Auckland since 2012. Picture: NORTHERN ECHO.Jonathan Ruffer has pumped millions of pounds into Bishop Auckland since 2012. Picture: NORTHERN ECHO.

Funding a post-industrial town is a case-history in the seeming futility of sunk costs – you keep pouring, and the money keeps disappearing. Except it doesn’t – there comes a point when a foundation has been laid. 

That’s the moment when others can join in and reap the rewards of those sunk costs – and that is exactly what has happened. 

As a result of my money, Bishop Auckland has been awarded, exceptionally, no less than £53m through the Government’s Future High Street Fund and the Stronger Towns Fund. Money from the latter is given to a Town Board, made up of local people whose duty is to represent the town in the spending of the money on its behalf. 

The Northern Echo: Bishop Auckland has received over £50m in government funding. Picture: NORTHERN ECHO.Bishop Auckland has received over £50m in government funding. Picture: NORTHERN ECHO.

Durham County Council has taken it upon itself to make the executive decisions on this, and has done so secretively and with a high hand notwithstanding clear rules as to where these responsibilities lie: with the Town Board and not with the council. 

Discussions suggested that these difficulties could be overcome, but a peremptory message last Friday closed off this possibility.   

Bishop Auckland deserves the full benefit of the money that it has been awarded. I feel strongly that its delivery should be carried out as intended – through the Town Board, created for this sole purpose.

The Northern Echo: Levelling up minister, Michael Gove. Picture: PA MEDIA.Levelling up minister, Michael Gove. Picture: PA MEDIA.

Sometimes, the best way forward in helping a community is by bringing resource – sometimes it is only possible by withholding it. This, reluctantly, is the course of action I believe will bring about a resolution.

When the council understands that it has to act within its powers, then may the drainpipe play its tune again.

Jonathan Ruffer, Bishop Auckland.

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