Local authorities spent more than a million pounds on external consultants in their bids for levelling up cash - but failed to win the funding. 

Council officials employed experts to boost their bids for round two of the government’s Levelling Up Fund in 2022, but many fell short of receiving the new investment despite seeking external advice. 

An investigation found Durham County Council spent more than £1m on seven organisations as it submitted five separate bids to the Government. The authority said additional expertise was required due to the vast amount of work to prepare the bids as well as ensuring they complied with the Government’s guidance. 

However, it did not name the organisations due to them being “commercially sensitive”. 

Read more: Five County Durham bids fail to win levelling up cash

What did County Durham bid for?


  • City of Durham: Relief road at Bowburn to tackle traffic constraints, third phase of the Integra 61 scheme, and stabilisation works on the A690 and active travel measures introduced in the city centre.
  • Horden: New social housing and enhanced community assets including a nature reserve and woodland plantation.
  • Stanley: Bringing town centre buildings back to life and improving public transport, improve traffic flow along the A693, and improve Coast 2 Coast route connections.
  • Willington, Crook and Tow Law: New community hub, improved parks, Multi Use Games Areas (MUGAs), event spaces, and a BMX track and skate park. Better infrastructure at Low Willington Industrial Estate, new and upgraded cycling and walking routes will also be developed between Crook and Willington.
  • Newton Aycliffe: Town centre land and buildings repurposed to provide improved flexible space, a public transport interchange and reprovision of surface level car parking. New cultural attractions to improve the town's cultural and wellbeing offer.

All five bids for levelling up cash to regenerate town centres, improve transport connectivity, and create new cultural attractions failed.

Amy Harhoff, Durham County Council’s corporate director of regeneration, economy and growth, said: “Levelling up proposals across the county were developed in partnership with communities and the private sector. Due to the scale of work required to develop the five proposals, like many local authorities, we also appointed external consultants to support the process and ensure submissions met the government’s bidding requirements, ensuring the best possible case for investment was presented for County Durham.

The Northern Echo: Darlington Council plans to redevelop the Northgate area of the town. Darlington Council plans to redevelop the Northgate area of the town. (Image: The Northern Echo)

In Darlington, the local authority spent £116,385 on four consultancy organisations to help with its bid as it “did not have sufficient internal resources available to work on the bid”. 

But the bid to add further investment to redevelopment plans in Northgate and the refurbishment of the Head of Steam Railway Museum was also rejected.

A council spokeswoman said: “The council has budget provision for advanced design work and development of bids to progress schemes that are priorities.  The projects contained within the bid remain priorities and we will continue to develop them and look for funding and innovative ways to deliver the projects for Darlington. 

“The money spent developing the bid is an investment in progressing the schemes that needed to be done to understand the business case for investment and to be able to progress the ideas.”

Yet the competitive bidding process has faced criticism from some politicians, who say authorities are forced to spend valuable resources on failed bids, with Tory MP Mary Robinson likening the bidding process to “the dark arts” at a recent committee hearing. 

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The Government said the use of consultants is a council's own decision but distributed £125,000 to each local authority for their bids. 

A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: “The use of consultants is a decision for individual councils – we provide clear, straightforward guidance to support those applying for the Levelling Up Fund.

“However we recognise there are costs associated with bids which is why across both rounds we provided more than £20 million to help councils develop bids.”