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Local authorities hit by challenge fund fatigue

LOCAL AUTHORITIES are being overloaded by competition for cash to cover a range of programmes from street design to bus initiatives, local transport chiefs said this week.

They added that the amounts of money involved did not justify the time and resources necessary to bid for so many competitions.

In the last 12 months, the government has launched over 100 challenge funding competitions.

Local authorities across the country have to compete for money for relatively small work, much of it worth less than £500,000.

In the last two weeks alone, the government has allocated funds to councils across the country after they competed for the £20M rural bus challenge, the £30M home zones challenge and the £200,000 road safety challenge.

The ICE has seized on local authorities' concern that separate challenge funds have increasingly replaced mainstream funding. It is surveying councils on the issue of 'initiative fatigue' in its annual local transport survey sent out last week.

This week, councils told NCE that they lack the money and staff time to apply for so many separate schemes.

'A lot of money is needed to bid for so many schemes and the rewards aren't that great, ' said Essex County Council head of transportation, John Sanders.

He is producing a paper on the government's 'initiativitis' for this year's Association of Municipal Engineers conference.

Kent County Council transport operation manager Dr Alastair Jefford added: 'A lot of local authorities are soul searching whether they want to put resources into bidding for these schemes. As a big county council we are finding it hard to keep applying for them, so what is it like for smaller authorities?'

Jefford called for the different initiatives to be brought into mainstream funding to save staff time.

'A lot of money has been taken out of mainstream funding mechanisms like the Local Transport Plan and the Single Regeneration Budget, ' said Jefford.

'It would be far better to put some of these initiatives - after they get past the pilot stage - under the umbrella of the Local Transport Plan.'

Other authorities said they feared that challenge funds for specific projects had diverted cash away from their top priorities.

'Funding is shifting away from our priorities to do what the government might want us to do, ' said South Tyneside metropolitan borough council development services director, Douglas Pigg.

He added that the trend had forced South Tyneside to focus more on schemes based on social deprivation such as bus projects, but feared that highway maintenance funding could suffer as a result.

The Department for Transport Local Government & the Regions said this week that it was happy with the response to its initiatives. 'Our urban bus challenge was over-subscribed with 146 proposals from 64 authorities for 32 schemes. We find this type of funding an effective way of stimulating innovative ideas to deal with specific problems.'

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