Lon­don de­vel­op­ment body ac­cused of wast­ing mil­lions of pounds

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - Business - By He­len Chan­dler-wilde

AN ECO­NOMIC de­vel­op­ment body in Lon­don has been ac­cused of wast­ing mil­lions of pounds of tax­pay­ers’ money on “pet projects”, in­clud­ing £4,000 on an ex­per­i­ment to ques­tion “ne­olib­eral eco­nomic dogma”.

Lon­don Eco­nomic Ac­tion Part­ner- ship (LEAP) spent £44m of pub­lic money in 2017-18, aim­ing to “iden­tify strate­gic ac­tions to sup­port and lead eco­nomic growth and job cre­ation in the cap­i­tal”. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of Lon­don, is the chair­man of the group. It re­ceives money from a va­ri­ety of pub­lic funds, in­clud­ing City Hall’s bud­get, cen­tral govern­ment and the EU. It gave £4,000 to fund the Brix­ton Pound Cafe, a café where there are no set prices and cus­tomers pay what they like. Its web­site de­scribes it as a “utopian ex­per­i­ment” to ques­tion “ne­olib­eral eco­nomic dogma”.

Fund­ing of £200,000 went to a “beach sum­mer event”, with no break­down of how ex­actly this money was spent. LEAP also spent £5,858 on flights to China, £80,000 on an­other beach project and £1,900 on pho­to­graphs of its team.

The body has been crit­i­cised for a lack of trans­parency in how money go­ing to projects is spent. Shaun Bai­ley, the Con­ser­va­tive can­di­date for mayor in 2020, said: “Lon­don­ers will be shocked by these find­ings. We need more bob­bies on the beat, not point­less pet projects.”

LEAP is one of many Lo­cal Eco­nomic Part­ner­ships, or­gan­i­sa­tions that were es­tab­lished af­ter the fi­nan­cial cri­sis in 2008 to pro­vide re­sources for rede­vel­op­ment. They are in­tended to bring to­gether pri­vate and pub­lic or­gan­i­sa­tions to sup­port lo­cal eco­nomic growth.

John O’con­nell, chief ex­ec­u­tive of think tank the Tax­pay­ers’ Al­liance, said the scheme should be wound up and a “se­ri­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tion” take place into the spend­ing. “It is com­pletely lu­di­crous that in mod­ern Bri­tain there is an opaque slush fund of tax­pay­ers’ cash that is be­ing doled out to ar­bi­trary projects in the cap­i­tal,” he said.

“There is no ex­pla­na­tion of the fund­ing de­ci­sions made by this slush fund and no ev­i­dence of the board seek­ing any­thing like value for money. What’s worse, the ra­tio­nale be­hind these fund­ing de­ci­sions are en­tirely un­known, and tax­pay­ers don’t know who is de­cid­ing where tens of mil­lions of pounds goes.”

A spokesman for the Mayor of Lon­don said: “This is a lu­di­crous po­lit­i­cal at­tack on LEAP which is a part­ner­ship be­tween busi­nesses, coun­cils and the Mayor that sup­ports eco­nomic growth and small busi­nesses across Lon­don and was re­cently given a clean bill of health by govern­ment of­fi­cials.

“The Mayor makes no apolo­gies what­so­ever for do­ing ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to sup­port small busi­nesses to grow and cre­ate new jobs.”

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