A SWINDON MP is considering referring the New Swindon Company to a public auditor to hold it to account for its use of more than £6.75m of public money.

Michael Wills, MP for North Swindon, made the comments yesterday while discussing both Swindon Council and the company in the lead-up to its development partner Modus going bust.

Mr Wills believes the company, which is to be reviewed at a Swindon Council cabinet meeting tonight, has not delivered enough to the people of Swindon.

He cited two projects led by the company, which is charged with redeveloping the town centre, which have failed in the past five years – including a £150m deal in 2004 to redevelop Granville Street car park, which fell through, and a £215m successor project, which collapsed in September.

“Not enough has been delivered and both Swindon Council and the company are to blame,” said the MP, who is due to stand down at the next general election.

“What have we got for the £6.75m the taxpayer spent? If the development was completed and people came from all over the world to see Swindon as the benchmark for modern development then all this money would be worth it.”

He wants to the South West Regional Development Agency or Homes and Communities Agency to investigate.

“The plans don’t have sufficient vision, they’re humdrum.

“When the company was created, partly due to me pushing for it, I had a number of meetings with the director of the Tate, the minister of media and sport and the director of the National Gallery – but our ideas about what should be done were completely ignored by council and company.

“I suggested a design competition with the likes of Norman Foster and Michael Hopkins taking part, but when I sent letters nothing was done.”

A former Swindon Council cabinet member has also criticised both the council and the company’s failure to complete its redevelopment projects.

Councillor Nick Martin, who used to hold the council’s financial portfolio, said the local authority is wasting hundreds of thousands of pounds a year by employing its own £560,000-a-year economic development department, while also paying £250,000 to fund the company each year.

“The council are paying two groups to do the same job,” said Mr Martin. “But the worst part is that I fail to see what either of them have achieved.

“Some will say it is the fault of the recession but I think they have been far too slow in developing the town.

“Granted the recession crushed us, but Reading redeveloped their town centre in time, why couldn’t we?

“In the future if I were running it I would want the company built into the council, I think that would make them faster and more effective because they would be accountable.

“Plus we wouldn’t be paying two bodies to do the same thing.”

Each year it received £250,000 each year by Swindon Council, South West Regional Development Agency and the Homes and Communities Agency. However, last year it received £236,000.

The New Swindon Company refused to comment.

Probing New Swindon Company's Costs
THE Adver is currently in the process of appealing against a decision by the company to refuse a freedom of information (FoI) request into the company’s finances.

Both Mr Wills, who is Britain’s information minister, and Coun Martin, urged the company to be “forthright and transparent” about its accounts.

The Adver was able to discover how much public funding the company received through FoI request presented to Swindon Council, South West Regional Development Agency and the Homes and Communities Agency.

The agencies each gave just over £250,000 a year to the company.

It also understood the organisation cost approximately £750,000 to set up.

The New Swindon Company declined to comment.

New Swindon Company was brought in to bring substance to ideas
The councillor responsible for the regeneration of Swindon has backed the New Swindon Company.

Coun Phil Young said he wanted to add “a heavy dose of reality” to the comments made by both Mr Wills and Mr Martin.

He said: “The New Swindon Company was brought in to bring some substance to the idea of regeneration, because before it was here it was only that – an idea.

“They have completed both Wharf Green, about a £2.8m project, and started Canal Walk, about a £3m project. Both were on time and within budget – however, it was Government money.

“At some point in the New Year the Muse development will also be built on the site of the old police station.

“The reality is that these plans take years, they don’t happen overnight.

“I would challenge anyone who said the plans are not original, although the plans with Modus fell through I thought they were quite striking.”

He added that the cabinet hope to confirm plans to merge the council with the company at tonight’s meeting in order to add improve the council powers used to properly oversee the body.

Coun Young also said he believes that all organisations that spend taxpayers’ money, including the company, should be transparent.