Waltham COVID recovery fund underspent

Only half of £10million set aside by Waltham Forest Council to help the borough recover from COVID has been spent in more than a year.

The borough-wide “reset” programme, since renamed a “fair deal”, was launched by then newly-elected council leader Grace Williams last July.

The programme aims to “recover public services” after the lockdown through 19 different projects in areas including jobs, health and the climate emergency.

However, a report presented to the council’s budget scrutiny committee on November 24 shows only £5m of the funds have been spent.

A series of internal “health checks” were carried out in July this year to discuss “accelerating delivery”.

At the meeting, corporate director of change Joe Garrod insisted the overall performance of the programme “has been good” but conceded it is “behind profile” in some areas.

Areas that are behind schedule include a family support scheme called Best Start in Life, launched in August, and £1m multi-agency “safe spaces” project that has spent only £160,000.

Committee chair Keith Raynor questioned why the report presented to councillors repeatedly used the term “health checks” and “deep dive” to re-evaluate projects.

Deputy chair Jenny Gray agreed, adding: “I’m concerned that so many of these projects had to undergo health checks, as the fair deal is supposed to be undertaking priorities set by cabinet.”

So far, key achievements of the programme include 289 residents placed in jobs last year, research into health inequalities and a new “hyper-local” domestic violence approach.

Part of the funding pot was also spent on a series of free events outside the town hall this summer, which cost £222,000 and attracted around 34,000 visitors.

The council committed to spend £346,000 on “nurturing positive behavioural change” around the climate emergency and £1.5m to “transform” transport through electric vehicle charging points, school streets schemes, parklets and a zero-emissions delivery service.

Two-thirds of the £1.1m set aside for “achieving outstanding outcomes for children” has been spent, but the project is rated “amber” due to challenges in recruiting social workers.

A £170,000 re-brand of the Suntrap Centre, now renamed The Hive, is underway but only £40,000 has been spent so far.

A £222,000 summer programme at Fellowship Square (pic above), in front of the town hall, attracted 34,000 visitors

£33,000 has been spent researching what “15-minute neighbourhoods” means to residents

Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter