By Nic Rigby
BBC News Website, Norwich
A community trust charged with spending £48m of public money over 10 years to improve a rundown estate has been criticised for wasting funds on failed projects and consultants.
About £48m of public money is to be invested in the estate
Marsh Farm Community Development Trust was set up in 2001 by the government to help regenerate the Marsh Farm area of Luton.
But although it has been involved in successful projects, one director and one former director of the Trust accused the organisation of financial mismanagement.
A BBC Politics Show investigation, which is to be broadcast on Sunday in the East, found that it has spent more than £2m on projects which either have not been sustained or have failed to live up to expectations.
The Trust, which has seen 41 directors resign over the past five years, has also spent about £3m on consultants.
Jacqueline Blackett, who resigned from the Trust last year after five years' service, said she had not been told how much consultants were getting.
"As a director, I cannot recall, in recent years, seeing financial statements," she said.
"It gets me so angry because people come down here as consultants and they're earning in one year, more than these people in Marsh Farm would ever earn in a lifetime and that cannot be right."
Former director Jacqueline Blackett has concerns over the Trust
A present director of the Trust, who has asked not to be named, expressed concerns about the information directors are being told.
"Since the time I've been there, we've received no financial information whatsoever.
"The one item we got was the end of year report. There's no interim or quarterly statements which they are supposed to do.
"That's in the governance. We are supposed to get them to ascertain whether these projects are financially viable and being conducted correctly.
"I'll be absolutely blunt with you, if Marsh Farm Trust closed down tomorrow people in Marsh Farm wouldn't mind because they're getting nothing of it now."
Colette McKeaveney, a current Trust director, speaking on behalf of the Trust, said: "The question over whether the board's been told how much consultants are paid has not come up because there's not been concern about it, in the sense that people we have got here have come to do a particular job.
"If they are here to do a job and it is the only way that we can employ them, then I don't think that there's a lot of choice in that particular matter. You have to pay them what they cost.
"With hindsight you can always spend money better and you can always make better judgements.
"Each project has to go through a rigorous appraisal process that's more robust than it was in the early days. Projects in the early days wouldn't go through now."
"There are a number of these projects which have had success, maybe not 100% success, but they have had success before they have finally closed down.
'Lessons to learn'
"I mean, I would argue and take issue with any source that says £2m has been wasted, because I don't think it has been wasted."
Luton Borough Council leader Hazel Simmons said: "The council's focus is on the continuing work with the Trust, residents and businesses to deliver positive change to the Marsh Farm area and which can be seen from the latest results of the New Deal Communities (NDC) programme."
A council spokesman said: "Luton Borough Council is fulfilling its role as the Accountable Body for Marsh Farm NDC funding.
"It is accepted that many lessons have been learnt from the past and which have now been incorporated into processes and procedures."
The report on Marsh Farm will be on the Politics Show in the East on BBC One on Sunday, 15 July 2007 at 1200 BST.