A £27 million fund to tackle deprivation in Birmingham is being diverted to hundreds of "soft" schemes that are failing to meet targets to tackle poor housing and unemployment, it has been claimed.
Chief executives from public bodies and voluntary organisations warned it was impossible to tell whether the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund was delivering social and economic improvement because of poor selection and inconsistent monitoring of projects. Many of the 575 separate NRF schemes in Birmingham involve spending less than £10,000, usually on one-off ideas suggested by community leaders.
Popular projects include providing play equipment, children's breakfast clubs, sponsoring arts festivals and conferences, and installing housing estate security gates.
But the 11 District Strategic Partnerships responsible for deciding how the money should be spent have been accused of ignoring the hardertoaddress issues of reducing crime, improving housing and creating jobs.
The DSPs consists of city councillors and representatives from the police, other public bodies, businesses and community activists.
Figures produced by the Birmingham Strategic Partnership, which has overall responsibility for NRF distribution, show that five of the DSPs have allocated nothing toward housing and most of the partnerships have diverted less than ten per cent of the budget toward job-creation schemes.
David Cragg, regional director of the Learning and Skills Council, criticised the approach.
Mr Cragg said: "There is no strategic prioritisation going on whatsoever."
Paul Slatter, manager of the Birmingham Community Empowerment Network, said: "I wonder how we can justify the low level of spend on employment, which in most districts is zero.
"Health and housing also attracts a low percentage of what is being spent.
"It seems to me there are simply too many projects and they are not being properly managed."
The comments were dismissed by John Hemming, the chairman of the BSP.
Mr Hemming said the large number of schemes was indicative of the imagination and drive of community leaders.
He added: "A gating scheme may be only a few hundred pounds but it helps to reduce burglaries dramatically.
"In my ward we have been helping the police to buy bikes because they don't have the money to do it.
"It is not a great deal of money but it does have a practical impact on fighting crime.
"I feel very uncomfortable with the suggestion that we should not have any small schemes.
"Some of the smaller schemes actually deliver a lot more for local people than the expensive and larger projects."