AN agency set up to regenerate one of Scotland's most economically depressed areas has dramatically failed to meet key targets on jobs, homes and investment despite being awarded tens of millions in public cash.

Riverside Inverclyde, whose board includes the leader of the local council and other members of his administration, met only 7% of its 2600 job targets in the seven years it has been in existence.

A mid-term review found the cost per job created by the arms-length agency has been £321,000.

Loading article content

Since 2006, it has built just 5% of the 2285 new homes promised, while also securing just 1% of the private sector investment it said would be levered from the £60 million it has received from the public purse.

Land purchased by the agency at the James Watt Docks in Greenock for millions of pounds is so contaminated it has resulted in "the site having little or negative site value".

The findings of the review were laid before members of Inverclyde Council, which together with Scottish Enterprise is behind the body, almost three weeks ago, but kept from the public. Questions have also been asked as to why the council's mid-term review has been carried out seven years into the project amid accusations it wanted to avoid negative publicity in the run-up to last year's local elections.

Two leading Riverside officials, chief executive Bill Nicol and implementation manager Garry Williamson, have either left or are due to leave.

The board includes council leader Stephen McCabe, his deputy Jimmy Clocherty and deputy provost David Wilson.

Local Labour MP Iain McKenzie recently demanded more cash for the project, claiming the Scottish Government was "adding insult to injury" by asking the agency to submit a business plan for the next four years.

Inverclyde's SNP group leader, Chris McEleny, said yesterday: "After spending nearly £60m of public money, the people of Inverclyde have the right to know what exactly they've got for it.

"This 'midterm review' is extremely disappointing. We were hoping this regeneration scheme would create thousands of jobs, but it's only managed to create a couple of hundred. This information should have been shared earlier with the council. I'm sure some will wonder if this was a stalling tactic by the Labour administration to hide the bad news from the Inverclyde public during the council elections last year.

"Going forward it has been suggested that the council should have better control of the governance of Riverside Inverclyde. The facts are the board already has councillors McCabe, Clocherty and Wilson. Have they been sitting nodding along as public money has been poured down the Clyde?"

The review found the body's overall performance in the seven years had been disappointing and there had been "little impact on creation of new jobs and attraction of businesses and investment". It said that since its inception, there had been significant reduction in funding and there was increasing pressure on publicly backed organisations to delivery value for money.

Staff morale was said to be low yet salaries averaged £70,000 and at the higher levels were up to 25% more than comparable posts in local authorities.

It claimed "some board members are frustrated by council's approach to working with RI, which is seen as unnecessarily challenging", while there was a "need for all parties to achieve more constructive joint working (with the council) at senior level".

An Inverclyde Council spokesman said: "The interim review is a proactive approach by Inverclyde Council, Scottish Enterprise and the board to ensure Riverside Inverclyde is performing as expected. Given the commercially sensitive nature of the report it was appropriate for initial discussions by partners to be held in private however we anticipate publishing all non-sensitive elements of the review in due course."

Scottish Enterprise said it remained committed to working with urban regeneration projects.

Nobody was available for comment from Riverside Inverclyde.