Given the current state of affairs, any sort of funding from the Scottish Government would normally be welcomed with open arms.
But residents reading what’s to happen with Fife’s £4.35 million allocation from the Town Centre Capital Fund this week would be right to hold some reservations about how the money is actually going to be spent.
The joint SNP/Labour administration stressed that mid-Fife was the priority, given the inflated vacancy rates in town centres, and Kirkcaldy is to receive more than a third of the funding as its vacancy rate is more than double the Scottish average.
Councillors were also at pains to point out that there would have to be winners and losers, as spreading the cash too thinly would kind of defeat the purpose and lessen the impact of the cash.
That’s all fair enough, and funding has to be targeted where it is deemed to be needed most.
The Tories also quickly made themselves clear, with local councillor Kathleen Leslie’s “you cannot ice a cake before you bake it” analogy probably the stand out line.
They welcomed the funding, but took issue with how the cash is being spent.
And that too was a fair criticism.
Having said all that though, the most disappointing thing about all of this for me is the caveat attached to the funding.
Rigid timescales and conditions to which Fife Council – and others, of course – will be required to adhere to have been set, and money has to be legally committed and/or spent within the 2019/20 financial year.
So local authorities have effectively been hamstrung in how they can spent this cash, no matter how welcome it is, and officers have only really had a matter of weeks in which to prioritise projects and bring forward recommendations.
While I’m definitely not suggesting the projects put forward are not worthy, as many should and probably will make a difference to any given town centre, you just wonder if a little more time and thought might maximise the impact of this wee windfall at a time where every penny is undoubtedly a prisoner.
One would argue that councillors like Dunfermline’s Helen Law could be forgiven for being aggrieved for seeing shovel ready projects in her area overlooked in favour of more vague promises in other areas.
For example, £350,000 on Kirkcaldy’s waterfront enhancement, specially an “enhanced public realm, statement lighting and the acquisition of four business ready converted constainers”, might sound good on paper, but still raises a few question marks over how effective it will be in practice.
Who knows? Maybe this cash will be the catalyst for a major turnaround in town centre fortunes. I hope so.
Going back to the cake analogy though, you CAN ice a cake before you bake it – it just won’t taste or look very good.