The Big Lottery Fund has been criticised for giving a £250,000 grant to a website that attracted just 340 registered users.
The Wisdom Bank, which is a digital project connecting people, businesses and communities in Torfaen, south Wales, was awarded a Big Lottery Fund grant of £249,997 in 2013. This would cover aspects of the service including start-up costs, staffing and workshops.
But since launching to the public in August 2015 the website has attracted 340 registered users, a spokesman for Torfaen County Borough Council said.
It means that the site has cost approximately £700 per person signed up it.
The website was awarded funding as part of Big Lottery Fund’s People and Places programme, which funds capital and revenue projects that encourage coordinated community action in Wales. Applicants can apply for grants worth between £5,001 and £1m, and up to £17.8m is made available every year.
Big Lottery Fund’s website says successful projects are asked for evidence of research and consultation in their application.
Mike Harris, an independent councillor and member of the Labour-run council’s audit committee, said he was concerned about the costs involved and the decision to grant so much money to a web portal, especially when social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook play the same role.
He said the project was funded for its first two years, but had since been taken over by the council. He said there were questions about what the £250,000 grant was spent on and who has benefitted from it.
"At the end of the day it is a web portal – I can’t see that it is any more than a Facebook group. It is competing in a social media market where we already have Facebook and Twitter," he told Third Sector. "It has cost £700 per person signed up – the money could have been better placed in the community."
The Wisdom Bank website has also been offline in the past few days because of a technical fault, but was restored earlier today. The Wisdom Bank’s Facebook and Twitter pages have lain dormant since June and August respectively.
The Big Lottery Fund and Torfaen County Borough Council said they would respond in a joint statement but this had not been received at the time of publication.