LOTTERY bosses have blamed poor leadership at Southampton City Council after they refused a bid for £10million for youth mental health services.

City chiefs had applied for the cash from the Big Lottery to continue running the HeadStart scheme, which works with schools, families and charities to support young people in danger of developing mental health problems.

A pilot of the national programme for young people had been running in Southampton since 2014 after Big Lottery gave the council £800,000.

But their bid to be one of six authorities to receive £10million to continue it was rejected.

This will come as a blow to the 5,500 five to 16 year olds living in Southampton who struggle with disorders, according a 2014 joint study by the city council and the NHS.

Now it has emerged poorly timed departures and concerns over leadership led to the city missing out.

According a council report, seen by the Daily Echo, said: "Big Lottery expressed concern about the leadership and governance of the programme in Southampton due to several changes in strategic leadership of the Southampton programme between 2014 and 2016."

On May 31 last year, the council's director of children's services, Alison Elliott, suddenly left her £160,000-a-year post at a critical time for the bid, and a new director was not in place until later that year.

No official reason was given for her departure, but an internal email to councillors and staff said she "decided to leave the authority and take some time off”, while a senior council source told the Daily Echo it was due to a "clash of personalities”.

But Cllr Dave Shields, cabinet member for health and sustainable living, said she left to pursue another job.

Ms Elliott's LinkedIn professional network page says she has been director at Awelon Consulting Ltd since June 2015.

When asked if the bid's failure was due to Ms Elliott's sudden departure, Cllr Shields said: "I can't speculate, that might have been a factor.

"There were changes in our leadership at a critical stage, we wanted to get another director in place, in between that meant the focus was elsewhere.

"I am gutted, we put a lot of effort into getting the bid put together and we felt it was quite a good application.

"I think it is a crying shame that we have to rely on lottery handouts to fund services like this, because the Government won't give us enough money."

Cllr Shields said the leadership concerns expressed by Big Lottery were not his fault.

Ms Elliott could not be reached for comment.

A council spokesman added: "The Big Lottery did raise concerns around changes to leadership personnel during the programme.

"We moved quickly to address these with the appointment of a new project manager and strategic lead from within the council, resulting in positive feedback about our clear strategic intent and assured leadership."

The council's Conservative group leader Jeremy Moulton said: "The feedback was that there was a failure of leadership and management in terms of the presentation of the bid.

"This is bad news for children and for the council's children services because it was going to be an arrow in their quiver.

"I think we need to find out who is accountable and understand what options are available for funding."

The £10million would have gone towards mental health training for staff in all 12 of the city's secondary schools and for counsellors from the young persons charity No Limits to work with them.

Annabel Hodgson, chief executive of No Limits, said: "We are devastated, absolutely devastated, that this funding has not been secured.

"Southampton was one of 12 areas handpicked by the lottery, areas which they believed had particularly high levels of poor mental health, emotional wellbeing and resilience in children and young people."

A spokesman for The Big Lottery Fund said: The Big Lottery Fund's response “We provided £800,000 for HeadStart Southampton to develop a programme supporting children and young people to better manage mental health issues. This work has benefited many young people and their families, and improved support in schools and community settings.

“We have continued to fund the strongest partnerships that were best able to deliver positive outcomes for young people.

"We have invited all partnerships to remain involved to learn from the HeadStart programme as it continues.”