‘urgent’ audit of £100m Cambdridgeshire and Peterborough affordable housing scheme rejected
Conservative councillors rejected a proposal to “urgently” commission an independent audit into the combined authority’s £100 million programme that was criticised and halted in its current form by the government.
The vote was taken at the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority’s housing committee on Monday (March 16), following notification last week that the government will not continue to fund the affordable housing programme “on its current basis” because of concerns over progress and value for money.
In January grant funding of £2,270,000 from the £100m Affordable Housing programme was given to enable delivery of 60 affordable homes, with a mixture of affordable rent and shared ownerships units in Peterborough among a number of other schemes.
Chair of the committee, Conservative Chris Boden, said any decision on an independent audit should be made after combined authority officers have had time to compile a report on the situation, and once there is greater certainty on the new arrangements with the government.
The commitment for £100 million to help deliver 2,000 affordable homes in five years was part of the 2017 devolution deal. But £45 million of the programme’s funds are still outstanding.
The government has said that rather than close the programme, it “will now offer further funding, subject to further work on the details, to ensure affordable housing is delivered at pace and with value for money for the taxpayer”.
Liberal Democrat councillor Bridget Smith asked the housing committee to request the combined authority board to urgently commission a full independent audit of the £100 million affordable housing programme.
Cllr Smith said: “We must be the only combined authority that has lost money that has been awarded to it. This is an absolute scandal. Not only has the combined authority as things stand at the moment failed to secure a second devolution deal, we have had the large part of the deal we had now taken away from us because of the minister’s and ministry’s lack of confidence in us to be able to spend public money wisely”.
And she added: “We have lost the confidence of our residents, we absolutely will have lost the confidence of the developers and those registered social landlords – some of whom didn’t have much confidence in us anyway, and we have lost the confidence of the government, so the only way we can establish any level of credibility here is by being completely open and transparent”.
Cllr Boden said: “My suggestion would be that by the time of the next housing committee meeting we will be in a much stronger position for officers to bring a full and comprehensive report to this committee. Once we see the content of that report, it would then be more appropriate – especially if the arrangements have been made by that time with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government – for any consideration to take place as to whether there is a need for a full independent audit”.
The proposal was defeated, with five Conservative councillors voting against, and Cllr Smith and Labour’s Mike Davey voting for it.
Joint chief executive of the combined authority, John Hill, said the government has completed a review of the affordable housing programme’s progress, and concluded “they will no longer support the further implementation of the £100 million programme”.
He added: “Despite that they are still willing to have discussions with officers of the combined authority should you wish to instruct us to secure a revised scheme”.
The committee voted by a majority to continue with programme and to agree to government conditions with the intention of seeking further funds.