Large reserves held by the Peterborough and Cambridgeshire Combined Authority should be used to build affordable homes, it has been argued.
Cllr Bridget Smith’s message came during the latest meeting of the board when it was noticed that a new budget category for ‘emerging projects’ was on the agenda, and Cllr Smith asked what it was for.
Jon Alsop, chief financial officer at the mayoral authority, explained: “The emerging projects fund is money from central government that can be used for various things such as consultancy for future projects.”
Cllr Smith responded: “Well that’s just about as woolly an answer as you can get! Is this money that can actually be used for something like affordable housing perhaps, or does it just sit there like the huge sum currently in our reserves?”
Cllr Lewis Herbert asked: “What is the figure for our reserves at the moment? What sum are we actually sitting on?
“Cllr Smith raises a very valid point. I think we should be using funds for positive use rather than just having it sitting in the bank doing nothing.”
Mr Alsop replied: “Subject to the usual external audit reports, the combined authority reserves total just over £125 million for the present financial year, but obviously because we receive funding in advance, it would be considerably more than that in the bank.”
Cllr Herbert replied: “I accept that we don’t want to take unnecessary risks, but that is an enormous sum of money, and I just think we should be putting it to better use.”
Cllr Anna Bailey argued differently: “We agreed that this authority would put in place a revolving housing fund – a mechanism that when properly used will deliver 2,000 or more housing units, ensuring that we get more ‘bang for our buck’.
“We simply cannot keep having this discussion about what is the right or wrong thing to do with money in the bank when we have a process that we all agreed upon was the best way to achieve the numbers of dwellings we want,”
Mayor James Palmer intervened: “I appreciate what is being said, but I don’t think we want this meeting to be embroiled in an argument between polices from Cllrs Smith and Herbert on affordable housing and policies from Cllr Bailey on the combined authority approach for providing housing through replenishing funds.
“I think what Cllr Herbert has asked us for in essence is to look at the reserves and see if we can invest some of that money in a different way, and I think that is a valid point.
“I’m therefore very happy for us to look more carefully at how we are investing our reserves, and to make sure that we get the best possible return from any monies that we have.”