Last week, in a letter that was leaked to the press, the minister for regional growth and local government, Luke Hall, notified the combined authority board that the government will not continue to fund an £100 million affordable housing scheme “on its current basis”, citing concerns over progress and value for money.
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 minister said the government would not close the programme, but would “subject to further work on the details, consider making further funding available.
At the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority’s housing committee on Monday (March 16), a Conservative majority voted to support the organisation agreeing to conditions imposed by the government on the future delivery of the affordable housing programme, on the understanding that further funding may then be made available.
Chair of the committee, Conservative Chris Boden, told the committee: “The programme in its current form will end on March 31, 2021 and we will not receive that £45 million as part of this programme”.
But he clarified when questioned on the future funding of the programme: “I didn’t say that no further funding is going to be received from government, what I did say is that no further funding under that scheme was going to be received from government.”
He said: “There is no guarantee of funding, the indications are, and our interpretations of the conditions are, that this funding is now extremely likely. That is our belief – there is not guarantee of it”.
And he added: “This news that we received from the minister is in fact substantially better than might have been expected, especially given some of the earlier correspondence there had been. And it’s now going to be necessary for civil servants to have discussions with out joint chief executives in order to ensure that these conditions are fulfilled. We believe they can be”.
Liberal Democrat councillor Bridget Smith: “I think we need to be very very cautious about saying that further funding will be coming, because we do not yet have any indication about whether we are going to be able fulfil all those quite demanding conditions. So I think we have to be completely honest with people in that further funding cannot be guaranteed and there is considerable doubt about it at this stage, until we have seen details about how the combined authority is going to fulfil all these conditions. We really cannot be misleading people at this stage”.
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”.
Cllr Smith attempted to make agreeing to a revised scheme subject to releasing a letter the mayor and leader of the combined authority, Conservative James Palmer, claims to have received from the minister on the same subject.
She said: “We are being told some pretty high level stuff here with absolutely no detail behind it”.
Cllr Smith was supported in her call to see the correspondence by Labour councillor Mike Davey and Conservative Ryan Fuller.
Cllr Fuller said he has asked to see the letter, and said: “We have had several reassurances in recent months around the £45 million being forthcoming that have turned out not to be accurate. So I am less prepared now to take assurances in this report when we haven’t seen the source of that information”.
He added: “That members of this committee have asked to see that to reinforce the decision-making we are being asked to make today and we have been ignored or just, you know, sent the other way, I think that is unacceptable”.
Chair of the committee, Conservative Chris Boden, said it would be “unnecessary and potentially dangerous” to make an agreement with the government on amending the affordable housing programme subject to releasing the correspondence. “I am far from sure that that will satisfy the minister,” he said.
The amendment to make any agreement with the government over the future of scheme subject to “full and public disclosure” of the communications between the minister and the mayor was voted down by the committee.
Joint chief executive Mr Smith said his understanding of the conditions being imposed is that “any resources that we may wish to secure from government, we will be first obliged to find that from our existing programme”.
“The new regime is very much a more hands-on monitoring of our scheme,” he said, adding there will be “quite detailed conditions that we will have to meet scheme by scheme”.
He said the choice for members was “quite stark” – “to say to government thank you but no thank you, or to say to officers and to the board that it is a scheme that we want to – the revised scheme – that we want to continue, being aware of all the conditions”.
The five Conservatives on the committee voted to recommend that the combined authority board approve the revised proposals for the future delivery and completion of the £100 million affordable housing programme, while Lib Dem Cllr Smith voted against, and Labour’s Cllr Davey abstained.
Cllr Boden said the government has given the combined authority until March 17 to agree to conditions to be imposed on the programme which may see the release of further funding.