Committee report on Communities Department

04 March 2009

The Department of Communities and Local Government needs to grow into a “big hitter” if it is to effectively deliver key policies. Despite improvements in effectiveness, delivery is still patchy as shown by the Department's problems in implementing key policies such as eco-towns, the Decent Homes programme and Home Information Packs.

This is the conclusion of a Communities and Local Government Select Committee report published today into the work of the Department over the last year which says the Department must grow into one of the Government "big hitters" if it is to fully achieve its policy objectives.

The Committee also highlights how accounting failures by the Department over European Regional Development Funds led to hefty fines (see below) being imposed by the European Commission which will impact on key projects such as the Homes and Communities Agency and the Thames Gateway.

On this issue Communities and Local Government Select Committee Chair Dr Phyllis Starkey said:

"We trust that the ongoing improvements which the Department has made will ensure that no more badly needed funding disappears as a result of the incompetence and mismanagement which characterised these programmes".

Commenting on the report more generally Dr Starkey added:

"The Department has made progress towards the more effective delivery of some crucial aspects of Government policy such as increasing housing supply, creating cohesive communities and ensuring local government is able to deliver effectively for local people; but there is still further to go in order to meet the challenges ahead."

Eco-towns

The Committee noted the eco-towns policy was clearly in some difficulty. It recognised that this was bound to be affected adversely by the general slowdown in the housing market, but even so the difference between the original vision and the proposals now emerging is "considerable".

The ambition for a total of up to 100,000 eco-homes now looks highly unlikely to be achieved. The Committee comments: "the policy appears to be one of the victims of the Department’s weaknesses in engaging and enthusing its delivery partners".

Home Information Packs (HIPs)

The Committee says the mishandling of the policy on Home Information Packs is evident. It points out that CLG is still struggling to perfect the scheme at a time when the housing market needs more robust and effective initiatives.

Flooding

The Committee is pleased that the Department has now developed and implemented a recovery plan which sets out its responsibilities and how it will work across Government, and the wider public and private sectors, to support communities recovering from flooding in cases where national co-ordination is required.

Fire and rescue response times

The Committee concludes that speed of response still matters in 20 per cent of cases where deaths occur after an emergency call is made. It recommends that the Department continue to encourage the Fire and Rescue Service to consider further means to counter the effect of traffic and improve response times.

FiReControl and Firebuy

Schemes designed to replace 46 existing fire control rooms with nine amalgamated Regional Control Centres and plans to set up a national procurement body for the Fire and Rescue Service were also held up by the Committee in the report as examples of the Department’s failure consistently to base policy making and delivery on the evidence.

European Regional Development Fund

The Committee notes that the Department has been fined by the European Commission because of a failure to account properly for funds allocated to it by the EU and that a further investigation carried out by the Commission had resulted in further "financial corrections".

The Department’s accounts show that in addition to the £19.8 million fine already imposed by the EC, the Department has identified another £8 million which will be disallowed and also expects a further £73 million of possible further losses.

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