Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:
"Huge amounts of money are being spent on the Decent Homes Programme without anywhere near enough information available on the impact of the Programme and precisely how much is being spent.
"The initial estimate by the DCLG that the cost to the social housing sector of the Programme would be £19 billion was unreliable. The Department had failed to take into account key factors such as the cost of the Programme not only to local authorities but also to Social Registered Landlords.
"This is indicative of a generally weak approach to financial control and project management. The Department still does not possess reliable statistics on the number of homes made decent or not.
"There has been progress. Over a million homes have been improved, with many vulnerable families benefiting from new kitchens, bathrooms and central heating systems. But, despite these achievements, the target that, by December 2010, all social housing should be of a decent standard will not be met.
"According to the Department’s estimate, over 300,000 properties will fall short of the standard at the target date, with work on the last of the non-decent housing taking until 2018-19 to be completed.
"The Department must get a grip on the Programme and introduce improvements in almost every aspect of its management of the project. We are particularly concerned that the Department will not do enough to make sure that landlords can complete the outstanding improvement work and that improved properties will not fall back into disrepair."
Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 21st report of this Session which examined the extent to which the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Homes and Communities Agency are effective in overseeing the Decent Homes Programme.
Under the Decent Homes Programme, over a million homes have been improved since 2001. The living standards of vulnerable households will have been greatly improved by the installation of, for example, 810,000 new kitchens, 610,000 new bathrooms and 1,140,000 new central heating systems. There have also been wider benefits such as more tenant involvement in housing decisions and jobs created in deprived areas.
The report welcomes the improvements made and the substantial progress towards the original target of all social housing being of a decent standard by December 2010. However, despite this progress, the target will not be met. The report saysg that by the Department for Communities and Local Government’s (the Department) own estimates, 305,000 homes will still be non-decent at that date and the last of these will not be decent until 2018–19. The report says the Department needs to do more to ensure that landlords can complete this outstanding work and that properties are not allowed to fall back into disrepair.
Full accountability for public money is not optional and the Department needs to improve its financial control over this Programme. The report says it is still not clear how much the Department itself has actually spent on the Programme and we are not convinced that the Department has secured best value from the funds given to Arms Length Management Organisations (ALMOs).
Before asking local authorities and Registered Social Landlords to bring their social housing stock up to a reasonable standard, the Department should have prepared a proper estimate of how much it would cost them. According to the best information available to the Department, it will have cost local authorities and Registered Social Landlords approximately £37 billion by 2010–11. The Department has also not done enough to identify and share good practice with social landlords.
The Department lacks some basic management information on the Programme, such as reliable statistics on the number of homes made decent or not. The Department needs to address its information deficiencies in order to evaluate properly the impact of the Programme. It should also ensure that it builds in adequate arrangements for monitoring and evaluation from the start on any other programmes.
The Department also needs to improve its evaluation of the private sector element of the Programme. It does not know how much local authorities have spent on this element, and it will need to review the performance of individual authorities if good practice is to be identified and disseminated.