Labour’s shadow housing secretary has called for more transparency around the performance of a key rough sleeping funding programme amid government secrecy.
Ministers had announced £161m in first wave funding to secure 3,300 long-term accommodation units and support for rough sleepers by March 2021 through its Next Steps Accommodation Programme - part of the Government’s commitment to end rough sleeping for good.
In September, the Government said it was ‘reasonably confident’ that the 3,300 units would be delivered in time but it has now admitted that ‘in some cases, individual project completion timescales have moved beyond March 31 as a result of unforeseen or unavoidable delays or schemes have withdrawn where delays or challenging market conditions now make them undeliverable’.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) refused to answer questions by The MJ, including how many of the 3,300 units it had delivered by March 2021, how many units had been delivered now and when it expected to meet its original target.
A Whitehall source said: ‘Next Steps was a bit more expensive and slower than we’d hoped but the initial target was ambitious.’
In a letter to chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Meg Hillier, MHCLG permanent secretary Jeremy Pocklington wrote: ‘We are heavily reliant upon councils as delivery partners. We are seeing an acceleration of delivery in quarter one of 2021-22.’
The department added that councils, registered providers and their partners had faced ‘considerable challenges to delivery of their schemes in 2020-21’ due to coronavirus.
A submission to Whitehall by the Local Government Association said the March 2021 deadline had been ‘very short’ for the delivery of new capital schemes.
Mr Pocklington said MHCLG would only update the PAC on progress following the completion of all units from the allocations announced in October.
Shadow housing secretary Lucy Powell said: ‘Rather than hiding behind smoke and mirrors, the Government should be open about their apparent failure and bring forward a plan to meet their target.
‘We cannot return to business as usual.
'The Government must address the causes of homelessness.’
A government spokesperson insisted tackling rough sleeping and homelessness remained an ‘absolute priority’.