The revelation in Bristol City Council’s draft accounts that former housing director and architect of the ‘Caridon Death Star‘ for warehousing the homeless, Julian “Luvvie” Higson scarpered from Bristol in December with a £27k payment as “Compensation for Loss of Office”, despite apparently resigning has raised a few eyebrows.
Not least because a report has just appeared from the council’s Internal Audit team identifying serious problems in the council’s Affordable Housing Grant scheme. A scheme worth tens of millions and meant to support “Registered Housing Providers (RP) and community led housing organisations for affordable rented homes which are within Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rent limits.”
In other words this was a scheme to hand large sums of our public money to housing providers to subsidise the building of affordable homes. The fund for this amounts to something like £47m over 2019 – 2024.
The disturbing Internal Audit report explains, “During the course of the audit both the member of staff responsible for grant administration and the newly appointed manager with responsibility for oversight left the Council.”
Having confirmed that the managers directly responsible have done a runner, the report then provides a helpful list of the scheme’s absolute failures:
- There has been insufficient oversight of administration and record keeping, hence issues with data had not been promptly identified
- The Housing Delivery Board had met infrequently and had not set requirements for progress reporting of grant awards
- The Grant Tracker, the primary record of the progress of grant applications progress and grant award was not fit for purpose and had been poorly maintained. The source and accuracy of the data used for summarisation and reporting could not be relied upon
- Data requested by Internal Audit was not readily available and required reconstruction, which upon Internal Audit review were modified
- There was no interface between Pro-Contract, the Grant Tracker, and the ABW accounting system, and reconciliations could not be provided
- Data was not sufficiently granular to determine whether grants were only awarded within permitted criteria, delivery timelines, within budget, or to the expected build standard
- The legal advice in the Decision Pathway Report stating the importance of a robust monitoring process had not been fully implemented and the Council could not be assured that grants provided did not constitute over-compensation
- No confirmation was received that the risk register referred to in the Housing Delivery Plan existed
To the untrained eye, this looks like a straightforwardly corrupt grant making process where tens of millions in public money has not been properly managed by the council and they’re unable to tell us what has happened to it.
A notion not entirely disabused by housing bosses’ promise going forward of “consistency and completeness of record keeping and evidence to ensure grants were properly awarded, the use of grants was monitored, and assessments made that grants provided value for money.”
Which all rather begs the question as to why the Director responsible, Higson, was paid £27k to disappear last December? Higson, who cut a deal last autumn that was very generous indeed to Caridon, one of the dodgiest landlord firms in the country, now has a lucrative new job in Harrow as Interim Head of Housing. So at least he’s all right then.
Meanwhile, rather than get the cops in to find out what Higson did with our money, Internal Audit have promised a further report in six months time. Something the council’s Audit Committee will discuss on Monday.
Are they doing enough?