One of Labour’s biggest criticism of the Government is a failure to provide cash to meet the city’s pressing social needs. So, it seems strange that when they are given money by the Government, they have to send it back because they are unable to spend it. The Council saw the need; it applied for the money; it got the money; it couldn’t spend it and has given the money back!
The proposal was to provide a new accommodation centre for rough sleepers in Smithdown Lane and the Government had been granted £4 million by the Government to deliver this. The proposal was backed by all Parties on the Council and as far back as last March received planning permission.
These plans would have seen a student housing block on Smithdown Lane converted to provide accommodation to support short-term homeless recovery in the city.
The project was set to be funded by the council and the government and was aimed at being the ‘first step’ for those sleeping rough on their journey towards long term accommodation.
The Council acted well during the early months of the pandemic with the active support of cash from the Government. This enabled it to close previous rough sleeper centre, Labre House. We got every single rough sleeper off the streets and provided them with accommodation that was warm and provided them with food and health checks.
But when I looked through the Council’s regular monitoring report on the capital programme of the Council, I was amazed to see that the Council had handed the money back to the Government because the proposal could not be progressed in time. This project has been in train for more than 2 years and I can trace no report which updated councillors about this problem.
The funding was to be used to support short-term homeless recovery in 60 self-contained en-suite bedrooms with clustered kitchen and lounge facilities as well as up to 40 one bed apartments.
But in Liverpool Council’s recent budget proposals, it is made clear the plans are no longer happening – and the government support for them has been withdraw. I am appalled at this. My first ever job when I became a councillor in 1975 was to become chair of a new homelessness committee and I have been interested ever since. Within three years we had developed proposals to close some dreadful accommodation for men and women and open new decent accommodation with the help of the Salvation Army and housing association.
A home is our first requirement and the Council, even under the last Mayor was reasonably good at this apart from his spat with Lawrence Kenwright.
The failure to spend the Money is a disgrace. We can hardly moan about the Tories not giving us money and then send some back. It shows how dysfunctional our regeneration department, as it is that department that would have done the procurement etc.
This will have long term revenue consequences for the council because the cost of putting the homeless into poor expensive accommodation is more than the cost of housing them properly especially if we had the capital costs paid.
A section of the budget plan states: “For 2020/21 the approved budget for this scheme represented £4.054M of funding from the first tranche of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s (MHCLG) Next Steps Accommodation Programme combined with City Council matched funding of £6.393M
In its response Liverpool City Council said: “It is deeply unfortunate that the council was unable to progress with the Smithdown Lane project. The funding timescales were very tight and once it became clear that building could not be used, the council was unable to identify an alternative building within the deadline.
Michelle Langan, who runs the Papercup Project, a rough sleeping charity in the city, said: “The news that government funding for a new shelter in Liverpool has been revoked is a kick in the teeth. Homelessness sadly isn’t an issue that is going away anytime soon, and cuts to provision will just make the issue worse across the city.”
Michelle is absolutely correct in what she says. One of the complaints that I regularly get are about people cadging money in the City Centre and on Allerton Road. If we want them to stop living like this and put right their lives, they need help. Many have come out of institutions or the armed forces.
They have disturbed lives which need help and support to sort out. This can best be provided in a decent facility where they can be helped to adopt a less haphazard lifestyle and find a job, if they are capable of that, and live their own independent lives in future. The failure to do this is their wasted lives and our increased costs.
Times are hard and priorities have to be sorted. Surely though even this Labour council would prioritise a scheme that gets money from the Tories, provides work for builders, homes for people that need them and cuts costs in the revenue budgets of a range of public sector bodies.
Apparently, common sense is too much to hope for from this Labour Council.