Essentially, all of the bodies that had to approve their proposals refused to do so, mainly on the basis that the projected £60M costs were inflated. The Audit Commission, the local tenant’s panel, the ‘shadow board’ (the group set up to create the new entity which would take over the housing) and the Government office of the South East are difficult to argue with. Until then, it had only been the Labour councillors who had opposed putting the flawed plan to the vote of tenants. The Lib Dems appeared to prefer to tinker with the edges, and it was only when they gained a Tory defector and the true extent of the debace was apparent that they came to a definite position.
One of the things that was highlighted back in November was that the council had spent £30K on a DVD which had been rendered incorrect even before it was sent out. The Tory leadership had included a reference to the possibility of charging more for the vital Lifeline service (which provides a direct link between vulnerable elderly and ill tenants and the emergency/health services). However, this was defeated by Labour, Lib Dem and dissident Tory votes, but it was too late to remove this ‘threat’ from the DVD.
Turns out that this was not the only problem with it, or with other advertising sent out by the Council around the time to promote the idea of transfer. Today the Advertising Standards Authority said that Crawley Borough Council had potentially misled tenants and upheld two complaints:
A newsletter headlined “Council faces £12m shortfall to reach Decent Homes Standard (DHS)” said the Crawley authority would not be able to meet a £60m figure which it claimed was the minimum spend required on housing stock by 2010.
But the ASA upheld a complaint that this figure was misleading, because it included future maintenance costs beyond DHS guidance.
A second point of complaint concerned a promotional DVD which questioned the reliability of other information being disseminated at the time by the Defend Council Housing group.
The ASA concluded the material “unfairly denigrated” the aims of the group, which campaigned against the housing transfer.
So, the DVD also attacked the Defend Council Housing group. But the more important thing is that the ASA have also picked up on the Tory claims of a £12M shortfall in funding due to a need to spend £60M in three years. Even after the Audit Commission and others had pointed out that the £60M figure was too high, or referred to a much longer period of time, the Tory councillors were still sticking to the £12M funding gap. It doesn’t exist! And yet again, the Council are finding that an august body has called them on the claims.
Crawley council said: “We’re baffled because everything was checked and approved by the relevant parties in line with government guidelines.”
I’m ‘baffled’ because the Labour councillors, Defend Council Housing and others had been asking them to clarify their figures for months before they were ignominiously dropped. The fact that they did not, and still have not, suggests that either they didn’t know what the basis for the £60M really was (and how it compared to the actual spend to meet the Decent Homes Standard), or they did but didn’t want to admit that it was incorrect.
So did they lie, or can’t they add up? And the people of Crawley elected more of these muppets to run the town in May.