The High Court has ordered a judicial review of the government's handling of the £35million transition fund that was designed to ease some of the issues associated with the abrupt ending of the Housing Market Renewal programme.
The issue here is that most of the money was used to fund continuing demolition of properties arousing considerable anger amongst organisations such as SAVE (Save Britain's Heritage) and Empty Homes who had been expecting that the transition fund would be used to rescue some of the homes from demolition (for example, through homesteading or other schemes). For background and some strongly expressed views on the subject refer to David Ireland's blogs here and here.
Although Grant Shapps signed off the successful bids that included the demolitions, he had been vocal in his opposition to such an approach, as David pointed out in his blogs. Shapps claimed that he did not know what he was signing off, which is not entirely unreasonable - Ministers do have to trust their officials to put papers in front of them that have been vetted for compliance with government policy. And indeed, at the High Court hearing that ordered the judicial review, the government lawyers accepted that Shapps had acted unlawfully in signing off the allocations because they were contrary to stated government policy (ie Shapps's own policy).
The government lawyers were left with a rather feeble position, arguing that it would be "legally extremely problematic, if possible at all" to unravel what has been done given that much of the money had already been spent or irrevocably committed, and thus a judicial review would be pointless.
The affair has the potential to create problems for quite a few of those involved, not least the CLG officials. Some of the mud could stick to Grant Shapps on the basis that the buck stops with him and/or it reflects on his ability to exert control over his department. The councils involved seem likely to escape unscathed provided they acted in accordance with their approved bids. Pendle Council's finance chief Mr Dean Langton is reported to have said that "the money had been given to Pendle as an “unring-fenced grant” and the Secretaryof State was adamant that it would not be recalled." And some officials somewhere might be feeling rather nervous.
Photo Nico Hobbs (flickr)