Local Enterprise Partnerships: Unaccountable money pits wiith “secretive cultures, misuse of funds and cronyism”


“Ministers ‘fail to measure impact’ of regional funds and local enterprise partnerships:

The government has made “no effort” to measure the impact made by organisations given £12 billion of public money to encourage regional growth, MPs have said.

England’s 38 local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) are run by boards “not representative of their local areas” that lack “scrutiny and accountability” for spending decisions, the public accounts committee said.

LEPs are voluntary partnerships between business leaders, academics and the public sector designed to give more power to regional decision makers to drive growth in their areas. They are supposed to tackle skills shortages, provide small business support and improve infrastructure and transport policy.

However, the spending watchdog said that the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, which is supposed to oversee the partnerships, had not properly tracked the use of the funds the organisations were given. This is because the department does not evaluate the performance of the Local Growth Fund, the funding pot that the partnerships rely on.

A report published today concludes that the government “has made no effort to evaluate the value for money of nearly £12 billion in public funding, nor does it have robust plans to do so”. It receives quarterly performance data from LEPs, but value has not been measured.

LEPs are also blighted by overlapping geographical boundaries, which “dilutes accountability and responsibility”, while a lack of capacity within the organisations has caused them to underspend their funding allocations by more than £1 billion over the past three years. This called into question their ability to deliver complex projects, the committee said.

Concerns were also raised at a lack of expected private sector funding that was supposed to boost the impact of the partnerships.

Concerns were previously raised that a lack of oversight had given rise at some partnerships to secretive cultures, misuse of funds and cronyism.

The government asked the local partnerships to improve local scrutiny of investment decisions and the public accounts committee said that there had been improvements. However, it said there was “still a long way to go for all LEPs to reach the rigorous standards we expect”.

The government told the committee that enterprise partnerships “are not resourced sufficiently to respond to high levels of scrutiny and, as such, the department needs to prioritise what it asks LEPs to commit to”.

Meg Hillier, committee chairwoman, said: “LEPs are supposed to be an engine room of local economic growth but have been dogged by a lack of accountability and there is little evidence that they have levered in the promised private sector funds.”

A ministry spokesman said: “We continue to work with LEPs across England to further improve standards and ensure value for money.”

Source: The Times, pay wall

“Persimmon defends shutting Facebook group to ‘gag critics’ “”

“The chief executive of Persimmon has refused to deny that the housebuilder paid to take control of a Facebook group dedicated to complaints about the company before shutting it down,

The Times revealed last week that Persimmon had acquired the administration rights to the “Persimmon Homes Unhappy Customers” group, which had almost 14,000 members. It subsequently shut down the group, deleting years’ of customer posts sharing problems with their homes.

Outraged group members have speculated on other Facebook groups dedicated to complaints that the housebuilder “paid off” the administrator of the group, whose identity is not public.

Facebook does not allow the sale of administrative rights to groups created by users so a payment would have been a breach of the website’s rules.

Dave Jenkinson, chief executive of Persimmon, confirmed yesterday that it had acquired the administration rights to the group but would not say whether it had paid for them. “That’s a private agreement between us and the administrator and that’s not something I am prepared to discuss,” he said.

The FTSE 100-listed builder, which is based in York, has a market capitalisation of more than £6 billion. In February it became the first British housebuilder to report an annual profit of more than £1 billion. It sold 16,449 homes last year, about half of which went to first-time buyers using the Help to Buy scheme, which is designed to boost home ownership. Since Help to Buy was introduced Persimmon’s profit per house has almost tripled, from £22,114 in 2012 to £60,219 in 2018.

The move to shut down the Facebook group has produced claims from customers that it is trying to censor criticism of the company, which is working to improve its build quality and customer service after criticism by ministers.

James Allan, 23, a planning officer at East Lothian council who has complained about problems at his one-bedroom Persimmon flat in Edinburgh, said: “They are taking away the voices of people who have had issues. It’s good to see the experiences of others so you know that you are not alone.”

Mr Jenkinson, 51, said Persimmon had been monitoring the group for several months to address customer issues as they arose in posts. However, he said that in the past few weeks activity on the page had become “much more aggressive” and there were “signs of bullying behaviour” towards staff. He also said the company had found, when checking users against its customer database, that most complainants were not Persimmon customers; some were friends of customers, tradesmen or from other organisations. “We’ve done this for our customers, we’ve done this for the right reasons,” he said.

In a trading update, the builder said that revenue in the first half of the year had fallen as a result of selling fewer homes because it was focusing more on customer satisfaction. It sold 7,584 homes in the six months to the end of June, down from 8,072 in the same period last year. Revenue fell by 4.4 per cent to £1.75 billion. The average selling price rose to £216,950 from £215,813. The housebuilder said that it expected its operating margin for the full year to remain stable at a hefty 30.8 per cent.

Persimmon has announced measures to improve its customer satisfaction levels and build quality since The Times revealed in February that the government was reviewing its access to the Help to Buy scheme from 2021 as a result of allegations of poor standards. It is to allow buyers to retain 1.5 per cent of the value of their purchase until faults are fixed. Buyers of new-build homes who report snags within a week of receiving the keys to their property will be able to withhold a portion of the purchase price until any faults are resolved.

Its customer satisfaction rating has improved in recent months, it said. Mr Jenkinson said: “Persimmon is listening carefully to all stakeholders and making the changes needed to position the business for the future, while maintaining a robust trading performance.”

Last night the shares closed down 23½p, or 1.2 per cent, at £19.64.”

Source Te Times, pay wall

Millionaire slum landlords … Times (harrowing) special investigation … disgusting flats as small as parking spaces for £800+ per month

The Times today is doing a heart-rending expose of modern slums, slum landlords and the links between these landlirds and donations to the Tory party.

There is a heart-breaking story of one such young mother living with her sick and asthmatic 6 year-old young son in the most appalling conditions in a flat in Croydon – placed there by Waltham Forest council, which is 20 miles away. They pay £800 per month for her to exist there – one cannot say “live”. Conditions worthy of the very worst Victorian slums.

In a second article, the newspaper looks further into the types of properties and their landlords and the loopholes that allow them to benefit from these apalling places. They find:

“The developers have exploited a change in planning rules to convert offices into hundreds of flats without any minimum size requirements, prompting claims from experts that they are building “some of the worst homes in Britain” and the “slums of the future”.

Flats costing £800 a month are as small as 14 square meters (150 sq ft), barely bigger than the size of a typical parking space.

Families are living on industrial estates and alongside busy roads, with some residents claiming that mould, noise and anti-social behaviour inside the buildings are damaging their health.”

They then go on to turn the spotlight on three such landlords:

Caridon, a property group founded by Mario Carrozzo, receives at least £8 million in housing benefit payments to house hundreds of tenants in flats as small as one-third of the minimum size which would be required under the planning regime;

Joel Weider, the owner of a double glazing company, has converted office space in Leicester, Aylesbury and south London, including flats branded a “hell-hole” by an MP;

A third developer, Anwar Ansari, a former eye surgeon, rents small studio, one and two-bed flats to tenants, including a former office block which has been cited for fire safety breaches.

A change in permitted development rights introduced in 2013 means that developers do not have to adhere to normal planning standards when converting offices into residential housing.”

A further article goes on to look at how much money these “developers” are raking in:

“Caridon

Mario Carrozzo’s sprawling Surrey mansion was once owned by a Premier League footballer and boasts a tennis court, indoor swimming pool and cinema. The £6 million home has three sitting rooms, a gym, spa and games room with bar. It is a far cry from the tiny flats his property empire is built on.

Caridon Group flats are among the smallest in the country, with some measuring 14 square metres (150sq ft). Three of these flats would fit into Mr Carrozzo’s cinema room.

The conversions include Token House in Croydon, where the smallest flats are 15sq m (160sq ft). In one, a sofa and bed fill the flat. The rent is almost £800 a month. “I can open my fridge and make a cup of tea or answer the door while I’m still lying in my bed,” one tenant said. …

Joel Weider

Located in a south London industrial estate with lorries passing near by, a former office building has become home to dozens of people including families. Many of those living in Connect House’s 86 flats, some of which are only 14sq m (150sq ft), have belongings piled up in suitcases and boxes because of a lack of space. Residents have reported breathing problems and rashes which they claim have been caused by damp and mould. The smell of cannabis fills the corridors. A bag with traces of a white powder lies discarded.

The developer behind it is Joel Weider, the owner of a double glazing company who bought the property for £3.1 million in 2015. …

AA Homes

AA Homes and Housing is owned by a Labour donor, Anwar Ansari, 59, and has property holdings worth more than £170 million. Dr Ansari trained in London as an eye surgeon but is now a full-time developer.

AA Homes and Housing is behind at least five big office-to-residential conversions and rents mainly to private tenants. The flats are generally larger than those created by Caridon and Mr Weider but are often still below space guidelines set out by the government.

The company owns a five-storey former NatWest office building in Croydon. A previous owner had sought permission to convert it into 34 flats but Dr Ansari squeezed in an extra 20. In 2017, the fire service issued an enforcement notice over safety concerns including a locked fire escape, poor ventilation and defective fire doors. The company was also fined £20,000 for failing to secure a landlord licence for 36 of the building’s privately rented flats. It is contesting all of these findings.

Dr Ansari and his wife Hina live in a sprawling estate near Caterham, Surrey. …”