Suffolk taxpayers fund £66,000 study which results in report of just 14 pages

Babergh District Council approved the budget at Endeavour House on Tuesday. Picture: ARCHANT

Babergh District Council approved the budget at Endeavour House on Tuesday. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: ARCHANT

A study into housing growth funded by Suffolk taxpayers has resulted in a report just 14 pages long and costing the equivalent of more than £4,700 per page.

Suffolk County Council commissioned the report, entitled Suffolk’s Strategic Housing Role from think tank ResPublica last year. The £66,000 study, which was tasked with assessing means of accelerating housing growth, was published on the county council’s website on Thursday, February 21. But the report has come under fire over its scant 14-page length - which equates to a £4,700 cost per page funded by Suffolk taxpayers. The council has defended the report, saying it helps to “continue constructive conversations”. Councillor Sarah Adams, Labour group leader, said: “To say that this report was disappointing would be a gross understatement. “Leaving aside the significant cost to the taxpayer, it is devoid of any discernible substance or purpose. “At £5,000 a page, this report acts as a metaphor for the current Tory administration - inconsequential, directionless and profligate in the extreme.” Ms Adams pointed to other recent projects the administration has been involved in where money was lost, such as the Barley Homes joint housing venture, which the county council pulled out of before a single home was built, losing £70,000, and the £8million spent on the Upper Orwell Crossings project in Ipswich before that was axed. She added: “All the while funding has been slashed for our public services like the Citizens Advice with Suffolk’s residents paying the price for Tory incompetence and failure. It is an absolute disgrace.” There were also question marks over why the county needed the report when housing is a borough and district council matter, and why an outside consultant firm was needed in the first place. Matthew Hicks, Conservative council leader, said: “Suffolk’s local authorities all share the ambition for continued economic prosperity and the delivery of suitable housing for our growing population is a key aspect of this,” he said. “We asked ResPublica to conduct independent research on the role we can play in helping to deliver much needed housing in Suffolk. That’s what they’ve done and this report helps us to continue constructive conversations with partners on this key issue. “This is in stark contrast to Cllr Adams who is attacking a report that provides a positive contribution to aid collaborative working. “I am disappointed but not surprised. This month alone, the group she leads has proven itself incapable of providing any alternative to our budget, beyond a 12 line amendment which even failed to gain support from other opposition groups. “These comments demonstrate an inability to offer any alternative strategy to support economic and housing growth, whilst simultaneously attacking a report which provides a platform to help councils work together.” The work initially came last year when then-council leader Colin Noble commissioned ResPublica to assess unitary status for the council, but this was redrawn into a study on housing growth once Matthew Hicks became leader.

It is understood that a contract with the firm had already been drawn up and work already begun by the think tank at the time of the leadership change. Andrew Stringer, leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, said: “This is a complete waste of money, it tells us precisely what we already know. “It does state that the county council could be a major player in housing delivery in Suffolk. “This report tells us there are various delivery models available and we should pursue some of them. “So as before we wait for the Conservatives at Suffolk County Council to actually do something, while commissioning an expensive report to tell us what we already know. “The sad thing is the cost of this report could have probably built a much needed home.”

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