Nottingham City Council has repeated its request to Government to provide the financial support it promised for post-Grenfell safety measures, as an independent national body backs the move.
On several occasions since the tragedy, the council has asked the Government for the £8.5m it needs to fit sprinklers in the 13 residential tower blocks it owns, only to be turned down.
In her latest letter to the new housing minister Dominic Raab, the council’s portfolio holder for Planning, Housing and Heritage, Councillor Jane Urquhart, points out that in his budget last November, the Chancellor Philip Hammond said: “If any local authority cannot access funding to pay for essential fire safety work, they should contact us immediately….we will not let financial constraints get in the way of essential safety work.”
Cllr Urquhart states in her letter: “It is disappointing that you have continued to deny requests for funding for fire safety works, despite public assurances to the contrary.”
She asks Mr Raab to reconsider the matter and if he remains unwilling to provide direct funding for the works, that he instead raises the council’s Housing Revenue Account (HRA) debt cap by £8.5m. This would provide an annual subsidy to cover the interest on the additional £8.5m the council will need to borrow for the works. This means the works could go ahead without compromising other improvements and house building programmes.
This move is supported by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) which has this week pointed out that under the current Prudential Code, councils can only take on borrowing which is “affordable, prudent and sustainable.” In the case of the Housing Revenue Account, this means debt taken on to build new homes is justified by the extra rental income generated.
But sprinklers provide no extra income and come with a maintenance price tag as well as the borrowing cost – leading CIPFA to warn that in the absence of government funding, cutbacks to other programmes will be required to make the borrowing affordable.
Councillor Urquhart said: “The Government recognises the lifesaving benefits that sprinklers can provide, and has said money will not stand in in the way of vital safety work, but has so far turned down our requests for funding. We are now requesting that at the very least it adjusts our HRA debt cap so that, as CIPFA recognises, other important housing improvements and developments – which the Government also wants us to carry out – can still go ahead.
“We plan to move ahead with our programme of works in early spring and so we are seeking a swift response from Government so we are clear on the funding arrangements.”