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£55m meant to improve energy efficiency of homes will be returned to government by Combined Authority

More than £55million will be returned by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority to the government that was meant to be spent on improving the energy efficiency of homes across a broad area of the country.

The authority’s board agreed to return £33.35m at its meeting last Wednesday, having already returned £22m.

The money may now be made available for similar schemes, or go back to the Treasury.

Dr Nik Johnson the new Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority seen in Ely where the mayor's office is based. Picture: Keith Heppell. (58771111)
Dr Nik Johnson the new Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority seen in Ely where the mayor's office is based. Picture: Keith Heppell. (58771111)

It came from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which awarded the Combined Authority £78.35m towards improving energy efficiency of homes in the South East of England.

The Green Homes Grant, also referred to as the Local Authority Delivery (LAD2) programme, focused on low income and low EPC-rated households. The aime was to cut fuel poverty and reduce energy bills, while delivering delivering “cost effective carbon savings” in line with the UK’s target to be net zero by 2050.

The Combined Authority was managing the scheme across 136 local authorities.

A report for the board said the impact of the returned money for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough amounted to less than £2million.

By the end of July, the scheme had delivered 1,376 measures to 860 households and work was ongoing to “maximise” the delivery of the scheme in the time remaining.

Extensions to the scheme had been approved by the government, but the authority has been told no further extensions will now be given.

Delays in contracting, the availability of a national supply chain and the local authority capacity to deliver projects resulted in the Combined Authority not spending the money in the timeframe, the report said.

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha (Lib Dem, Newnham), leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, said it was “disappointing” that the scheme had not achieved all that it could have done.

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha
Cllr Lucy Nethsingha

She said the aims of the scheme were “absolutely crucial” particularly due to the costs of living crisis, but said it was right to hand the money back to be spent elsewhere.

Cllr Chris Boden (Con, Bassenhally), leader of Fenland District Council, said the situation was “regrettable”. He said other parts of the country had not had the ‘same levels of difficulty the Combined Authority appeared to have had’.

Cllr Boden was worried about the authority’s reputation with the government after having to hand back large amounts of money, and said there should be some “introspection” to understand why the authority’s performance had been different to elsewhere.

Labour mayor Dr Nik Johnson said: “I share the frustrations [and] reservations knowing that the Combined Authority has not delivered as it could have done.”

He said there were “undoubtedly issues around capacity within our organisation at a senior level”, adding: “I know we have the benefit of a world class chief executive who is working with new appointees to deal with this.

“It is a slow oil tanker of a problem, but we are turning it around. It still is not as we would have wanted it, but we are introspective, we are learning from these.

“We are looking forward and getting a pipeline of work, making sure that we are training up people in the local areas.

“Maybe on this occasion we were trying to run before we could walk in terms of taking on huge responsibility, almost 50 per cent of the country. You look back on that now and say that was a mistake, but we learn from those.”

The extension of the scheme has also delayed the delivery of a subsequent scheme. The board heard the Combined Authority is expecting to return further money from the Sustainable Warmth project due to delays starting it, although this will not impact the local authorities in Cambridgeshire or Peterborough.

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