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Responding to an age of austerity

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The age of austerity came to local government and the Homes and Communities Agency in a big way last week.

As a major part of Communities and Local Government’s capital programme, we had anticipated a contribution from our programmes towards the departmental target.

What came as more of a surprise was that a further £780m of our planned funding for this year was no longer regarded as ‘secure’.

The additional £170m for affordable housing was welcome and reduced the uncertainty to £610m but we have still had to put all uncommitted expenditure on hold until the June budget.

The new world is likely to involve a significant reduction in public funding. How should we respond to this?

First, when there is less to go around, it is vital to have a clear and shared set of priorities.

I believe that local authorities and their partners are best placed to know what is most important for their area and this is why we have worked with councils to develop Local Investment Plans to guide investment.

Secondly, we need to get maximum benefit from existing land and property assets. To be really effective though, all public assets in a locality have to be part of these discussions.

Thirdly, we must make sure that whatever funding is available levers in as much private investment as possible.

Finally, we need to make sure that schemes that are committed deliver and deliver well. There are still a lot of important projects under way and there is still scope to make a real impact.

After a period of pretty readily available private finance and growing public spending, no one expects delivering new housing and regeneration schemes in the next five years to be anything but very challenging.

It will take all of our collective ingenuity to make progress but I firmly believe that it is possible.

Sir Bob Kerslake, chief executive of the Homes and Communities Agency

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