Two reports by government oversight agencies have discovered that Boris Johnson’s main hospital construction project and three funds aimed at promoting regional equality are facing significant delays and are not expected to meet their original deadlines.
The public accounts committee expressed doubt that the former prime minister’s pledge to construct 40 hospitals by 2030 would be fulfilled, even with the revised goal of 32 hospitals.
The group of MPs from different political parties stated that there has been minimal improvement for patients since the program was introduced. They urged the Department of Health and Social Care to promptly evaluate how new hospital construction plans will directly benefit patients. They also cautioned that there is a potential issue with designing future hospitals to be too small.
Dame Meg Hillier, the chair of the committee, said: “The physical edifice that is the NHS is quite literally crumbling before our eyes. There was nothing inevitable about this heartbreaking crisis. It can be laid squarely at the door of the decision to raid budgets reserved for maintenance and investment in favour of day-to-day spending.”
The head of the NHS Confederation, Matthew Taylor, expressed that the report highlights a pressing requirement for financial support in the healthcare system. This is particularly important in addressing the current backlog of maintenance worth £10.2bn, which greatly hinders productivity.
He stated: “The new hospitals project is at risk of collapsing, similar to certain parts of the deteriorating NHS infrastructure, if financial resources are continuously diverted for everyday expenses. The report highlights that this constant redirection of funds to cover budget shortfalls is the main cause of our current predicament. This has resulted in our facilities becoming increasingly hazardous for providing healthcare and is impeding efforts to enhance efficiency.”
A new study from the National Audit Office (NAO) revealed that three funds – the towns fund, the levelling up fund, and the shared prosperity fund – were falling behind in their goal of completing £10 billion worth of “shovel-ready projects”. According to the report, local authorities had only spent £1 billion of the allocated funds by March of this year.
The National Audit Office (NAO) discovered that the government’s set deadlines are unlikely to be achieved. As of now, only half of the construction contracts for projects due by March next year have been signed, while a staggering 85% of construction contracts for projects due by March 2025 remain unsigned. The NAO reported that as of March this year, only 64 projects have been completed, over 1,000 are in progress, and 76 have not even started yet.
The NAO found that a major issue was that the funds were “overlapping,” but local councils had to request them through various methods and with different due dates. The report stated that the causes for delays were complex, including inflation, lack of skilled workers, and challenges within the construction industry. Additionally, the NAO criticized the DLUHC for making “detrimental” decisions.
The National Audit Office (NAO) pointed out that the UK shared prosperity fund was initiated in April of last year. Local councils were required to submit their investment plans by August 2022, but the Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities (DLUHC) did not approve them until December 2022. This left local authorities with only three months to use their allocation for 2022-23. The NAO recognized that the department is working to enhance its project efficiency and has allocated an extra £65 million in funding.
The funds were part of Johnson’s drive to “level up” the country, with Michael Gove put in charge of a newly renamed department to reflect its central mission, although the shared prosperity fund was originally announced under Theresa May to replace some lost EU funding.
The allocation of funds to towns drew strong criticism from the Labour party for favoring areas controlled by Conservative members of parliament, especially in regions where the Tories aimed to hold onto their seats.
The Chief of the National Audit Office, Gareth Davies, stated that the department responsible for promoting equal opportunities has made progress in its methods, but must collaborate with local councils to resolve delays or issues with projects, and establish feasible timelines for completion.
“It is crucial for DLUHC to communicate the findings of their evaluation efforts to local decision-makers, enabling them to attain superior cost-effectiveness and mitigate regional disparities by enhancing the quality of living environments,” he stated.
According to Zoë Billingham, the IPPR North thinktank director, the report revealed a pattern of missed deadlines, changing criteria, and dysfunction in the distribution of levelling up funds to local councils as part of the government’s main initiative.
The DLUHC representative stated that the data was outdated and mentioned that an additional £1.5bn has been disbursed to local governments in the past eight months since March.
“We are collaborating closely with local authorities to assist them in implementing their crucial initiatives,” stated the spokesperson. “We have allocated £13 billion towards leveling the playing field and aiding projects that enhance the daily lives of individuals throughout the UK.”
“Significant revitalization initiatives require a significant amount of time to be completed, but several projects have been successfully finished. This includes the renovation of the Farnworth leisure centre in Bolton, which was made possible by a £13.3 million investment from the future high streets fund to the Bolton council. The towns fund has also contributed to the opening of the Ingenium Centre in Darlington and a digi-tech factory in Norwich.”
The DHSC has been approached for comment.