7,000 homes brought to market as government extends election purdah to quangos

English councils have put more than 7,000 homes out to tender in the past weeks in advance of draconian new “purdah” rules that will stop quangos spending until the general election.

The tenders have been issued under the Homes and Communities Agency’s 28-strong delivery partner panel, and come despite the fact the government initially said just 1,250 homes would be procured through it.

The government has announced tenders for 900 homes on six sites through the panel. But sources say six more schemes have been tendered by councils independently, totalling 7,150 homes, including the 1,700-home regeneration of North Prospects Estate in Plymouth and work in Manchester and Islington.

Lovell last week picked up the first contract awarded through the panel for a 45-home £4.7m scheme for Bradford council. It will start at the end of the month.

The notifications come in advance of a shutdown of public procurement that will be far more severe than previous general elections. The Cabinet Office this week said all quangos would be subject to purdah restrictions, meaning they will not be allowed to make any new spending decisions or sign contracts on previously committed funding.

Contractors are resigned to the fact the election will affect public investment

Stephen Ratcliffe, UKCG

Although this means public bodies will not be able to sign the new contracts, it is widely accepted that projects that have been tendered have more chance of surviving future spending cuts.

Quango bosses, who spend £46.5bn of public money a year, have been told the rules were tightened because of the state of public finances and the chance the next government will oppose Labour’s funding decisions.

The HCA, Partnerships for Schools, and the Highways Agency will be affected. Sir Bob Kerslake, HCA chief executive, this week wrote to private sector partners saying: “The purdah rules have been revised in the run-up to this election. As a result, the HCA will not be able to approve new investment or enter into contracts already approved.”

Stephen Ratcliffe, director of the UK Contractors Group, said: “It seems a pity contracts that have already been approved cannot be finalised. Contractors are resigned to the fact the election will affect public investment – this is becoming a reality.”