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Suffolk County Council faces criticism after spending £66,000 on 14-page think tank report

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Fresh controversy has emerged over a £66,000 report on housing in Suffolk after it emerged a think tank commissioned to do the work had gone into administration just days before the publication.

Suffolk County Council commissioned ResPublica to carry out a study in March 2018 into the possibility of becoming a unitary authority.

A change in leadership from the council in May meant that work had to be paused, and was then re-purposed to be about future housing in the county once it was clear there was no longer a desire for unitary status.

Endeavour House, Ipswich (15671857)
Endeavour House, Ipswich (15671857)

But now it has emerged that ResPublica entered a company voluntary arrangement in July 2017 – eight months before its involvement with the county – and formally went into administration around a week before the report was published.

The council has said its due diligence at the time of the initial commission did not reveal any concerns, stating: “We didn’t have any concerns about ResPublica’s financial position when we asked them to carry out detailed and independent policy research, interviews and analysis for us.

“In any case, they were paid on receipt of the report in December last year, and the county council is now implementing many of the recommendations, including stepping up our work to make more use of the land that we own.”

When the report was published in February this year it came under fire from opposition groups at the county who questioned the value for money of a 14-page report costing £66,000 – around £4,700 per page.

A council spokesman said it didn’t value the work on the number of pages and described it as a “crass” way of valuing the work.

But Sarah Adams, Labour leader at Suffolk County Council, said: “Questionable commissioning practices seem to be a regular theme at Suffolk County Council.

“You have got to question what sort of due diligence Suffolk County Council carries out before awarding major contracts. This work was worth nearly £70,000 of taxpayers’ money, yet it was given to a company which was in the process of collapsing.

“When the report was released, a Tory MP said he was ‘alarmed’ at the amount of money wasted. I imagine he will be even more concerned now this has come to light.”