Powys Council buys more stake in joint venture as Plaid leader criticizes ‘disastrous’ project

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MORE money has been poured into Heart of Wales Property Services despite the company being brought back under the wing of Powys County Council in July.

HOWPS was a joint venture between the City Council and construction company Kier, which carried out repairs and maintenance on Powys’ housing stock – 5,400 homes and 630 other properties including schools.

Last month, a confidential report on HOWPS appeared before members of the Cabinet for a “delegated decision”.

Questions were asked whether this had to do with the council buying up to £350,000 worth of shares in HOWPS – and the council confirmed the investment but not its value, denying that a further £350,000 was bought in earlier this year shares had been bought.

A spokesman for Powys County Council said: “The Council and Kier have both agreed to purchase further shares in HOWPS to ensure the company’s debt to the mainly local supply chain is paid off.”

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As for how much public money Powys has poured into the company over the five years, the council spokesman said this was “commercially sensitive” information.

HOWPS remains an “active company” at Companies House and in April it submitted its annual accounts for the period to the end of June 2021, showing a loss of £1,039m – down from £668,000 in 2020.

Of those losses, Powys is liable for half the sum, which is just under £520,000.

Plaid Cymru group leader Cllr Elwyn Vaughan said: “The whole HOWPS business has been a disaster for Powys at the expense of Powys’ installers.

“Let us be a lesson on how not to do things and make sure we have full transparency and openness on such matters.”

It has already been requested to hold a “Lessons Learned” exercise in HOWPS.

At a Governance and Audit Committee meeting in June, vice-chairman and lay member John Brautigam felt it was important to understand what happened to HOWPS so it could help the council establish “independent bodies” in the future.

Issues have dogged HOWPS since its inception in 2017, resulting in the partnership being constantly challenged by council members.

The deal was supposed to run until 2027, but the council invoked a suspension clause that allowed either party to terminate the partnership in July 2022.

Around 150 workers were put back to work for Powys in July.

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