Powys council buys more shares in joint venture as Plaid chief slams ‘disastrous’ scheme

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MORE money has been poured into Heart of Wales Property Services despite the company returning to the wing of Powys County Council in July.

HOWPS was a joint venture between the council and building 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 cabinet members for a “delegated decision.”

Questions were asked whether it had to do with the board buying up to £350,000 of HOWPS shares – and the board confirmed the investment but not its value, and denied that a further £350,000 was shares were purchased earlier this year.

A spokesperson for Powys County Council said: “Both the council and Kier have agreed to buy additional shares in HOWPS to ensure that the company’s debts are paid to the mainly locally based supply chain. .”

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As for the total amount of public money Powys has invested in the business over the five years, the council spokesman said it was “commercially sensitive” information.

HOWPS remains an “active company” at Companies House and in April filed its accounts for the period to the end of June 2021, which showed a loss of £1.039 million, compared to £668,000 in 2020.

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

Plaid Cymru Group leader Cllr Elwyn Vaughan said: “The whole saga with HOWPS has been a disaster for Powys at the expense of the taxpayers of Powys.

“Let this be a lesson if how not to do things and make sure we get full transparency and openness on these issues.”

Calls have already been made for a ‘lessons learned’ exercise to be held in the HOWPS.

At a meeting of the Governance and Audit Committee in June, Vice Chairman and lay member John Brautigam felt it was important to understand what had happened to HOWPS so that it would help the Board set up “independent bodies” in the future.

Problems have persisted in HOWPS since its inception in 2017, resulting in the partnership being continually challenged by advisors.

The contract was to last until 2027, but a break clause that allowed either party to end the partnership in July 2022 was invoked by the board.

In July, around 150 workers were transferred to work for Powys.

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