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Journalist defends exclusive amid government attacks

Jen WilliamsA regional journalist has defended her exclusive on plans to scrap a scheme to house rough sleepers after the story was attacked by the government.

Manchester Evening News politics and investigations editor Jennifer Williams has hit back at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government after it accused her of running an “inaccurate article” on the housing of rough sleepers during the coronavirus crisis.

Jen, pictured, exclusively revealed ministers had quietly pulled the plug on the ‘Everyone In’ programme, reporting that civil servants had told Greater Manchester officials that the scheme was no longer being funded by central government.

But the story prompted a backlash from MHCLG, with a series of Twitter posts from its official account criticising what it perceived as inaccuracies in Jen’s story.

In response, Jen posted on the social media site that she was “just doing [her] job” and published evidence from the leaked report which prompted her story.

She later tweeted that she now appeared to be on the government’s “shitlist” as a result of the story and accused ministers of trying to organise a Twitter “pile on.”

The section of the report, which was sent to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, made clear that MHCLG had “drawn a line” under the scheme and that it was “no longer part of their direct guidance or funding”.

But in a series of tweets, MHCLG wrote: “Please see our response to an inaccurate article from the MEN and Jen Williams suggesting that government is removing emergency support for rough sleepers.

“Any suggestion that the government is reneging on the commitment set out at the start of this national emergency is entirely wrong.

“We have been clear councils must continue to provide safe accommodation for those that need it, and any suggestion that funding is being withdrawn or people asked to leave hotels is unfounded.”

Publishing the relevant section of the leaked report, Jen responded: “What I reported was that Greater Manchester has been told by government the ‘Everyone In’ hotel-based approach is being wrapped up.

“Here is the relevant section of the report. I’m just doing my job.”

She added: “In the interests of balance, government has come back on this to say it has not reneged on any commitments and is working with local partners to get people from hotels into long term accommodation.

“However: Greater Manchester view is very clear; the original scheme has been wrapped up.

“Realistically they weren’t going to keep rough sleepers in hotels forever, of course.

“But obviously there is now a big scramble to work out what to do next, when social housing is in such short supply and temporary accommodation will be at lower capacity due to social distancing.”