Independence...Integrity...Value

April 2014

Apr 9th 2014, 14:16

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28th April 2014

Our seminar and workshop ‘All You Want to Know about Service Charges in Social Housing’ will be held at the Novotel Hotel in Lambeth on Tuesday. It has proved very popular and I am looking forward to meeting all the delegates. The aim of the day is to answer the following questions:

  • How do Service Charges work:
  • In Housing Associations and Local Authorities?
  • For Leaseholders and Tenants?
  • How are service charges calculated?
  • How to de-pool service charges?
  • When are service charges eligible for housing benefit?
  • How to ensure excellent customer service?

I hope that everyone finds it a useful day and that they go home better informed about this important subject.

On Wednesday I will be chairing a meeting of the Board of Impact Housing Association in Carlisle. The main items on the agenda are:

  • The draft accounts and management letter for the year ended 31st December 2013
  • Completion of a loan facility
  • Asset Management, Housing stock condition and demand and trends in lettings

Our financial position remains strong, we are still able to raise loans on favourable terms and this enables us to pursue a meaningful development programme and to continue to improve our stock. The decent homes standard has already been achieved.

On Friday I am meeting with colleagues from Impact Housing Association and Eden Housing Association to discuss joint training and development initiatives for board members of both associations.

This week we have published the May edition of the Public Services News. It includes articles on:

  • Budget 2014 – The Implications for Local Government
  • Local Government Expenditure and Income
  • Value for Money and Management Costs in Local Government
  • Councils and bus subsidies including Cumbria
  • Irwin Mitchell persuades Supreme Court that Disabled Man was deprived of his Liberty
  • The Recession in Perth & Kinross
  • National Housing Federation – Regulation Conference

Your copy can be freely downloaded from: http://awics.co.uk/dynamicdata/data/docs/public%20services%20news%20-%20may%202014.pdf

Our next seminars and workshops will be held in Huddersfield:

All our seminars and workshops are also available as in-house sessions. For further information please contact me at Adrian.waite@awics.co.uk

21st April 2014

I was interested to read this week that over two thirds of housing associations and many local authorities are now paying the ‘living wage’. As the Living Wage Foundation says: ‘Housing associations have an important role to play in communities across the United Kingdom by changing markets through the way they do business’. Clearly local authorities have a similar role. If local authorities and housing associations are serious about addressing poverty in their areas surely they should start by paying their own employees the ‘Living Wage’.

However, many local authorities still procure services (at least in part) on the basis of the lowest cost. This is especially true when they procure support services in housing and adult social care. Providers who wish to supply these services are therefore obliged to offer staff the ‘minimum wage’ rather than the ‘living wage’. I am not sure how easy it is to reconcile this approach to procurement with the stated aim of ‘changing markets’ by paying the ‘Living Wage’.

Many local authorities are balancing their budgets at a time of reduced central government grants and frozen council tax by increasing income from fees and charges. Among them is Cumbria County Council that is planning to introduce on-street car parking charges in eleven town centres. However, following a successful legal challenge to similar plans in Barnet, Carlisle City Council has challenged the plans on the grounds that the Road Traffic Act is not a revenue making act and that it is illegal to use parking charges for ‘general revenue’. The Deputy Leader of the Council, Elsie Martlew, told the ‘Cumberland News’ that:

“The law is clear about this… It has been tested in court and councils cannot use on-street parking charges to raise income. Charges are to be used for traffic management purposes… In every statement I’ve read from the County Council, they have made it clear they need this money to address their budget shortfall.”

The issue seems to be around the reason for introducing or increasing charges and the use to which the additional revenue is put. A spokesman from the Department for Transport told the ‘Cumberland News’ that:

“If (a Council does) make a surplus it has to be spent on transport or the environment.”

The County Council is satisfied that it has acted legally and will continue to implement the charges.

This week we have published the April edition of the ‘AWICS’ Housing News. It includes articles on:

  • Self-Financing, Rents and Service Charges in Wales
  • Impact Housing wins Inside Housing award for Grasmere scheme
  • Local Growth Fund and new Council houses
  • Budget 2014 – The Implications for Housing
  • Severnside Housing Association, Digital Inclusion and Learning
  • National Housing Federation Conference
  • Service Charges Seminar & Workshop

Your copy can be freely downloaded from: http://awics.co.uk/dynamicdata/data/docs/awics%20housing%20news%20-%20april%202014.pdf

Our next seminar and workshop is ‘All You Want to Know about Service Charges’ that will be held in London on 29th April 2014. It is proving popular but we still have a few places available. Further information is available at: http://awics.co.uk/schs.asp

All our seminars and workshops are also available as in-house sessions. For further information please contact me at Adrian.waite@awics.co.uk

14th April 2014

I have spent today in Rhyl in North Wales where I am working with Denbighshire Council on their housing business plan, self-financing, service charges and financial modelling for new build.

Social housing in Wales is going through a period of profound change. Self-financing is to be introduced next year and offers significant opportunities to Councils to meet and exceed the Welsh Housing Quality Standard, improve business planning and asset management and build new homes to meet the needs of individuals and communities. There is also a new rent policy being introduced to housing associations this year and to local authorities next that will base rents on house values, market rents and local earnings; bring about convergence between local authority and housing association rents; and oblige local authorities to separate out service charges. This results in significant challenges and opportunities for Welsh local authorities and housing associations.

We are holding a seminar and workshop ‘All You Want to Know about Welsh Social Housing Finance’ in Cardiff on 10th September 2014. For further information please see http://awics.co.uk/walesfin.asp

In England the government has published details of how local authorities can access the £300million additional borrowing headroom that was promised in the budget to help them to build new affordable homes. There is going to be a competitive bidding process in which councils will have to gain the approval of the Local Enterprise Partnership before being considered. Given that the Local Government Association asked for ‘borrowing caps’ to be raised by £7billion with no strings attached the government’s scheme appears to be a small concession. After all, they are only giving councils approval to borrow money at their own expense!

Last week, Kris Hopkins MP visited Cumbria to meet representatives of the local housing associations. The main message to emerge was that government now sees the private rented sector as the main provider of new homes in the future and that public money will be channelled in that direction. I am told that the opposition are of the same view. I am not sure why the private sector needs subsidies when it sets rents at ‘market’ levels that appear to me to be quite high and should be sufficient to cover all costs! The private rented sector also already receives significant subsidies through the housing benefit system.

Meanwhile local authorities continue to grapple with the challenges that have been created by four years of austerity. In this situation it is becoming increasingly important that everyone with a role to play in local government understands how the finances work. Our latest briefing paper is on Local Government Expenditure and Income. It includes examples from a unitary council and a district council and should be useful reading for anyone in local government. Your free copy can be downloaded from: http://awics.co.uk/dynamicdata/data/docs/local%20government%20expenditure%20and%20income%20-%20briefing%20paper.pdf

Our book ‘All You Want to Know about Local Authority Finance 2014’ can now be purchased online. Further information can be found at: http://awics.co.uk/local_authority_finance.asp

It goes without saying that everyone in local government and housing is interested in value for money. This week we have published details of our 2014 seminar and workshop on ‘Value for Money and Performance Management in Housing and Local Government’ that will be held in London on 8th October 2014. This seminar and workshop will look in detail at how Local Authorities and Housing Associations can achieve improved Value for Money and effective Performance Management. It will look at housing and other services provided by local authorities. The presentation will be illustrated with practical examples drawn from Impact Housing Association and other housing associations and local authorities. It will be held in London on 8th October 2014. For further information please see: http://awics.co.uk/vfm2014.asp

Our next seminar and workshop is ‘All You Want to Know about Service Charges’ that will be held in London on 29th April 2014. It is proving popular but we still have a few places available. Further information is available at: http://awics.co.uk/schs.asp

All our seminars and workshops are also available as in-house sessions. For further information please contact me at Adrian.waite@awics.co.uk

7th April 2014

Last week I was in Hounslow to provide some training in local government finance for the West London Waste Authority. I am grateful to them for inviting me to do this. The authority provides waste management services for the London Boroughs of Brent, Ealing, Harrow, Hillingdon, Hounslow and Richmond on Thames. It serves 1.4million people, has annual gross expenditure of £53million and:

  • Provides facilities for receiving waste collected by the six West London boroughs. This includes the waste collected from households and at household waste sites.
  • Transports and recycles or disposes of this waste.
  • Stores and disposes of abandoned vehicles removed by the boroughs
  • Provides three waste transfer stations; in South Ruislip, Brent and Brentford.

Impact Housing Association, of which I am Chair, has been included in the Inside Housing magazine’s awards for affordable housing schemes. Our scheme at Grasmere in South Lakeland was found to be one of the top fifty affordable housing schemes in England and one of the top five small schemes. This is welcome recognition for a scheme that meets local needs well and was provided without public subsidy but with the involvement of the local community. For more information please see http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/home/analysis/top-50-affordable-housing-developments-revealed/7003077.article

Our next seminar and workshop is: ‘All You Want to Know about Service Charges in Social Housing’ and will be held in London on Tuesday 29th April 2014. The session will answer the following questions:

  • How do Service Charges work? In Housing Associations and Local Authorities - For Leaseholders and Tenants
  • How are service charges calculated?
  • How to de-pool service charges?
  • When are service charges eligible for housing benefit?
  • How to ensure excellent customer service?

The session is proving popular but there are still a few places available. For more information please see http://awics.co.uk/schs.asp

Our latest briefing paper is on the 2014 Budget and its implications for local government and housing. It includes sections on local government, housing, welfare, pensions and savings, public sector efficiency and departmental budgets, other announcements and reactions to the budget. Your free copy can be downloaded from http://awics.co.uk/dynamicdata/data/docs/budget%202014%20-%20briefing%20paper.pdf

We will soon be publishing our latest book: ‘All You Want to Know about Local Authority Finance’. This book provides an up-to-date introduction and overview of the finances of local government in England and runs to 100 pages. It includes sections on: General Fund Accounts, Revenues, Issues with Specific Budgets, Housing Revenue Account, Capital Programmes, Revenue Support Grant 2014/15, Welfare Reform and Benefits and Value for Money and Performance Management. It costs £30 plus £3.25 postage and packing. For further information or to order a copy please contact me at Adrian.waite@awics.co.uk .

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