Independence...Integrity...Value

December 2013

Dec 10th 2013, 10:02

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16th December 2013

I have just put my material on Service Charges from the recent National Housing Federation Conference on my website. It includes copies of the slides from my three presentations; my briefing paper on Supported Housing, Service Charges and Universal Credit; and my notes on the presentations made by the other speakers. To access this information please visit http://awics.co.uk/nhf.asp

Service charges are continuing to be complex and contentious and we will be holding a seminar and workshop on service charges in April. Information about this is available at http://awics.co.uk/schs.asp

Local authorities are in the process of putting together their budgets for 2014/15 and the government’s Local Government Finance Settlement announcement is expected shortly before Christmas. I intend to write a briefing paper on this that will be published on our website in due course.

Clearly, 2014/15 will be another difficult year for local authorities with difficult decisions to take about how to reduce expenditure. There will continue to be a significant number of value for money initiatives but it is inevitable that services will also have to be redesigned, reduced or even discontinued. Councils are currently out to consultation on options and some proposals are receiving significant public attention. Where I live the most contentious proposals seem to be a reduction the number of fire engines available and a reduction in bus subsidies in rural areas. Copeland Borough Council, where I used to be Strategic Director, has taken the disappointing decision to close the Whitehaven Civic Hall – When I was there we had ambitious proposals on the table to turn it into a major conference centre!

Carlisle City Council is not far from where I live and I have also been privileged to provide training in local authority finance to their members and officers. Their Lead Councillor for Finance, Dr Les Tickner, made an interesting observation about budgets in this week’s ‘Cumberland News’:

“I always look at budgets like a tube of toothpaste – you can always squeeze a bit more… But we are at the stage where there is nothing much left and we are going to have to put something back in.”

Impact Housing Association will hold its last board meeting of the year on Wednesday evening at the Oval Centre in Salterbeck. The main items on the agenda are:

  • The Business Plan
  • The Budget 2014
  • Who do we house?
  • Annual Report of the Tenants’ & Residents’ Association
  • Board Development Programme

Next week we will be holding the ‘AWICS’ Christmas dinner at the Royal Oak Hotel in Appleby after another successful year for the company. This will probably be my last blog of the year so I would like to wish all my customers, users of my website and readers of my blog a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

10th December 2013

Last week I was one of the speakers at a National Housing Federation conference on service charges. My two sessions were entitled:

  • Ensuring Excellent Customer Service
  • The Supported Housing World.

The conference was also held in London in September at which I spoke on: How to calculate and apportion service charges effectively.

At the session on ‘ensuring excellent customer service’ one of the delegates described me as an ‘idealist’. I hope this was meant as a compliment and I was pleased to reflect that after over thirty years working in local government and housing I still believe in making a difference for communities.

I will put copies of my presentations on my website soon. If anyone would like to be notified when they are available please email enquiries@awics.co.uk with ‘service charges’ in the title.

Last week also saw the Chancellor’s 2013 autumn statement. It was made against a background of improved forecasts for the United Kingdom economy and continued reductions in public expenditure. Measures that took the headlines included:

  • Local Government Finance – local authorities will be exempt from the latest round of budget reductions and in future will have long-term settlements
  • Welfare Reform – delays to Universal Credit, more discretionary housing payments and a ‘cap’ on welfare expenditure
  • Council Housing – increases in the ‘borrowing cap’ that turned out to be minimal with ‘strings attached’
  • Pensions – An increase in the pensionable age
  • Business rates – A limit on increases

I have written two briefing papers on the Autumn statement 2013, one focusing on the implications for local government and the other on the implications for housing. To download your free copy please follow the links below:

Later in the week I will be meeting with Impact Housing Association’s Human Resources Director to discuss our board member development programme for 2014. As Chair of the Association I hold appraisal meetings with all board members each autumn at which we discuss, amongst other things, the development needs of individual board members and of the board as a whole. This year the main priorities to emerge were for board members to gain a better understanding of the financial environment in which the association works and a deeper knowledge of the diverse services that we provide and how they and our tenants and service users are being affected by the recession and the austerity programme. I am sure that many housing association boards will have identified similar development objectives.

1st December 2013

Last Wednesday I chaired the November meeting of the Board of Impact Housing Association. It was held at the Eden Rural Foyer in Penrith which is part of Impact Housing Association. The main items on our agenda were our business plan for 2014 and our strategy for long-term finance and loans. The Foyer is celebrating its tenth anniversary and the celebrations preceded the board meeting.

Friday saw the opening of Impact Housing Association’s new development of fifteen houses at Grasmere in South Lakeland. This is a village where high house prices and market rents make it difficult for local people with modest incomes to afford a home. Unfortunately, affordable homes are in short supply so our scheme, which was completed without grant from the Homes & Communities Agency, is very welcome. It achieved coverage on the ITV Border news that can be seen at: http://www.itv.com/news/border/story/2013-11-29/affordable-homes-in-grasmere/

I also spent a lot of time last week preparing a database of multiple choice questions on management accounts for the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy.

This week I will be speaking at the National Housing Federation introductory workshop on Service Charges on Monday and their Leaseholder and Tenant Service Charges Conference on Tuesday, both of which will be held in Manchester. Details can be found on their website at http://www.housing.org.uk/events/browse/service-charges-an-introductory-workshop-1 and http://www.housing.org.uk/events/browse/leaseholder-and-tenant-service-charges . My first session is in excellent customer service and my second session is on service charges in sheltered housing.

While on the subject of service charges, our latest briefing paper is on Supported Housing and Service Charges and can be freely downloaded from http://awics.co.uk/dynamicdata/data/docs/supported%20housing%20and%20service%20charges%20-%20briefing%20paper.pdf

On Thursday the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make his autumn statement. I am puzzled by the fact that it is called the ‘autumn statement’ because I thought that December was in the winter! However, it is likely to be an interesting statement with the Chancellor upgrading his forecasts for growth during 2014; confirming that fuel duty will not increase next year; introducing free school meals in primary schools; reducing ‘green taxes’ on the energy companies; yet announcing further austerity measures for public services. Other measures of interest to housing and local government may include freezing Business Rates and scaling down ‘Help to Buy’ or introducing more property taxes amidst fears of an overheating housing market in London and the Southeast.

Local Government and Housing bodies are lobbying for a liberalisation of the current restrictions on local authority borrowing for housing; and for a guarantee that there will be no more reductions in funding for local government but I would be surprised if these requests are met.

I intend to publish a briefing paper on the autumn statement as soon as possible after the statement is made. If you would like to make sure of getting a copy please email enquiries@awics.co.uk with the words ‘autumn statement’ in the title.

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