Independence...Integrity...Value

January 2015

Jan 9th 2015, 09:53

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26th January 2015

Cumbria County Council’s budget consultation closed last Tuesday and, as I live and work in the County I decided to make a response.

The context in which Cumbria County Council is operating is difficult and not untypical:

  • Between 2011 and 2014 they have had to identify savings of £130million.
  • By 2018 they will need to make a further £83million of savings
  • By 2018 their overall spend will have been cut by £213million or roughly a quarter.
  • At one point the council employed over 10,000 people (excluding schools). Today they employ 7,000 people and by 2018 this will drop to 5,200.
  • That means that in three years, 1,800 people who are employed with them today will have left the council.
  • By 2018, they will have virtually halved the size of the County Council.

My response covers Council Tax; Proposals for Savings; Finding new ways of working; Local Government structure and Financial Strategy. A copy of my response can be downloaded from HERE

The need for more joined-up thinking in government was underlined yet again last week in a report published by SITRA for the Northern Ireland Executive. This showed that the £65million a year spent ion ‘Supporting People’ in Northern Ireland actually saves the government over £125million through reducing the need to spend on housing, health, social care and criminal justice. In other words, every £1 spent on ‘Supporting People’ actually saves £1.90. Yet in England local authorities, under pressure from central government, continue to cut budgets for ‘Supporting People’, not only causing detriment to service users but also increasing costs for other agencies.

This Wednesday I will Chair the January 2015 meeting of the Board of Impact Housing Association. Among other things we will be reviewing our mission, purpose and blueprint. Our strapline in our logo “Impact Improvement through Action” is one that everyone knows, internally and externally. It has stood the test of time since 1975 and still reflects what Impact is about.

Our blueprint sets out our ambitions and radical vision for the future. Impact is a locally based housing association providing a wide range of services and working together with our Board, staff, partners, partners and local communities in which we work. Our blueprint clearly explains our purposes and we aim to achieve these in a collaborative way. It also maps who are our customers, our vision for our services and our approach to organisational development. The behaviours and attributes of staff make our vision achievable.

Further information about the mission, purpose and blueprint is available on the Impact Housing Association website at: http://www.impacthousing.org.uk/publications

Last week the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy welcomed a strong set of results by students sitting for both its professional qualification and the institute’s new public audit qualification. The results for United Kingdom students sitting exams in December 2014 showed an overall pass rate of 75%, a slight increase on the 72% pass rate in June. I have been pleased to be part of this as an examiner in Management Accounting.

‘AWICS’ is currently advertising for a Marketing Assistant. The overall purpose of the role is to contribute to the development of our marketing strategy and to undertake targeted marketing activity in line with the business marketing plan. Further details about the position and about how to apply can be found HERE

I am currently busy preparing for our next seminar and workshop ‘Implementing Self-Financing in Wales’ that will be held in Cardiff on 10th February and Wrexham on 12th February. Further details can be found HERE

19th January 2015

Last week I was in Brixton for a meeting at Community Trust Housing. Community Trust Housing is a community-based housing provider that was established following a housing stock transfer from Lambeth Borough Council to regenerate the Stockwell Park Estate, Robsart Village and neighbouring street properties. Community Trust Housing is in the process of delivering a £110million regeneration plan over nine years that is due to be completed in 2017.

Stockwell Park

The master plan for the regeneration of the community is driven by the ambitions of residents. The vision sees the area as a healthy, safe and welcoming place. Community Trust Housing residents want good quality, well managed and maintained homes at affordable rents, in an area revitalised by good schools, improved parks and a wide range of community facilities. More information can be found on their website at: http://www.cth.org.uk/

Eden District Council’s consultation on their 2015/16 budget closed on 17th January and I decided to make a response as I live in the district.

The Council has, quite rightly I believe, identified a need to promote economic development by investing in infrastructure and to address housing need by investing in affordable housing. However, from reading the draft budget papers it does not appear to me that every opportunity is being taken to meet those objectives. In particular:

  • The Council will hold revenue reserves of £5.3million at the end of this financial year but it estimates that it requires only £1.5million. However, it is budgeting to retain £3.8million even by the end of 2019.
  • Despite being in a relatively good financial position, the Council has not even considered using its Prudential Borrowing powers to fund investment.
  • It appears to me that there is likely to be scope to increase resources through a changed approach to financial management, value for money and risk management.

More information can be found HERE and a copy of my response can be downloaded from HERE

Councillor Gordon Nicolson OBE, the Leader of the Council, has written to me to say:

“Thank you for your detailed and constructive comments on the Council’s Budget consultation. Your comments will be discussed as part od the process to finalise the budget for presentation to The Executive on 27 January and to Council on 19 February.”

The January edition of the ‘AWICS Housing News’ is published this week. It features articles on:

  • Autumn Statement 2014 – The Implications for Housing
  • Adrian Waite speaks at Housemark Conference on Asset Management
  • Implementing Self-Financing in Wales
  • Local Authority Housing Finance
  • Risk Management in Social Housing
  • Advertisements: National Housing Federation, Impact Housing Association, Alpha Homes

Your copy can be freely downloaded from HERE

12th January 2015

I am pleased to say that our next seminar and workshop ‘Implementing Self-Financing in Wales’ is proving very popular. A majority of Welsh local authorities with housing stock are already sending delegates and I hope that all of them will be represented come the day. We are holding two sessions: the first in Cardiff on 10th February 2015 and the second in Wrexham on 12th February 2015 so that we can cater for people in North and South Wales.

This seminar and workshop is suitable for elected members, corporate managers and accountants, housing managers, housing accountants, tenant representatives and anyone with an interest in local authority housing in Wales.

Further information is available on our website at http://awics.co.uk/walesselffin.asp from where you can also book a place online. A brochure can also be downloaded from HERE.

This week we launch our new series of seminars ‘All You Want to Know about Risk Management in Social Housing’. Risk Management is gaining a higher profile in social housing because of the recession, austerity, self-financed housing revenue accounts and the Homes & Communities Agency’s new regulatory standards.

Wellington Mills in Lambeth, London. Risks are sometimes considered to be more significant in flats.

This series is designed to give an introduction and overview to this important subject and is fully up to date with all developments. It will cover:

  • Introduction to Risk Management
  • What does it achieve? When should we do it?
  • How do we do it?
  • How do we maintain it and when should we change it? How do we learn from it?

Those who should attend include Board members in Housing Associations and Arms’ Length Management Organisations; elected Members in local authorities; Housing managers, Finance managers, tenant representatives and all those with an interest in risk management in social housing.

Further information is available on our website at: http://awics.co.uk/risk.asp from where you can also book online and a brochure can be downloaded from HERE

I have previously expressed my concern at the way in which Communities & Local Government (DCLG) have treated depreciation, impairment and the funding of major repairs in the English self-financing settlement. In particular, the intention that depreciation and impairment will become ‘real’ charges to the housing revenue account and therefore to tenants after the current transitional period comes to an end in 2017. My fear is that these essentially notional costs could become unaffordable for some authorities and it appears that this fear is shared by others in the sector. It appears that Communities & Local Government are hoping that a solution will be found by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy (CIPFA).

One of my clients has recently asked CIPFA what progress has been made and has received the following response:

“The last official communication I have from CIPFA colleagues was received on 12 December which simply said that ‘CIPFA have spoken at length with DCLG who are aware of the issues’. They are currently working on a solution. We will ensure everyone is told as soon as details become available. I have no further updates but will continue to chase.”

I will update readers of my blog when I receive further news!

5th January 2015

I hope that my readers had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

This week we launch our 2015 series of ‘All You Want to Know about Local Authority Housing Finance’. This series of seminars and workshops is designed to give an introduction and overview to this important subject and is fully up to date with all developments.

It is designed for people who are not experts in housing finance, but who need to understand the basics and achieve an overview of what is going on. It is suitable for councillors, housing managers, tenant representatives, finance staff who have limited experience of local authority housing finance and others who realise that an understanding of housing finance can place them at an advantage – especially when considering the financial opportunities and threats that exist for local authority housing!

If you think that a working knowledge of local authority housing finance would put you and your colleagues in a position of advantage this is the event for you!

Further information is available on our website at: http://awics.co.uk/lahfin15.asp from where you can also book online and a brochure can be downloaded from HERE

I have decided that I will stand down as Chair of Impact Housing Association at the 2015 annual general meeting in June. With an increasing management consultancy and training workload at ‘AWICS’ I am finding it increasingly challenging to combine being Managing Director of ‘AWICS’ with the role of Chair of Impact Housing Association. By this summer I will have completed over six years as a Board member and four years as Chair. I have found it an extremely rewarding experience. Impact Housing Association is an excellent organisation that is continuously improving on its already high standards and excellent achievements. I have been privileged to be part of this and to have had the opportunity to contribute to achieving Impact’s mission of making improvements through action.

I was interested to read in this week's 'Cumberland News' that Cumbria County Council considers that 'volunteers can ease the pain of Council cuts'. Councillor Patricia Bell, the Deputy Leader of the Council is quoted as saying:

'We're losing more than £1 in every four we have to spend and most of the savings are coming from staff reductions – by 2017 the Council will have 5,000 staff, half the number we employed in 2010… As we downscale, we will increasingly be looking to Cumbrians to come forward and offer their time to help their communities.â€

Cumbria County Council is clearly not the only public or private sector organisation that is looking to make more use of volunteers. It is to be hoped that volunteers will be used to ‘add value’ rather than just being used to replace paid staff. My fear is that we are creating an economy where young people, in particular, have to spend a considerable amount of time working as unpaid volunteers before being offered paid employment. We need to avoid a situation where employers get free labour, volunteers get job seekers’ allowance rather than the minimum wage, and the taxpayer effectively subsidises the employer.

Our next seminar and workshop will be on ‘Implementing Self-Financing in Wales’. We will hold two sessions: the first in Cardiff on 10th February 2015 and the second in Wrexham on 12th February 2015. These sessions are proving popular but we still have a few places available.

Further information is available on our website at http://awics.co.uk/walesselffin.asp from where you can also book a place online. A brochure can also be downloaded from HERE.

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