Independence...Integrity...Value

March 2014

Mar 9th 2014, 14:29

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24th March 2014

This week we have launched two new seminars and workshops:

All You Want to Know about Welsh Social Housing Finance will be held in Cardiff on 10th September 2014. This seminar and workshop considers social housing finance in the local authority and housing association sectors including the issues that are common to both and the issues that are specific to one side of the sector. Social housing is becoming increasingly important in Wales at a time of rising demand for affordable housing and constrained resources. Councils and Housing Associations in Wales face significant challenges. The economic background is one of recession. Terms on which loans are available are less favourable than in the past. The Welsh Government has reduced the Affordable Housing Programme, reformed regulation in December 2011 and plans to introduce self-financed Housing Revenue Accounts in 2015. The Welsh Housing Quality Standard is still a challenge for some councils. The United Kingdom government is ‘reforming’ welfare. For more information please see: http://awics.co.uk/walesfin.asp

All You Want to Know about Local Authority Finance will be held in London on 7th October 2014. Local Government is going through a period of significant change following the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review. There has been a significant reduction in funding for local authorities and this is requiring a fundamental redesign of how authorities are organised and services are delivered. There are now far fewer ring-fenced grants giving local authorities more discretion over how they spend their money. The Localism Act also promotes local decision making. An understanding of the finances of local government is now of critical importance. The session will answer the following questions: How do Local Government finances work? How does Local Government fund its Capital Programmes? What are the Implications of Localism and Austerity? What are the Financial Opportunities for Local Authorities? For more information please see: http://awics.co.uk/lafin.asp

Last week I was in Cheltenham to deliver an in-house session of ‘All You Want to Know about Local Authority Housing Finance’ for Cheltenham Borough Homes. Thanks again for the invitation and for the kind feedback that included:

  • Very good material to use and keep.
  • Was in depth but not too long
  • A lot of information but explained well
  • It was kept interesting throughout
  • Enough time was given to ask questions

More information about this seminar and workshop can be found at: http://awics.co.uk/lahfin.asp

This week I will be chairing the March 2014 meeting of the Board of Impact Housing Association that will be held in Penrith. The agenda includes items on our student halls, audit arrangements and our annual report. Because we area complex organisation providing housing, supported housing and community services, we go beyond the basic regulatory requirements and provide an annual report that covers all of our services and a number of offers. There are four offers each of which addresses the regulatory standards of the Homes & Communities Agency and our approach to value for Money:

  • The offer to tenants.
  • The ‘Living Well’ offer to older tenants living in extra care schemes.
  • The Leaseholder offer that is a clear statement to leaseholders.
  • The ‘Positive Impact’ offer created to maintain the person-centred service that we offer.

Congratulations are due to AWICS client Oldham Borough Council who have been highly commended in the Local Government Chronicle’s Council of the Year Award. The Local Government Chronicle reports that:

“Oldham MBC is looking to build a co-operative borough where everybody does their bit. It is delivering this be developing a new model of public service delivery, working with partners and residents to redesign and co-produce services. Its ‘Fair Energy’ campaign saw 8,726 households sign up to switch supplier, delivering average savings of £171 per household. Its ‘Fair Fares’ campaign saw First Bus Group introduce a whopping 28% reduction in weekly bus fares, saving residents money and removing a potentially significant barrier to work. Residents expect and receive high quality services. The Council is building upon a foundation of excellent services and strong financial management. Its co-operative approach is enabling it to transform Oldham, lead public service reform nationally and reinvigorate its democratic leadership role to build a borough where everybody does their bit.”

We have been pleased to provide Oldham Borough Council with support in introducing service charges and to welcome delegates from the Council at our seminars and workshops.

17th March 2014

I am in Cheltenham today prior to delivering an in-house session of ‘All You Want to Know about Local Authority Housing Finance’ for Cheltenham Borough Homes. I am looking forward to this and to meeting the people in Cheltenham. More information about this seminar and workshop can be found at: http://awics.co.uk/lahfin.asp

The March edition of the ‘AWICS Housing News’ was published last week. It includes articles on:

  • Croydon Council tackles ‘Housing Crisis’
  • Harrow Council regenerates Francis Road
  • Perth & Kinross Council improves Housing Offer
  • Lambeth Council: Co-operatives, Development and Court Challenges
  • Basildon Council changes residency conditions
  • National Housing Federation Conferences
  • Service Charges Seminar & Workshop

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

Previous copies of the ‘AWICS Housing News’ can be downloaded from: http://awics.co.uk/HousingNews.asp

Cumbria County Council has published an anti-poverty strategy for consultation that ended on 17th March 2014. Their papers can be found on their website at http://www.cumbria.gov.uk/community/residents/anti_poverty.asp . Most of what they are saying is encouraging. I made some representations in my personal capacity, my main points being:

“On the whole I think the Council is focusing on the right issues but I think there are three strategic points that should have more emphasis:

“1. Poverty is not just about a lack of financial resources. Poverty is about people not being able to access things that most people would take for granted - sometimes described as 'poverty of opportunity'. This includes lack of access to money, housing, education, training, health, employment and social and cultural opportunities.

“2. Anti-poverty work should not be seen as a single activity at the Council but as a cross-cutting theme that runs through everything that the Council does. Each service should be capable of demonstrating that it carries out its work in a way that reduces poverty.

“3. The Council needs to work in partnership with other organisations such as housing associations.”

If anyone would like a full copy of my submission please contact me at: Adrian.waite@awics.co.uk

George Osborne will unveil his 2014 budget on Wednesday. One of the announcements in his autumn statement last December was that local authorities would have their housing ‘borrowing caps’ raised by £300million to facilitate the building of 10,000 new affordable homes. However, since then there have been no further announcements about the details of the scheme and no progress in building more homes. I wonder whether there will be a further announcement as part of the budget!

10th March 2014

Last week I spent a day at the Eden Rural Foyer in Penrith at a review of Impact Housing’s Performance Framework. We have developed a performance framework that is rigorous and engaging so that we can optimise the use of our resources and provide evidence to our customers and others that we are delivering an excellent service. The purpose of this review was to see if users of the framework can identify further improvement in it as a management tool and to ‘reality check’ its effectiveness. This is part of our approach to performance management that is based on customer focus and joined up thinking.

It was interesting to discuss how performance information is used by different people in the association: Board, Management Team and other managers. One aspect that interested me was how we can develop performance measures that focus on ‘outcomes’ as opposed to ‘outputs’. Our principal objective is the relief of poverty and we achieve this through providing housing and a variety of support services including furniture stores, foyers, welfare advice and assistance with training and employment. We know that we deliver results but how can we measure objectively the levels of poverty in the communities that we serve and the impact that our activities are having on them? This is something that we are going to develop.

Next week I am delivering an in-house session of ‘All You Want to Know about Local Authority Housing Finance’ for Cheltenham Borough Homes. I am looking forward to this and to meeting the people in Cheltenham. More information about this seminar an workshop can be found at: http://awics.co.uk/lahfin.asp

I have recently read two interesting reports.

The first is a report by RSA Public Services 2020, a practice research and policy development hub that includes the Local Government Association. It is entitled ‘Managing Demand: Building Future Public Services’. The paper argues that local authorities should give greater emphasis to ‘managing demand’ to ensure that they can match demand with their diminishing capacity to supply. The result would be a ‘new social contract’. It argues that not only can demand management thinking help to shift the starting point for policy and practice today, it can help frame the future of public services, aligning it much more closely around the root causes of social demand, the holistic needs of citizens and communities and the role that they can play in improving outcomes. In other words, local authorities should find ways of ‘managing down’ demand to match their reduced resources.

The second is a report by the National Housing Federation. It is entitled ‘An Ambition to Deliver’ and it sets out a vision of what housing associations could and should be doing by 2033. The vision includes housing associations owning and managing more than double the number of homes they do currently, setting their own rent, deciding who lives in their homes and selling a greater number of homes. The reports states that realising this vision demands change and that housing associations will:

  • Continue to drive up quality and service standards, improve efficiency and value for money and drive down costs.
  • Respond to the full range of local housing need and deliver a tailored offer that promotes affordability and social purpose and safeguards long-term viability.
  • Stretch government investment and access a wider pool of private finance and investment opportunities.
  • Increase the sector’s total contribution to housing supply and unlock under-used capacity in new, innovative ways.
  • Maintain and regenerate the homes they own to provide good quality housing where people want to live.
  • Continue to strengthen governance and leadership.
  • Work hard on anti-poverty and employment support strategies.

Both of these reports suggest an increasing opportunity for local authorities and housing associations to work together for the good of communities.

3rd March 2014

Last week I was in London for our seminar and workshop: ‘All You Want to Know about Local Authority Housing Finance 2014’. We were almost fully booked and the session was well received. Feedback included:

  • Good introduction to housing finance. Very useful to understand how things work.
  • Very detailed and thorough breakdown of the topic
  • Very relaxed and informative.
  • Easy to follow / good delegate pack / felt at ease to ask questions.
  • Content very relevant, trainer’s knowledge excellent.

Many thanks to all those who attended.

We will be holding a session in the North in June and another in London in November. If you would like more details or to book a place please see: http://awics.co.uk/lahfin.asp .

In-house sessions are also available. For more information please contact me at Adrian.waite@awics.co.uk

The March edition of the ‘Public Services News’ has now been published. It includes articles on:

  • British Public Wrong about nearly everything
  • Local authorities can now apply for support to help them deliver services in more innovative ways
  • More council tax support cuts to come
  • Selby District Council, Planning, Travellers’ sites and Battlefields
  • CIPFA Education and Training Centre
  • National Housing Federation – Housing Finance Conference and Exhibition
  • AWICS 2014 series of seminar and workshops

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

Previous copies of the newsletter can be downloaded from: http://awics.co.uk/PublicServicesNews.asp

Impact Housing Association (of which I am Chair) held its monthly board meeting at Cockermouth on Thursday. The main items on the agenda were Treasury Management and the future of supported housing in Cumbria. Impact is a major provider of supported housing with schemes for the young, elderly. single men and women, domestic violence victims and others. We see providing these services as of critical importance to our mission to provide support for vulnerable individuals and communities that includes but goes well beyond the provision of housing.

Tomorrow I will be spending the day at the Eden Rural Foyer in Penrith at a review of Impact Housing’s Performance Framework. The association has developed a performance framework that is rigorous and engaging so that we can optimise the use of our resources and provide evidence to our customers and others that we are delivering an excellent service. The purpose of this review is to see if users of the framework can identify further improvement in it as a management tool and to ‘reality check’ its effectiveness. This is part of our approach to performance management that is based on customer focus and joined up thinking. It should prove an interesting, challenging and useful day.

AWICS has published some new brochures that give details about some of our services. They can be downloaded from our website as follows:

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