Independence...Integrity...Value

November 2013

Nov 10th 2013, 10:06

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25th November 2013

On Sunday I visited the Tullie House Museum in Carlisle, principally to see the Crosby Garrett Helmet, a Roman cavalry helmet that was discovered recently at Crosby Garrett a few miles from where I live. It is described by the museum as follows:

“The exceptional rare bronze ceremonial parade helmet, named after the hamlet where it was discovered, has been hailed by experts as one of the great masterpieces of Roman metalwork. Dating from the late first century to third century AD, it is unparalleled in its detail and the most complete and elaborate of only three such helmets to have been found in Britain. The mask portrays a haunting, youthful male face framed by a ring of exquisitely detailed curls and topped by an extremely rare Phrygian cap decorated with a griffin.”

The reason why I mention this in a blog that is about public services is that I believe that this case demonstrates a need to change the treasure trove laws. The helmet is certainly an important historical and cultural artefact but when it was discovered the finder and the owner of the land on which it was found were allowed to sell it to the highest bidder – a person who wishes to remain anonymous and who outbid the Tullie House Museum despite them having raised £1.9million in public donations. Luckily the owner is prepared to lend it to museums on occasions, but I can’t help feeling that the helmet should be in the permanent possession of a local public museum.

The problem is that English treasure trove law only applies to items made of Gold or Silver and takes no account of the historical or cultural significance of the find. In Scotland the cultural significance of an object is already taken into account. Surely the same thing should now happen in England before another artefact of significance is found and promptly sold to a private collector.

Tullie House Museum is owned by Carlisle City Council but is managed by a Trust. The exhibition runs until 26th January 2014 and more information is available on their website at http://www.tulliehouse.co.uk/events/crosby-garrett-roman-helmet-exhibition

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

Eden Rural Foyer was the first Foyer in Cumbria. The Foyer is a community resource to support young people and the wider community to access training, learning and enhanced social opportunities. The Foyer offers an innovative, transformational and holistic service aimed to provide services to people throughout the Eden Valley. Built in 3 Phases, it offers:

  • Fifteen self-contained flats for young people
  • A resource centre which hosts a cyber café, training suite, office space and meeting rooms
  • IT availability, access and assistance for the community
  • Host venue to various groups and support groups

Next Monday (2nd December 2013) I will be speaking at the National Housing Federation introductory workshop on Service Charges in Manchester. Details can be found on their website at http://www.housing.org.uk/events/browse/service-charges-an-introductory-workshop-1

18th November 2013

Last week I presented the final session of ‘All You Want to Know about local Authority Housing Finance 2013’ at the Novotel Hotel in Lambeth. As usual the session was well attended and well received. Feedback that I received included the following comments:

  • Good overview
  • Perfectly picked as an introduction
  • Good handbook
  • I’m new to housing, so was a great overview. The book I have back at the office will be a great help to read further
  • The slides and other information were all well-presented and informative.
  • The book sent out before training event is a very nice tool
  • Very digestible content, even for non-finance bods like myself

Thank you again to everyone who attended!

I am now starting to prepare for the 2014 series that will start in February 2014. As usual, places are limited so it is advisable to book early if possible. Details can be found on our website at http://awics.co.uk/lahfin.asp

Last week the government published its revised guidance on housing stock transfer. It has mainly caught the headlines because of the ‘tight’ timetable that it includes and the potential for this to undermine the stock transfer proposals that are already in the pipeline at Durham, Gloucester, Lewisham and Salford.

The delay in providing the guidance hasn’t helped with the timetabling issues and also gives credence to the suspicion that there is division within government about the future of stock transfer.

The problem is that the self-financing system has increased local authority housing debt with the result that, for a stock transfer to be viable, some of this debt would have to be written off – and Communities & Local Government has no budget to do this. However, the government still wishes to encourage stock transfer, especially where this is driven by tenants. Hence, the revised guidance that gives some hope to those who would like to transfer. However, when the details are examined it is clear that the government is still wedded to the erroneous idea that the self-financing valuation would usually represent an appropriate valuation for stock transfer purposes. It is also unclear how substantial a budget is possessed by Communities & Local Government for supporting new stock transfers. Consequently they appear to be reluctant to write off much debt and stock transfers, if they occur in future, may not offer tenants as many benefits as earlier stock transfers have done.

I have written a briefing paper on the guidance that can be downloaded from my website at http://awics.co.uk/transfer.asp

On 2nd December 2013 I will be speaking at the National Housing Federation introductory workshop on Service Charges in Manchester. Details can be found on their website at http://www.housing.org.uk/events/browse/service-charges-an-introductory-workshop-1

We have also published details of our seminar and workshop ‘All You Want to Know about Scottish Social Housing Finance’ that will be held in May 2014 in Falkirk. Details can be found at http://awics.co.uk/scotfin.asp

11th November 2013

I am writing this blog on the train to London where I will be speaking at the AWICS seminar ‘All You Want to Know about Local Authority Housing Finance 2013’ tomorrow. I am looking forward to meeting the delegates who are coming from local authorities and arms-length management organisations from all over England. It will provide attendees with a fully up to date introduction and overview of local authority housing finance.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg have recently proposed the devolution of further powers from Westminster to the Welsh Assembly and Government. In doing so they made the following interesting observation:

“For too long, decisions about Wales’s future have been directed by bureaucrats hundreds of miles away in Westminster – and it has suffered as a result.”

The devolution of powers to Wales, Scotland and London has generally been regarded as a success but in England outside London the relentless march of centralisation has continued. Many parts of England are further from London than Cardiff is, and the evidence that they are also suffering from being ‘directed by bureaucrats… in Westminster’ is undeniable.

I am surprised that voters, businesses and politicians in places like Birmingham, Cornwall, Cumbria, Kent and Newcastle-on-Tyne are not clamouring for their share of devolution!

In October 2013 the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy (CIPFA) published its ‘Voluntary Code for a Self-Financed Housing Revenue Account in conjunction with the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH).

The code of practice is a voluntary code and there are therefore no sanctions for not following it. However, it appears to contain nothing controversial and represents a useful check list based on common sense. It should therefore be welcomed by local authorities and their tenants. However, its silence on the future treatment of depreciation, impairment and major repairs is a disappointment.

Our briefing paper that summarises and provides observations on the code can be freely downloaded from: http://awics.co.uk/dynamicdata/data/docs/voluntary%20code%20for%20a%20self-financed%20housing%20revenue%20account%20-%20briefing%20paper.pdf

Last week we published the November edition of the ‘Public Services News’. It can be freely downloaded from http://awics.co.uk/dynamicdata/data/docs/public%20services%20news%20-%20november%202013.pdf

and includes articles on:
  • Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy - International Public Financial Management
  • Medium Term Expenditure Framework
  • Cumbria County Council prepares budget for 2014/15
  • Local Authorities and the Autumn Statement
  • Transformation Challenge Award
  • Collecting Performance Information in Devolved Britain
  • Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012

On 2nd December 2013 I will be speaking at an introductory workshop on service charges for the National Housing Federation in Manchester. Details are available on their website at: http://www.housing.org.uk/events/browse/service-charges-an-introductory-workshop-1

The 2014 series of AWICS seminars and workshops has now been announced. They are as follows:

All You Want to Know about Local Authority Housing Finance

  • London - 26th February 2014
  • Huddersfield - 10th June 2014
  • London - 11th November 2014

Details are available at http://awics.co.uk/lahfin.asp

All You Want to Know about Housing Association Finance:

  • London - 11th March 2014
  • Huddersfield - 11th June 2014

Details are available at http://awics.co.uk/hafin.asp

All You Want to Know about Budgets and Management Accounts:

  • London - 12th March 2014

Details are available at http://awics.co.uk/budgets.asp

All You Want to Know about Service Charges:

  • London – 29th April 2014

Details are available at http://awics.co.uk/schs.asp

4th November 2013

Last week I presented a session of ‘All You Want to know about Scottish Social Housing Finance’ in Grangemouth for the Institute of Revenues, Rating & Valuation. It was attended by representatives from local authorities across Scotland including the Shetland Islands. The feedback was very positive and included the following:

  • Very detailed, covered everything I needed
  • I found the seminar to be really useful in providing an overview of housing finance
  • Very good, interesting, good interaction with delegates
  • Very good. Trainer very knowledgeable
  • Topics made interesting

Thanks again to the IRRV for making the arrangements and to everyone who attended.

Last week also saw Communities & Local Government issue their consultation paper on rents for social housing from 2015/16. The main changes proposed in the consultation paper are:

  • Moving from annual increases in weekly rents of Retail Price Index +0.5% (plus up to £2 for social rents), to increases of Consumer Price Index + 1%
  • As a result, removing (from 1st April 2015) the flexibility available to landlords to increase weekly social rents each year by an additional £2, above the increase in formula rent, where the rent is below the rent flexibility level and rent cap
  • Making clear that rent policy does not apply where a social tenant household has an income of at least £60,000 a year

For many landlords and tenants the change from rent increases of the retail prices index plus 0.5% to the consumer prices index plus 1% will not be significant as the consumer prices index has historically risen at a rate of about 0.5% less than the retail price index. Many landlords and tenants will also welcome the announcement as bringing more certainty to future rent policy in the long-term.

However, where landlords have yet to achieve rent convergence the new approach would prevent them from doing so in future. This mainly affects local authorities that have not been able to converge their rents with formula rents either because of the operation of the ‘caps and limits’ in the existing rent policy framework or because of historic policy decisions. This is especially significant in that the debt settlement with self-financing was based on the assumption that rents would converge and the implementation of the new rent policy would therefore leave those councils with a ‘black hole’ in their self-financed business plans.

The government’s approach for local authorities and registered providers also differs. Registered providers would be able to negotiate waivers with the Homes & Communities Agency whereas in the case f local authorities the new regime will be enforced through the rent rebate subsidy limitation mechanism with ‘rent limits’ being calculated based on the permitted increase in the previous year’s rents rather than on the rent formula.

This spells bad news for landlords whose rents are still below the formula and provides an incentive for landlords in this position to maximise their rent increases in 2014.

It is interesting that the government is considering removing the ‘bedroom caps’. This would result in significant increases in rents in high value areas when dwellings are re-let.

The proposal to increase rents for tenants with high incomes is also contentious with many landlords arguing that it would be unworkable.

The deadline for responses to the consultation is 24th December 2013.

My briefing paper on this consultation can be freely downloaded from my website at: http://awics.co.uk/dynamicdata/data/docs/rents%20for%20social%20housing%20from%202015%20-%20briefing%20paper.pdf

The next session of ‘All You Want to Know about Local Authority Housing Finance 2013’ will be held in London on Tuesday 12th November 2013. It will provide attendees with a fully up to date introduction and overview of local authority housing finance. Details are on our website at: http://awics.co.uk/local_authority_housing_finance_2013_training_course.asp

On 2nd December 2013 I will be speaking at an introductory workshop on service charges for the National Housing Federation in Manchester. Details are available on their website at: http://www.housing.org.uk/events/browse/service-charges-an-introductory-workshop-1

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