Independence...Integrity...Value

November 2016

Nov 8th 2016, 09:18

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21st November 2016

Last week I was in Somerset where I presented an in-house session of 'All You Want to Know about Service Charges' for a group of housing associations. The session was well received. Delegates said that the information presented was relevant and the quality of presentation was good. They described the session as: Useful, Clear, Interesting, Practical and Thorough. Specific comments included:

  • Helpful course. Thank you. Handbook really helpful and useful reference material.
  • Informative. Answered my questions.

Our 2017 series of seminars 'All You Want to Know about Service Charges in Social Housing' will start in February. There will be sessions in London and Leeds. It is also available as an in-house session. For further information or to make a booking please click HERE

Recently we have been joined by Tom Lawrence as a new associate consultant who specialises in finance. His biography can be viewed by clicking HERE

In September, the Government made a statement on the future of Supported Housing in which they said that they would publish a consultation paper. This was finally published today as a joint consultation by the Departments for Communities and Local Government and Work and Pensions.

The government has already announced that it will cap housing benefit at the level of the local housing allowance across the United Kingdom from 2018. This will reduce the housing benefit that will be available to fund rents and service charges in supported housing schemes. The government's proposal for England is that this funding will be replaced by a locally administered 'pot'.

The consultation said that the local 'pot' would give the Greater London Authority, Unitary and County Councils an 'enhanced role' in commissioning supported housing in their area and allow them to 'take a more coherent approach'. The government says that:

"We want quality and a focus on individual outcomes to play a greater role in how we fund the sector."

The consultation questions include whether there should be a national statement of expectations or a national commissioning framework 'within which local areas tailor their funding'. The amount of top-up funding will be set 'on the basis of current projections of future need' and will be based on a 'general definition' of supported housing, rather than having separate ring-fenced posts for different client groups.

However, the government also proposes to introduce statutory duties for councils to protect housing provision for specific vulnerable groups. The consultation paper says that the government recognises short-term accommodation such as hostels and refuges have 'particular challenges'. The government says that it will work with the sector to develop further options to ensure providers of shorter-term accommodation 'continue to receive appropriate funding for their important work'.

As housing is a devolved function outside England, the consultation paper states that:

"The devolved administrations (will) receive a level of funding in 2019/20 equivalent to that which would otherwise have been available through the welfare system in order to meet the additional costs of supported housing."

The devolved administrations will then be free to make their own arrangements for the funding of supported housing.

The consultation will run until 13th February 2017 and a Green Paper with the detailed arrangements for the local top-up model will then be published in the spring. The final package will be announced in autumn 2017 ahead of the new model becoming operational from April 2019. The government proposes putting shadow arrangements in place from April 2018 on the detail and allocation of funding.

A copy of my briefing paper on the September announcement can be downloaded from HERE

A copy of my briefing paper on the consultation paper can be downloaded from HERE

Our seminars on 'All You Want to Know about Local Authority Housing Finance' will start in March. There will be sessions in London and Leeds. For further information or to make a booking please click HERE

15th November 2016

I am writing this blog while on the train to Somerset where I am presenting an in-house session of 'All You Want to Know about Service Charges' for a housing association. I am looking forward to it.

The headline in this week's 'Inside Housing' is 'Major Housing Act policies face delays... Pay to Stay, higher value asset levy and RTB extension may be put back after cancelled meetings'. This news underlines the policy paralysis that appears to be affecting all departments of the government now.

Nonetheless, it is still the government's intentions to introduce the policies that are provided for in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and to publish guidance 'in due course'.

Last week we published a briefing paper on 'Pay to Stay'. It was originally the government's intention to introduce this policy in April 2018 and even though the implementation date may be delayed, councils and housing associations are advised to prepare for its introduction. Your copy can be freely downloaded from HERE

Another of our briefing papers that is proving popular now is: 'The UK Constitution: Is the Supremacy of Parliament still relevant today?' It was written in 2012 but is attracting interest in view of recent events. Your copy can be freely downloaded from here: http://awics.co.uk/documents/briefing_papers/public_administration/UK_Constitution_-_Is_the_Supremacy_of_Parliament_Still_Relevant_Today__30-11-2012.pdf

The National Health Service (NHS) Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group, Cumbria Partnership NHS, North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, the Northwest Ambulance Service and the Success Regime are currently out for consultation on 'The Future of Healthcare in West, North and East Cumbria'. Their proposals are proving controversial especially in that they include reducing the number of beds in community hospitals and centralising maternity services in Carlisle.

The consultation paper also includes an interesting analysis of the current financial position of the NHS that I would like to share with readers of my blog. It is as follows:

"By 2020 the total working age population of... Cumbria may fall and almost a quarter of all people... are likely to be over 65 years old. The health and care needs of this group will grow rapidly over the coming years leading to higher demand for health services and increasing pressure on social care."

"The NHS will not see a return to the 6-7% real annual increases in budget that it saw in the early 2000s. If we make no further efficiency savings in the coming years... the increasing demand for health care would lead to a financial shortfall of £30billion a year by 2020/21."

"Local NHS organisations are currently spending well beyond their means. In... 2015/16 they had a combined over-spend of around £70million. This is projected to rise to £163million a year by 2020... The local health community will need to make efficiency savings of around 6.5% a year over the next five years. This compares with an average national efficiency saving requirement of around 3-4%."

"By 2020... we will be able to make efficiency savings of £85million a year... We also anticipate we can save £42million a year by 2020 with new ways of working... The direct savings from the preferred option service changes discussed in this consultation document would be approximately £2.1million a year."

"This still leaves a potential financial gap of over £30million a year."

I know that it is unfashionable to refer to facts, but:

  • The United Kingdom spends a lower proportion of its national income on health services than most developed countries.
  • All major political parties in the United Kingdom claim to be committed supporters of the National Health Service.
  • The financial pressures on the National Health Service caused by demographics and financial constraints are well understood, not only by health professionals but also by politicians and the public. The NHS needs a real increase in its budget each year just to 'stand still'.
  • Evidence from opinion polling and actual voting shows that the public favour increased expenditure on the National Health Service.

I find it difficult to reconcile these facts with the fact that successive governments have allowed the financial problems to develop that are described both nationally and in Cumbria.

This week we have launched our 2017 series of seminars on 'All You Want to Know about Local Authority Housing Finance'. This series of seminars is designed to give an introduction and overview to this important subject and is fully up to date with all developments. It explains how the housing revenue account, housing general fund and housing capital programme work and considers the threats and opportunities facing local authority housing especially in view of the government's recent policy initiatives. There will be sessions in London and Leeds. For further information or to make a booking please click HERE

8th November 2016

Last week we held our seminar on 'All You Want to Know about Local Authority Housing Finance' in London. It was well received with the delegates saying that the information provided was very relevant, the quality of presentation was excellent and that the training met their needs fully. They described the session as Comprehensive, Interesting, Useful and Valuable. Specific comments received included:

  • Session was comprehensive.
  • Wide range of issues discussed.
  • Enjoyed informal approach to session.
  • Fantastic food.

And this week we held our seminar on 'All You Want to Know about Service Charges in Social Housing' in Leeds. It was also well received with the delegates saying that the information provided was relevant, the quality of the presentation was good and the training met their needs fully. They described the session as: Useful, Clear, Interesting and Thorough. Specific comments received included:

  • Good Overview... Informative overall, very useful.
  • A good overview and introduction to service charges
  • The session has given me some areas to consider and think about when considering the introduction of service charges.
  • Very useful as I will be looking at options for de-pooling service charges very soon.
  • Very thorough. As someone without any expertise I feel more confident in introducing service charges.

We are now accepting bookings for our 2017 series of seminars on 'All You Want to Know about Service Charges in Social Housing'. These will be held in London in February and Leeds in May. For more information or to make a booking please click HERE

Last week the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) published their economic forecasts for 2017. They are forecasting that price inflation will increase to 4% and pay inflation will increase to 3.5%, representing a reduction during the year of 0.5% in the real value of incomes. The effect for public services including local government, health and housing will also be significant as health budgets and local government spending power are unlikely to increase by anything like that proportion, while local authority housing services and housing associations will see the 1% rent reductions that they are forced to make under the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 reduce their budgets by 5% in real terms. There is also a danger that increased inflation rates will lead the Bank of England to increase rates of interest. Increased inflation and interest rates are therefore factors that should be considered in budgets, business plans and risk analysis.

Last week's news was dominated by the decision of the High Court that the Crown / Government must seek the approval of Parliament before triggering article fifty for Britain to leave the European Union. There was rightly much concern at the newspaper headlines that branded the judges concerned as 'enemies of the people'. Democracy is not just about majority rule it is also about protecting the rights of minorities and the rule of law; and all that the judges had done was to identify how the Crown / Government can move forward to implement the result of the referendum in a legal and constitutional way.

The Crown / Government intend to appeal to the Supreme Court. It would certainly be bad for democracy if politicians or the media were seen to be attempting to influence the outcome of the case by intimidating the judges.

I find it surprising that it has been left to the judges to defend the role of Parliament. Why is Parliament itself not demanding the right to debate the approach to the 'Brexit' negotiations before they are started? In the past it was common for Parliaments to be given nick-names. For example, we have had the 'Long Parliament', the 'Good Parliament' and the 'Merciless Parliament'. What would be an appropriate nick-name for this Parliament?

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