September 2013

Sep 10th 2013, 10:23


23rd September 2013

I spent two days in London last week presenting our regional seminar on ‘Value for Money and Performance Management in Housing and Local Government’ and an in-house session on the same subject for Greenwich Borough Council. This is obviously an important subject for everyone in housing and local government and both presentations were well received. The feedback included:

  • Regional Seminar
  • Information very Comprehensive
  • Good relaxed approach, very knowledgeable on subject
  • Good explanation and encouraged participation
  • Given me some useful information on how we can take our value for money strategy forward
  • Greenwich Borough Council
  • Interesting and thought provoking
  • Very relevant to my role. I think the team benefited from the information provided
  • Relevant to the organisation – would be great if senior managers had attended
  • Ran at a good pace and encouraged a high level of interaction and debate

If anyone would like to enquire about an in-house session please contact me at

I have commented in earlier blogs about the government’s apparent confusion about how to implement their new policy of capping increases in social rents at the consumer prices index plus 1%. Mark Prisk, the Minister for Housing has recently told the ‘Local Government Chronicle’ that the government ‘do not intend to regulate council rents’ but that he was concerned to ‘limit costs to… tenants’ and would ‘retain the power to act to protect tenants… if… rents (were) jumping far above inflation’. That sounds like regulation to me. I will await the government’s consultation paper with interest.

We have recently published two further briefing papers on welfare reform that can be freely downloaded from our website. They cover:

I cannot help thinking that if the government really wanted to tackle the under-occupation of social housing it would have done two things: Firstly, extended the policy to retired people who comprise the majority of under-occupiers; and secondly ensure that the Homes & Communities Agency prioritised the building of one-bedroom flats and one-bedroom accommodation for the elderly into which single people could move. The fact that it is doing neither casts doubt on its seriousness in tackling under-occupation and gives credibility to the belief that the policy is really nothing more than a way of reducing people’s entitlement to benefits in a way that is ‘random’ but which can be easily justified to the undiscerning voter.

‘AWICS’ is holding an open seminar on ‘Welfare Reform: The Implications for Housing and Local Govenrment’ in London on 9th October 2013. Details are available on our website at

The efforts of the government and British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) to find a place for a repository for high-level nuclear waste has taken an interesting turn this month. In January, Cumbria County Council defied pressure from the government and BNFL and their cabinet voted 7-3 against the proposal to bury this waste in West Cumbria. However, the government has now decided that the rules should be changed to by-pass the County Council and give the decision to Copeland and Allerdale Borough Councils.

Now, it appears to me that if having a depository of high-level nuclear waste under your house was a good thing everybody would want one. However, the only people who want a nuclear dump appear to be Copeland and Allerdale Borough Councils. When I worked at Copeland Borough Council most of the councillors (of all parties) were employees of BNFL or had other connections – and I believe this is still the case. Furthermore, they had a special dispensation from the government to be able to vote on matters affecting BNFL despite their apparent conflict of interests. Surely this should cast doubt on their ability to take a decision that would be widely acknowledged as objective.

If anyone from Copeland Borough Council or BNFL would like to respond to my comments I would be glad to publish their response on my website and in my newsletter. I will watch events with interest.

16th September 2013

I spent most of last week in Perth where I was providing training in welfare reform at Perth & Kinross Council. The sessions were attended by officers from departments including housing, benefits, finance and social work. I am pleased to say that the feedback was very positive and included the following comments:

  • Excellent background on how welfare reform is affecting the population, local authorities, landlords etc. (although a depressing picture!)
  • Excellent presentation, very informative
  • I work for social work adult services and given the range of reforms it will have a huge impact on my clients’ group. So I appreciate this training as I have a greater understanding of this, the possible knock on effect to individuals and maybe prepare support them better through the process
  • Good to have a fuller background as front line staff member. Many problems already very much in evidence
  • Very useful right into all the planned changes and potential impact for Perth & Kinross residents
  • I was aware of the topic. However information was useful, especially information regarding the rest of the country
  • Previously only vaguely aware of the changes proposed - this training has brought it into sharp focus and the impact seems a little alarming, e.g. impact on front line social work commitments if increase in debt / poverty that appears inevitable
  • The information was a good summary of all the main factors associated with welfare reform
  • Clear and concise, and up for debate - good participation despite depressing topic!
  • Interesting to see statistical information on impact of welfare reform
  • Information very relevant and well presented

‘AWICS’ is holding an open seminar on the subject in London on 9th October 2013 and I have also written a book and some briefing papers. Details are available on our website:

This week I am in London again for the ‘AWICS’ seminar on ‘Value for Money and Performance Management in Housing and Local Government’ followed by an in-house session for Greenwich Borough Council. I have also written a briefing paper that can be freely downloaded and a book that can be purchased. Details are available on our website:

People sometimes comment that we are holding a seminar that they would like to attend but that it is not at a venue that is convenient for them. If this is the case, please let me know. I am always happy to organise seminars anywhere where enough people would attend to make them viable. For further information about regional seminars or in-house sessions on welfare reform, value for money, local authority housing finance or any other matter please contact me at

9th September 2013

Last week I was in London speaking at the National Housing Federation’s conference on service charges. Over 220 people attended and most of them opted to go to one of my breakout sessions on calculating and apportioning service charges. The high level of interest in service charges at present is hardly surprising given the recession, welfare reform and the legal and financial complications. At Impact Housing, where I am Chair, we have reviewed service charges and opted to keep them simple. I have recently assisted Northampton Borough Council and Oldham Borough Council with reviewing and introducing service charges; and have also assisted Teresa Pearce MP with reviewing service and estate charges at Thamesmead. The National Housing Federation are in the process of organising another conference in Manchester in November.

I am writing this blog while on a train journey to Perth where I will be providing in-house training for staff of Perth & Kinross Council on welfare reform. This is a subject that causes major concern in Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland. ‘AWICS’ is holding a seminar on the subject in London on 9th October 2013 and I have also written a book and some briefing papers. Details are available on our website:

Next week I will be in London again for the ‘AWICS’ seminar on ‘Value for Money and Performance Management in Housing and Local Government’. This has proved a popular seminar but we still have a few places available. I have also written a briefing paper that can be freely downloaded. Details are available on our website:

The book that accompanies the seminar will also be published soon. For details please e-mail me at .

Michael Gove has raised an interesting point about children’s bedrooms and in the process has identified an inconsistency in government policy. He is correct to point out that having a bedroom of their own in which to study is an advantage for school children and that this can place children from poorer families at a disadvantage because they are more likely to have to share bedrooms. It should follow from this that the government’s housing and welfare policies should support their education policies by enabling parents with limited means to provide a bedroom for each child. However, this is not the case. For purposes of allocating social housing and providing housing benefit in both the social and private sectors it is assumed that children of different genders should share a bedroom until they are aged ten while if they are the same gender they should share a bedroom until they are sixteen.

Yet again we find a lack of joined-up thinking between the government’s education, housing and welfare policies. I trust that Michael Gove will be raising this with Eric Pickles and Iain Duncan-Smith in cabinet!

3rd September 2013

I am writing this blog on the train. I am on my way to London in advance of tomorrow’s National Housing Federation conference on Service Charges at which I am a speaker. My subject is ‘how to calculate and apportion service charges effectively’. To the uninitiated this may not seem to be the liveliest subject imaginable, but for people in housing associations and local authorities whose job is to calculate and collect service charges – and to tenants and leaseholders who pay service charges - it is an important issue. The conference has been so well subscribed that the National Housing Federation is organising another session in Manchester in November.

During recent months I have been assisting Oldham Borough Council with calculating and introducing service charges and prior to that I worked with Northampton Borough Council on the same issue. Both projects demonstrated the potential complexities of managing service charges in practice. At Impact Housing Association, where I am Chair, we have kept our approach as simple as possible and that has worked well.

I have also been working on Welfare Reform.

During the last week we have published two briefing papers that can be freely downloaded from our website:

We have also published my book ‘Welfare Reform: The Implications for Housing & Local Government’. It runs to 100 pages, is fully up to date and contains the following sections: Introduction and Overview of Welfare Reform; Under-Occupation Penalty (Bedroom Tax); Total Benefits Cap; Universal Credit; Other Welfare Benefits; Discretionary Housing Payments and Other Welfare Support; The Impact of Welfare Reform on Claimants, Landlords and Local Authorities; Case Study: Impact Housing Association; Specific Implications in Scotland and Wales; Practical Steps to Manage the effects of the Reforms; and Potential Future Reforms . The price is £30 plus £3.25 postage and packing. Details are posted on our website at:

The book accompanies our seminar on ‘Welfare Reform: The Implications for Housing and Local Government’ that will be held in London on 9th October. For details please see . The seminar is also available in-house, to make enquiries please email .

I notice that Rob Whiteman, the new Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy (CIPFA), has written an article in ‘Public Finance’. In it he says that he: ‘expects to agree some targets with the CIPFA Council by Christmas’ and that ‘it is time to move on, increase our membership and take the Institute to a new place. I am hoping for stretching targets and I will give it my all to deliver’. Good – but why wait until Christmas?

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