The Council is currently in breach of its Statutory Duties with actions taken under the 21st Century project, how do you propose to remedy this urgent situation?
The Statutory duties are clearly laid out in the HCA – The Tenant Involvement and Empowerment Standard
‘2.2.3 Where registered providers are proposing a change in landlord for one or more of their tenants or a significant change in their management arrangements, they shall consult with affected tenants in a fair, timely, appropriate and effective manner. Registered providers shall set out the proposals clearly and in an appropriate amount of detail and shall set out any actual or potential advantages and disadvantages (including costs) to tenants in the immediate and longer term. Registered providers must be able to demonstrate to affected tenants how they have taken the outcome of the consultation into account when reaching a decision.’
Phase 1 of the 21st Century has already seen the unilateral decision taken to split the Housing Service into strategic and operational services without any form of consultation.
This split between Strategic and Operational decision making has the potential to lead to some disastrous plans being put in place without the expertise of operational personnel. This sort of situation cannot be a good use of your existing resources, wasting time and money on inspirational projects that are impractical in the local environment and likely to lead to an even greater loss of credibility within the Borough.
We are already seeing the negative impact of Phase 1 within the Housing Service with the loss of experienced staff both permanent and short term. The replacements are short term contractors or agency temps which impacts on both the existing staff and the tenants. With Phase 2 being split into two tranches without an end date but tranche 1 only aiming for completion in April 2018 Housing are looking at another year of dealing with the fallout from lack of direction.
The Involved Tenant members of the Tenant & Landlord Improvement Panel (TLIP) a fully constituted group of WBC, a group charged with scrutinising the use of the HRA budget circa £15 million, have expressed concerns over many months to both the Leader of the Council and the Chief Executive but no action has been taken to improve the situation in spite of promises made by both gentlemen.
Whilst we appreciate that the Council is under increasing pressure to reduce costs if the current trends continue you are in danger of losing what little trust that Wokingham residents have in your ability to run our affairs.
Wokingham Borough Council is fully aware of, and committed to our duties under the Homes and Communities Agency’s Regulatory Standards, and we also value highly our relationship with TLIP. Improvements in Housing Services are directly linked with the partnership with the involved tenant structures over the last few years.
The Council acknowledges that you should have been consulted on Phase1 as per the Tenant Involvement and Empowerment Standard and apologise for this oversight. This oversight is, I suspect, attributable to the fact that the HRA was substantially located in Phase 2 of the programme. As such, no firm decisions have been made in respect of the HRA. I confirm that you will be engaged in Phase 2.
I can confirm that there is not an embargo on a recruitment of permanent staff during the implementation of the 21st Century programme. Managers have been asked to undertake careful management when filling vacancies to ensure that they minimise risk of future redundancy, but where a post is vital to the continued delivery of service then it should be filled.
There are, however, certain posts that are difficult to fill, such as surveyors, but this is an issue about the competitive market for those positions rather than anything to do with the 21st Century programme.
The Operational Housing Services Team are almost fully staffed for the first time in a long time, albeit with a range of permanent and temporary staff and attempts continue to be made to fill these posts with permanent staff where appropriate.
With regards to the Housing Needs, Tenant Involvement and Housing Management Teams, all are virtually fully staffed, again with a mixture of temporary and permanent staff, based on judgement of the managers of the service.
Simon tells me that the staff levels and capacity of the team have improved over the last month and we are continually monitoring this issue not just in Housing, but across the Council. I hope this gives you some reassurance that there is a strong commitment in to continuing to provide the high level of service to tenants.
Finally I can confirm as of 22nd August the staff split within the Housing Service is as follows, 30 permanent, 10 fixed term contracts, 7 agency and 8 secondees of which 5 internal and 3 external to Housing Services. The rent team, which sits in another department, has 2 permanent and 2 agency staff.
The Leader of the Council acknowledged the breach of duty in her letter to me of 24 August. This needs to be rectified within the week to avoid involving the Housing Ombudsman. Will that happen?
Yes, that will happen.