Management of housing to stay as it is

Plans which would have seen the county council take over the running of social housing have been halted following management changes.

In October last year, Northumberland County Council’s executive made an in-principle decision to take on the management and maintenance of social housing from Homes for Northumberland (HfN), an arm’s-length management organisation (ALMO).

It was subject to tenant consultation, and a number of concerns were raised including the fear that the council could decide to sell off its housing stock privately in the future.

Residents said that when the unitary authority came into effect in April 2009, they were told that using an ALMO such as HfN was the best option, but then two years later, the council was claiming it could run the service more cheaply.

However, the consultation process was halted when the council was forced to intervene in the running of HfN on unrelated matters in December last year.

According to a report to Tuesday’s meeting of the executive, ‘the intervention has been effective in addressing the council’s concerns and the relationship between the council and HfN is now closer and is proving productive’.

Therefore members voted to retain the ALMO while changing the company’s articles to ‘remove any identified risk of council housing being forced out of council ownership’ and to ‘ensure strong tenant representation and influence over the housing service managed by the ALMO’.

Much of the orignal drive behind the council’s proposals was about cost-cutting, with suggestions that £400,000 a year could be saved, but the new set-up allows the retention of the ALMO with a high level of tenant input.

Money can potentially be saved by ‘looking for opportunities to share the overheads by expanding the range of services delivered by the ALMO’.

And in February this year, the Northumberland Tenants’ Voice was launched by the county council and partner housing organisations to give social-housing tenants a stronger voice.