Councillor’s fears for future of housing group

A COUNCILLOR has raised serious concerns about a housing group shake-up, which has seen board members sacked.

Last week, the Gazette revealed that Northumberland County Council is introducing changes to the governance of Homes for Northumberland (HfN) after questions arose about its performance.

But Amble Coun Robert Arckless, a councillor board member for HfN and a council tenant who helped to set up the housing organisation, told the Gazette that the shake-up means that councillor and independent members of the HfN board have been sacked from their duties, leaving just the tenant members for now.

He added that some councillors, including himself, are likely to be re-appointed but the council is to appoint its own choice of independent members, which has left others reeling.

And Coun Arckless said that the way in which Northumberland County Council has gone about the changes has raised strong concerns with him.

“I still think that the HfN model is a good model,” he said.

“I accept that things have changed in the last three years and I understand that the council has a right to review the way services are delivered. But it is the way that some of this has happened that upsets me. It has been very difficult and I have been closely involved in it and at times it has been extremely stressful.

“At the end of the day, I want the council to deliver a good housing service. I am a council tenant and I represent a very substantial number of council tenants.But I do have a lot of issues about what has been going on over the last year and a half that I am not happy with.

“It is a very complicated situation and there is a very long and confidential document about it.”

He said there are issues on both sides of the coin, but he has three main concerns about the changes and processes which could come into operation.

“Firstly, whatever the council decides to do, I want it to deliver the best possible housing service that we can,” he said. “I am very concerned about the situation of all the staff at HfN. There are some very good people there and they are the ones that have got to deliver the service at the end of the day. I want to see them fairly treated and given the opportunity to do their job.

“Finally, my concern is that one of the things HfN has done really well is increase tenant participation and I want to see that continue. There was a lot of respect for some of the independent members who sat on the strategic board, but now they have gone.

“It is my understanding that there is an option for councillor members to be reinstated if they wish, but that is now something that I will have to think about seriously.

“I have given the best part of three years to establishing HfN because I thought the arms-length organisation model is a good one and a good way of bringing the service.

“It is in everybody’s interest to move on and sort this out whatever I might feel about the process. But it has been a very difficult year – I have never experienced anything quite like this in my 28 years as a councillor.”

Coun Tom Brechany, executive member responsible for planning, housing and regeneration at the council, said: “The new board will oversee the development of an improvement plan and we will be involving tenants throughout the process, including some events in the new year to identify any areas that they feel need to be developed or improved.”

The planned consultation with tenants on future housing management, in which the county council is planning to bring the housing service back in-house, will now be delayed until the governance changes and issues have been solved.