MAY DAY MUSINGS.1st – 2nd May 2011.

 I switched on the radio even earlier than usual and heard President Obama announcing that special forces had killed Osama Bin Laden in a raid in Pakistan. Although it was in the middle of an American night the word had spread on Twitter and young Americans were soon dancing and rejoicing outside the White House celebrating the fact that although a decade had passed, the yanks had finally got their man. Obama got Osama! hooray! Our news networks were just recovering from wall to wall coverage of the Royal Wedding when we switchyed ro the same level of coverage of the Bin Laden’s death but why not: what evil he and his organisation has inflicted on the world. I remember very clearly where I was when the Twin Towers tragedy news broke. Even ten years on, I’m sure I will not be alone in recalling where I was.

 

I received an email recently from a fellow blogger who encouraged me to continue doing just that. It’s always risky as I had suspected from some time that the site is scanned regularly by County Hall for new material, as the moment a blog is posted that is in any way critical of a certain party then hostilities begin. I chose my words with even greater care as my fellow blogger has confirmed that the office of the Ombudsman also scans the site once a month. How flattering? I will try not to disappoint all my readers, the detractors as well as the supporters.

I bought the Chester Chronicle when I read the headline that 99% of council houses are sub standard and that it will cost £166 million to bring them up to the Welsh Housing Quality Standard. As I’m a member of the Housing Stock Transfer committee my position is one of complete neutrality. I’ve had the presentations and I suspect that the cost of carrying out the exercise to ballot all tenants as it is for them to decide who they want as their landlord, the council or a registered social landlord may just be an unnecessary burden on the public purse.

It was way back in the first months of the new Welsh Assembly when Alan Michael floated the idea of removing local authorities from overseeing council houses. Then a Labour AM I recall how hotly all the group were against the scheme and examples were trundled out over how badly some social landlords also operated to prove that they got things wrong too. By cleverly inventing the Welsh Quality Housing Standard with the imperious demand that all council houses should reach this standard within an impossible time scale, then the politicians in Cardiff Bay have come up with a master plan that should deliver what they could not achieve in 1999; wholesale transfer away from meddling and allegedly not up to the task local authorities. My ward does not have any council stock but I know members who do are very frustrated that we could lose millions in assets to a registered social landlord who will be given handsome dowries and enormous advantages that are not on offer to local authorities. It is the council that will still retain responsibility for the more arduous tasks such as providing for the homeless.

Some members are frustrated that a great slice of rents collected goes straight back into Assembly coffers and unlike local authorities social landlords will be able to raise capital on the money markets and it will be a real winner. Those who do buy up shares in social landlord schemes as investors will find themselves in a can’t lose win-win situation. If local authorities do exactly as demanded by our Cardiff pay masters all the costs to the authority for consultants and the whole business of getting to the tenant’s ballot still months away, all costs will be refunded. But they are costs to the public purse nevertheless and will be substantial when multiplied across all 22 Welsh Authorities.

Our own housing portfolio is being transformed under Clare Budden, our really professional and dedicated Head of Housing who since her appointment in November 09 has achieved so much with the help of a re-motivated work force. Under her direction and with a little help from the members who sit on the Community & Housing Scrutiny Committee, things are improving as fast as the money that is available allows. We could do even better if a large slice of rental income could be retained in house & not have to be returned to WAG. Its on the cards that soon authorities may be allowed to keep this rental income which can be ploughed back into updating housing stock. Why then does WAG not allow local authorities more time for this change in policy to work through for a while and see if councils can in some way match the standard that WAG arbitrarily demands?

I was rung by a frustrated Mr P of Buckley recently. He had found my number and needed to know why Labour councillors he had met on recent tenants meetings allegedly refused to discuss housing stock issues in any shape or form. He pointed out it was Labour policy and they must have a view. I diplomatically that it was so sensitive that Labour cllrs had withdrawn from the Housing Stock Transfer Project Board.

Mr P of Buckley was not impressed with my diplomacy. Why don’t WAG just give councils the money to do the upgrades rather than all this rigmarole? I did not reply. I must remain neutral of course! He raises an interesting question!

Seems Mr P thinks that maybe Labour’s idea to take responsibility away from local councils is an expensive while elephant. Having let the genie out of the bottle with all the associated cost and uncertainly; now most Labour members dare not speak its name which would explain why no Labour cllr is represented on the Stock Transfer Board. I still remain firmly committed to being neutral It is for the tenants to decide who they want as their landlord. If the cost which will allow them to make an informed choice is worth the effort only time will tell.

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