COUNCILLOR CAPERS- Good news at last. 1st !2th March 2012.

The Coalition’s fourth budget of the current administration went through despite being voted down by Labour who complained that it was dreadful. The vote split was 37 to 13. I agree that the Estyn school report and a Welsh Audit Office report were not good. Estyn judged the schools inspection as “adequate”. Welsh Audit Office made uncomplimentary comments about the leadership of this administration and policies were poorly presented. (Both sadly true). Despite the ongoing presence of our heavily damaged Leader of the Council, backbencher members and Executive have made solid progress particularly when we cast minds back to the mess the Coalition inherited in May 2008. Welsh Government seem unable to plan sufficiently far ahead as very late withdrawal of a vital transport grant caused problems and money had to be found and again at short notice, Welsh Government has sliced the Bus Service Operators Grant from 1st April. (More on this in later blog bu it is not good news for bus users.)

The budget has been achieved without redundancies or any heavy loss of front line services. The pain of year by year cuts cuts is far from over but council tax increases have been as modest as possible. North Wales Police Authority colleagues have stood firmly against demands for a heavy police precept and the demand for the 4% increase year on year required by our police bosses which has been seen as a sacred right has been rejected for the time being.

The Community & Housing Scrutiny Committee met for the last time for this term on 7th March and since Susan Lewis’s departure & the arrival of a new head of housing, Clare Budden, the housing transformation continues to be remarkable. There has been solid progress in improving the turn round time for repairs and dealing with empty houses. Canton, the HQ of the Housing Repairs service with its many failings is no more and greater choice to tenants over times for appointments has also made good progress into the repairs backlog. All those significant faults noted by our Auditors in 2009, poor management, missing stock, no proper accountability have now been overcome by outsourcing the store service, vehicle tracking that is slowly getting more efficient and far better management and training for staff. Staff who enjoyed “Spanish Practices” seem to have been seen off!

The Executive will be asked to approve £100,000 underspend from the Housing Revenue Account to be allocated to reduce still further the backlog of repairs. Rent arrears are still too high but the courts are now listening to officers and a team has been introduced to intervene before the debt grows too large and thus almost impossible to repay.

The Committee was briefed on the Housing Renewal Service that focuses on three areas, neighbourhood renewal areas, loans for some repairs, improvement and adoption and new information on £5 M in a recyclable loan fund. Real evidence of real progress was an accurate description of how the start of the briefing session was described.

Solid wall insulation schemes are being piloted in Shotton & Connah’s Quay with great success and residents have already made saving with heat bills had being reduced significantly. When I was an AM 1999 to 2003, as a member of the Local Government Committee, we soon learned that Welsh Office did not have a clue about the state of housing stock across Wales. No work had ever been done it seemed and how to improve with the South Wales Valley’s solid walls was not known as the technology had not been devised or the cost too prohibitive to contemplate. Even the more challenging red brick wall appearance can be overcome and both private and Council properties are being given this make over. Its taken over ten years to make this breakthrough but this is real progress nevertheless and those wards selected for these make-overs should be pleased with what the Authority is achieving.

Flintshire is now able to offer non equity loans to eligible householders to improve and repair their homes in certain circumstances. A competitive tendering exercise has awarded the contract for setting up loans to Street UK LTD and this company also works with Empty Property initiatives with councils in England. A legal contract is arranged and apart from topping up the fund, the Council will undertake monitoring to ensure everything is being properly administered and we are getting value for money. With budgets tight and mortgages like hen’s teeth, this loan scheme is affordable and will provide a life line to hard pressed home owners by giving them a way of making improvements.

This scheme is on top of the help with house purchsase scheme that has been recently introduced. More reason to celebrate the achievements of Community & Housing Committee. Deputy Leader Bernie Attridge was very complimentary about Housing portfolio’s achievements and some Wag invited him to jump ship and join the Coalition.

The item on Empty Homes Recyclable Loans Fund chuffed me the most as our “Voids”problem as was the term for houses not in use was a long running disgrace to the former Administration. The need to resolve this empty houses situtaion took priority as houses were rotting away and losing rent yet the Authority had a huge backlog of homeless people to house. I got myself on the Voids Working Group. We met regularly and pressed ourselves and officers hard to make progress. We demanded facts and figures and pushed and shoved and slowly the tanker has been turning.

Because through our endeavours, this Council has had the foresight to concentrate on this weakness, we now possess improved its data in relation to empty homes. As we continued to press for accurate information, chasing up where the voids were situated etc. and why, we are now in the healthy position of taking advantage of £1.2M Welsh Government regional grant and £241K is Flintshire’s share of the cake. All the more funds to continue improving our housing stock and bring more properties back to full occupancy. I was very happy to move the recommendations and the vote was unanimous. This is a good result that showed that members can achieve in collaboration with helpful officers.

The final item on the agenda was the Forward Work Programme as the need to look forward to make progress never stops. Who will be participating in the next round of Community and Housing Scrutiny decision making after May, has still to be decided. Should I be back my priority will be water! What each council property runs up in water and electricity bills will be high on my agenda. The Council cops the corporate bill and who actually pays must be the subject of an urgent review. The Coalition’s fourth budget of the current administration went through despite being voted down by Labour who complained that it was dreadful. The vote split was 37 to 13. I agree that the Estyn school report and a Welsh Audit Office report were not good. Estyn judged the schools inspection as “adequate”. Welsh Audit Office made uncomplimentary comments about the leadership of this administration and policies were poorly presented. (Both sadly true). Despite the ongoing presence of our heavily damaged Leader of the Council, backbencher members and Executive have made solid progress particularly when we cast minds back to the mess the Coalition inherited in May 2008. Welsh Government seem unable to plan sufficiently far ahead as very late withdrawal of a vital transport grant caused problems and money had to be found and again at short notice, Welsh Government has sliced the Bus Service Operators Grant from 1st April. (More on this in later blog bu it is not good news for bus users.)

The budget has been achieved without redundancies or any heavy loss of front line services. The pain of year by year cuts cuts is far from over but council tax increases have been as modest as possible. North Wales Police Authority colleagues have stood firmly against demands for a heavy police precept and the demand for the 4% increase year on year required by our police bosses which has been seen as a sacred right has been rejected for the time being. The Community & Housing Scrutiny Committee met for the last time for this term on 7th March and since Susan Lewis’s departure & the arrival of a new head of housing, Clare Budden, the housing transformation continues to be remarkable. There has been solid progress in improving the turn round time for repairs and dealing with empty houses. Canton, the HQ of the Housing Repairs service with its many failings is no more and greater choice to tenants over times for appointments has also made good progress into the repairs backlog. All those significant faults noted by our Auditors in 2009, poor management, missing stock, no proper accountability have now been overcome by outsourcing the store service, vehicle tracking that is slowly getting more efficient and far better management and training for staff. Staff who enjoyed “Spanish Practices” seem to have been seen off!

The Executive will be asked to approve £100,000 underspend from the Housing Revenue Account to be allocated to reduce still further the backlog of repairs. Rent arrears are still too high but the courts are now listening to officers and a team has been introduced to intervene before the debt grows too large and thus almost impossible to repay.

The Committee was briefed on the Housing Renewal Service that focuses on three areas, neighbourhood renewal areas, loans for some repairs, improvement and adoption and new information on £5 M in a recyclable loan fund. Real evidence of real progress was an accurate description of how the start of the briefing session was described.

Solid wall insulation schemes are being piloted in Shotton & Connah’s Quay with great success and residents have already made saving with heat bills had being reduced significantly. When I was an AM 1999 to 2003, as a member of the Local Government Committee, we soon learned that Welsh Office did not have a clue about the state of housing stock across Wales. No work had ever been done it seemed and how to improve with the South Wales Valley’s solid walls was not known as the technology had not been devised or the cost too prohibitive to contemplate. Even the more challenging red brick wall appearance can be overcome and both private and Council properties are being given this make over. Its taken over ten years to make this breakthrough but this is real progress nevertheless and those wards selected for these make-overs should be pleased with what the Authority is achieving.

Flintshire is now able to offer non equity loans to eligible householders to improve and repair their homes in certain circumstances. A competitive tendering exercise has awarded the contract for setting up loans to Street UK LTD and this company also works with Empty Property initiatives with councils in England. A legal contract is arranged and apart from topping up the fund, the Council will undertake monitoring to ensure everything is being properly administered and we are getting value for money. With budgets tight and mortgages like hen’s teeth, this loan scheme is affordable and will provide a life line to hard pressed home owners by giving them a way of making improvements.

This scheme is on top of the help with house purchsase scheme that has been recently introduced. More reason to celebrate the achievements of Community & Housing Committee. Deputy Leader Bernie Attridge was very complimentary about Housing portfolio’s achievements and some Wag invited him to jump ship and join the Coalition.

The item on Empty Homes Recyclable Loans Fund chuffed me the most as our “Voids”problem as was the term for houses not in use was a long running disgrace to the former Administration. The need to resolve this empty houses situtaion took priority as houses were rotting away and losing rent yet the Authority had a huge backlog of homeless people to house. I got myself on the Voids Working Group. We met regularly and pressed ourselves and officers hard to make progress. We demanded facts and figures and pushed and shoved and slowly the tanker has been turning.

Because through our endeavours, this Council has had the foresight to concentrate on this weakness, we now possess improved its data in relation to empty homes. As we continued to press for accurate information, chasing up where the voids were situated etc. and why, we are now in the healthy position of taking advantage of £1.2M Welsh Government regional grant and £241K is Flintshire’s share of the cake. All the more funds to continue improving our housing stock and bring more properties back to full occupancy. I was very happy to move the recommendations and the vote was unanimous. This is a good result that showed that members can achieve in collaboration with helpful officers.

The final item on the agenda was the Forward Work Programme as the need to look forward to make progress never stops. Who will be participating in the next round of Community and Housing Scrutiny decision making after May, has still to be decided. Should I be back my priority will be water! What each council property runs up in water and electricity bills will be high on my agenda. The Council cops the corporate bill and who actually pays must be the subject of an urgent review.

Water is just too precious and every user must be accountable particularity if those on benefits will have the lot paid for them. Lots of new challenges here I suspect!

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