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£16.1M BOOST FOR HOUSING IN LEEDS

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The housing management service within the north west area of the city of Leeds has been rated 'good' by inspectors ...
The housing management service within the north west area of the city of Leeds has been rated 'good' by inspectors from the Housing Inspectorate, an independent housing watchdog within the Audit Commission. The 'good' two star rating means the council will receive an additional£16.1m capital funding over the next two years to improve the quality of its housing in the North West Leeds area.

The housing service is provided through Leeds North West Homes Ltd (LNWh), one of six arm's-length management organisations (ALMOs) operating in the city. Housing inspectors awarded Leeds North West Homes two stars out of a possible three, citing good customer focus, responding to the diverse needs of service users, and an improvement in environmental maintenance among their reasons. They also noted good use of partnerships to tackle anti-social behaviour in the area.

The report outlines a number of factors such as improvements in performance management, the pursuit of modern procurement practices as well as a track record of delivering improvements, which indicate that the service's prospects for improvement are promising.

The Audit Commission's head of housing for the north region, Nick Atkin, said:

'Leeds North West homes has made considerable progress since 2003 when it achieved a one star rating. To have achieved a two star rating in a relatively short period of time is a real success story. LNWh is listening to what its tenants want and striving to improve its homes and make the area a better place to live.

'We are confident that the board of directors and the staff will continue to improve the service and develop new initiatives in consultation with tenants. The ALMO is set to receive a significant cash injection with which to transform the quality of social housing in the area.'

The report highlights the service's key strengths, including:

* Good customer information on service standards and service performance

* A range of means by which customers are being engaged in service design

* Improved customer involvement in the formulation of programmes of home improvement works

* Expansion of the environmental service teams, with improved outcomes for customers

* A rent collection service which strikes a balance between maximising rental income and providing help and support to tenants

* Empty homes are repaired and cleaned to a consistent standard for new tenants

* Effective partnership working to address problems associated with anti-social behaviour

However, there are some issues which need to be tackled:

* The performance of the call centre continues to be variable which causes delays for people wishing to report repairs

* Standards of grounds maintenance continue to be variable and remain an area of dissatisfaction for customers

* There is an insufficient focus on repairs quality control and the high proportion of pre-inspections causes inconvenience for customers

* Feedback from customers is not used systematically used to inform service improvements

* Overall improvements in reducing the re-let times for empty homes are still needed

The full report of the inspection will be available next month (August). The final score has been issued in advance of publication to speed up the release of the additional funding.

NOTES

Leeds City Council owns approximately 69,000 rented homes. The six ALMOs (of which LNWh is one) are responsible for all day to day housing management services including management of the housing capital programme, responsive repairs and empty property management, rent collection and arrears recovery, estate management and tenant participation. The revenue budget for the service is around£668m.

The service was inspected as part of the government's Arms Length Housing Management (ALMO) initiative, which encourages councils to set up ALMOs to manage, maintain and improve its housing stock. The government decided that councils pursuing this option can secure additional capital funding if the new arms length body has received a 'good' rating from the Audit Commission's Housing Inspectorate.

The government has allocated£160m to the initiative in 2002/03 and£300m in 2003/04. Thirteen councils were conditionally allocated additional funding in Round 2 - Barnsley, Blyth Valley, Bolton, Brent, Carrick, Cheltenham, Colchester, Hillingdon, Kensington and Chelsea, Leeds, Oldham, Salford and Waltham Forest.

The inspection took place within the framework of the government's best value initiative which places a duty on all councils to deliver the most economic, efficient and effective services possible (Local Government Act 1999).

The inspection involved interviews with council staff, council members and members of the public using the service.

The Housing Inspectorate was established to provide the public with an independent assessment of whether best value is being achieved by their local council. Inspection reports judge how well a housing service is currently serving local people, based on a star rating from 0-3 where 0 is poor and 3 excellent. It also rates its prospects for improvement in the future.

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