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£64M WINDFALL THANKS TO QUALITY OF OLDHAM HOUSING SERVICE

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Oldham MBC's housing management service has been rated good by inspectors from the Audit Commission. The service is...
Oldham MBC's housing management service has been rated good by inspectors from the Audit Commission. The service is provided through First Choice Homes Oldham (FCHO), one of the new-style arm's-length management organisations (ALMOs). The good 'two star' rating means the council will receive an additional £32.4m capital funding over the next two years to improve the quality of its housing.

A team of housing inspectors awarded First Choice Homes Oldham two stars out of a possible three, citing high maintenance standards and easy customer access to services among their reasons. They also noted a commitment to improving race relations in the area. However, the report raises concerns about management arrangements and says that the service's prospects for improvement are uncertain.

Audit Commission chief inspector of housing Roy Irwin, said:

'We found that Oldham Council and First Choice Homes have made significant improvements since our previous inspection. The service is listening to what its tenants want and striving to make its housing a better place to live. However, we still retain some concerns about some aspects of the housing service.

'The council is set to receive a massive cash injection with which to transform the quality of social housing in the area. It must take heed of this report to ensure it gets the maximum benefit from this funding.'

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

* an improving repairs service

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

* a homelessness and housing advice service which manages to avoid using bed and breakfast accommodation

* a high quality asylum support service

* a specialist team to deal with anti-social behaviour

* comprehensive security, caretaking and cleaning services

* increasing support for black and ethnic minority tenants, and others experiencing harassment to hel p local community integration, improved translation and interpretation services, and a campaign to recruit more black and ethnic minority staff

However,

* the service needs to ensure that a full range of tenants are included in decisions about the service, including those from ethnic minorities

* more information on the condition of the housing stock is needed to inform future improvement works

* the capital programmes are short term and do not set out details of the longer term plans for the stock

* effective systems are needed to evaluate how the service is performing

* a strategy is required to ensure that the ALMO's boards are representative of the communities they serve

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

NOTES

1. Oldham MBC owns approximately 18,000 rented homes. The ALMO is responsible for all day to day housing management services including management ofthe housing capital programme, responsive repairs and empty property management, rent collection and arrears recovery, estate management and tenant participation. It also is rsponsible for the delivery of the homelessness and housing advice service on behalf of the council. The revenue budget for the service is around £76m.

2. 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.

3. 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, Colches ter, Hillingdon, Kensington and Chelsea, Leeds, Oldham, Salford and Waltham Forest.

4. 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).

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

6. 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, and its prospects for improvement in the future.

A press release from the local authority follows.

£64M WINDFALL THANKS TO QUALITY OF SERVICE

Oldham's housing will be transformed with a £64m bonanza thanks to a successful inspection.

First Choice Homes Oldham has been awarded two stars for its services, leading to the massive cash injection over four years.

A further £8 million will be available from government for further works around the properties.

The two star rating means that work to bring local housing up to the Decent Homes Standard by 2007 can begin immediately.

The money will transform local housing over the next five years. First Choice Homes Oldham will be able to improve the exteriors of houses and flats and make them suitable to withstand the Oldham weather ??? and make then look good.

The organisation will also seek to accelerate a programme to improve the interior to some houses. This may include rewiring, bathrooms, kitchens and heating improvements.

Other money from the government will be used to put in new fences and outdoor lighting and generally make the areas around where tenants live a more pleasant place to be.

First Choice Homes Oldham chair Jackie Stanton said : 'This is absolutely fantastic news and confirms what we and our tenants have known for some time, that the range of services provided are good and improving.

'This year alone we will spend over £25m in all areas of Oldham on schemes agreed by local Boards of FCHO. Contractors are waiting to begin with the first project ready to start in June.'

Chief executive Hugh Broadbent said: 'The inspector's report and two star rating is the product of an enormous amount of hard work by staff. We could not have

achieved this without the help and support of the main and local boards of First Choice Homes Oldham which include tenants and independent members'

The inspectors' report will be published in full in a few weeks time and will be made widely available.

'Winning such an enormous prize has made all the hard work worthwhile. There's now lots to do to make sure we spend the money wisely and in accordance with the wishes of the tenants,' Mr Broadbent added.

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