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BLYTH'S HOUSING ALMO WINS£40.5M CASH BOOST

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Blyth Valley BC's housing management service has been rated good by inspectors from independent housing watchdog th...
Blyth Valley BC's housing management service has been rated good by inspectors from independent housing watchdog the Audit Commission. The service is provided through Blyth Valley Housing Limited (BVHL), one of the new-style arm's-length management organisations (ALMOs). The good 'two star' rating means the council will receive an additional £40.5m capital funding over the next two years to improve the quality of its housing.

A team of housing inspectors awarded Blyth Valley Housing Limited two stars out of a possible three, citing good customer focus and sound housing management practice in rent collection and preparing empty properties for re-letting among their reasons. They also noted a commitment to tackling anti-social behaviour in the area. However, the report raises concerns about strategic management arrangements within the company and the council and says that the service's prospects for improvement are uncertain.

Audit Commission's lead housing inspector Nick Atkin said:

'This is the first housing inspection of Blyth Valley Council and Blyth Valley Housing Ltd. To have achieved a two star rating in this way is a real success story. There are many examples of significant improvements to the service tenants receive in the last 12 months. 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 the governance of the company and the approach to strategic housing issues within the council.

'The council is set to receive a massive cash injection with which to transform the quality of social housing in the area. This report identifies what the council and Blyth Valley Housing Ltd now need to address to ensure future sustainable service improvement.'

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 provi ding help and support to tenants

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

* a new specialist team to deal with anti-social behaviour

* good estate and caretaking services

* increasing support for tenants experiencing harassment and those with support needs

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

* the service needs to further involve a wider range of tenants by developing new tenant participation methods

* the repair service is not completing enough repairs within priority time limits or undertaking sufficient post inspections to ensure work is done to a high standard

* the letting policy is in need of wholesale review and the company has not fully embraced the government's policy of 'choice based lettings'

* the council's co-ordination and monitoring of adaptations work to homes for tenants with disabilities is weak

* performance information is not managed effectively

* BVHL has yet to demonstrate value for money and cost effectiveness across all services it both provides and receives from the council

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

Blyth Valley BC owns approximately 7,600 rented homes. The ALMO (BVHL) is 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. 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 £42m.

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 and 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, and its prospects for improvement in the future.

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