This is the first housing service in the south of the country, outside of London, to receive 'three stars'- the commission's highest award. The service is provided through Carrick Housing Limited (CHL), one of the new-style arm's-length management organisations (ALMOs).The excellent rating means the council will receive an additional£6.6m capital funding over the next 15 months to improve the quality of its housing.
But the report outlines a number of weaknesses which mean the services prospects for improvement are uncertain.
Carrick is only the second council in the south to qualify for additional funding through the ALMO initiative.
The Audit Commission's lead housing inspector (South), Jacqueline Canham, said:
'Carrick Housing is a relatively new organisation which has made exceptional progress since it was established. To have achieved a three star rating is a magnificent achievement within such a short period of time. There are many examples of significant improvements to the service which will benefit its customers. CHL is listening to what its tenants want and striving to improve its homes and make the area a better place to live.
'The ALMO is set to receive a significant cash injection with which to transform the quality of social housing. Our report identifies what the council and Carrick Housing now need to do to ensure future sustainable service improvement and we will be continuing to work with them in order to help them deliver this.'
The report highlights the service's key strengths, including:
* tenant representatives are extensively i nvolved in decision making and in service management and monitoring;
* services are readily accessible to tenants and a good range of information is provided about services;
* a quick and effective customer focused repairs service, which provides an appointment for most jobs;
* new partnering contracts have been let for the renewal of kitchens and bathrooms in tenants' homes;
* effective partnership working with the Police and other agencies to address problems associated with nuisance and anti-social behaviour;
* empty homes are repaired quickly and to a high standard, with new tenants being supported;
* regularly delivering planned improvements to tenants' homes on time and within budgets;
* very high levels of rent are collected;
* disabled adaptations are done quickly and to a high standard.
However, there are some issues which need to be tackled:
* tenant participation is limited to a small number of representatives, who do not always have sufficient time to consult other tenants about important issues;
* information about the condition of tenants' homes is not being up to date, which reduces its value in producing future investment plans;
* CHL have not involved contractors in investment planning and service development; * in some key areas managers do not have adequate performance information to identify weaker areas and ensure consistent service delivery.
The full report of the inspection will be available later this month. The final score has been issued in advance of publication to speed up the release of the additional funding.
Carrick DC owns approximately 3,840 rented homes. The ALMO 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. The score entitles the council to spend an extra£6.6m in the next 15 months, with a further£ 12.8m depending on good progress being made.
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£300m to the initiative 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 councillors, members of the ALMO board, council and ALMO staff 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.