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Local authorities face tough targets to bring sub-standard homes up to scratch but many are falling short in their ...
Local authorities face tough targets to bring sub-standard homes up to scratch but many are falling short in their repairs and maintenance service, says an Audit Commission report.

The study, part of the commission's Learning from Inspection series, draws on best value reports of councils' housing repairs and maintenance departments, to help struggling authorities learn from the best.

There is a marked variation in performance: of 34 best value inspection reports published, fewer than one in six received a good two-star rating. Eleven were deemed 'poor' (no stars) and 18 got a 'fair' one star ranking. On the positive side, inspectors found more than three-quarters of councils were likely to improve.

Common problems include:

* Money is not always spent on the most appropriate homes

* Planned maintenance programmes often run late and under budget, over two thirds of authorities spend too low a proportion of their budget on planned work

* Around 95% of authorities spend too much on emergency work

* Councils don't always get value for money when letting maintenance contracts

* Performance management and monitoring information is poor

Another recurring finding is that tenants and leaseholders - those most affected - are often not involved when authorities make maintenance decisions.

The government and national assembly for Wales have both made a commitment to bring all council homes up to a decent standard within a decade. In England, the government's targets state that one third of sub-standard homes must be up to standard by 2004. An extra£856m has been made available in 2001/02 to fund these improvements.

Effective maintenance and repairs depends on councils running several inter-linked services well. The report says that they need a longer-term strategic approach, backed up with good business planning. It recommends that councils should involve tenants more, set and monitor their own local targets, take steps to improve their project and performance management, and look at new ways of procuring services.

Controller of the Audit Commission Andrew Foster said:

'Too many council tenants and leaseholders have to endure poorly maintained housing. Councils need to take action to meet targets on improved housing standards and they must ensure new money is spent effectively on behalf of tenants. However some authorities are succeeding and this report shares the lessons they have learned, to help those struggling to improve.'

To purchase copies of Learning from Inspection - Housing Repairs and Maintenance, priced at£18, call the Audit Commission's order line on 0800 50 20 30.

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