A number of areas of best practice have been developed within the housing service which help deliver the council's vision and corporate services. These include:
- The introduction of generic working for housing officers providing a range of frontline services
- Making services as accessible as possible
- Methods of dealing promptly and sympathetically with homeless households
- Promoting community safety by tackling incidents of antisocial behaviour
- Working with tenants to promote involvement in management.
Overriding all of these is the council ' s commitment to deliver services in the best value environment and its willingness to challenge inherited practices.
The role of the Housing Services Team is linked to the council's corporate objectives. Housing services consist of three key areas - housing services, housing needs and Lifeline/sheltered accommodation - and each has developed its own strategic objectives to meet the needs of its clients.
Tenant participation has been a particular success. The relationship between tenants, their associations, officers and councillors continues to develop. Service delivery, satisfaction levels and budgets are constantly monitored.
Rent arrears have been slashed and satisfaction with repairs is high, the number of empty properties is below the national average and Lifeline has received a Charter Mark.
The major strength of the Elmbridge housing team is its comprehensive nature. The inclusion of both private sector housing and housing benefits within the same directorate has given us the edge over most districts and enables us to cater for the needs of everyone in the borough.
We communicate regularly with tenants through an extensive consultation network and a quarterly newsletter. In addition, we seek to gauge overall perception of the service through opinion surveys.
Bids for Charter Marks presented the opportunity to introduce a number of initiatives to improve services. These included a customer charter, a revised complaints procedure and a review of tenant participation strategy.
Newark and Sherwood DC
The housing team forms the hub of the council's multi-disciplinary community services department which strives to provide a high quality, customer-oriented and responsive service.
The department recognises that it needs to constantly compare itself with best practice in both the public and private sectors. Although only a comparatively small council, Newark and Sherwood can identify a number of areas where it has become a pioneer. The department has been awarded Charter Marks for housing management, housing advice and environmental services, accreditation under Investors in People and the selection of the service as a pilot for both best value and joint commissioning.
The team used the legislation on CCT to improve service and performance standards and is using best value to undertake a more fundamental review.
This has already delivered cost savings and service improvements in areas such as building maintenance, where the incorporation of the former DSO within the department and the retendering of building maintenance as a service contract has already been completed.
Our borough has specific features arising from the Town Expansion programme in the early 1970s giving it a unique profile.
The Housing Services Unit's objectives dovetail into the council's strategic direction. We have gained a reputation locally as being a small but progressive organisation. Some of our recent achievements are:
- Recognition from the Government Office of the West Midlands for significant continuous improvement
- Creation of a development pipeline of 160 new homes in partnership with registered social landlords, doubling the rate of provision in the past 10 years
- Securing challenge funding for five specific projects
- Significantly reducing our running costs while improving services
- Returning£56,000 to the council from surpluses generated by the Housing Management Contract.
Award sponsor - First Software
'First Software is proud to sponsor the inaugural Housing Team of the Year award. The accolade is a welcome addition to LGC's portfolio of high profile awards.
The introduction of 'Housing Team of the Year' recognises the great strides that local authorities have made towards improving the effectiveness of their housing teams. In line with the best value and better government initiatives, the shortlist rewards housing teams that have risen above basic service provision, to provide an excellent level of service.
First Software is firmly behind recent initiatives, and feels that to improve still further, local authorities must take up the electronic challenge. This includes exploiting IT for the whole range of services that local authorities provide, not just housing management.
Indeed, First Software believes that effective use of new technology will become one of the key factors behind the success of future award winners.
First Software supplies business software solutions for housing management, revenues collection and benefits administration. It also provides consultancy, implementation, training and technical support services to more local authorities and housing associations than any other company in the UK.
First Software is uniquely placed to judge the Housing Team of the Year award, and looks forward to sponsoring the award in future years.'
Frank Newell, housing production and marketing manager, First Software.