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The housing service provided by Salford City Council is poor but has promising prospects for improvement, according...
The housing service provided by Salford City Council is poor but has promising prospects for improvement, according to an independent report released today by the Audit Commission.

The housing inspectorate gave the service no stars* because despite some positive elements, there are serious weaknesses in the delivery of the service including a lack of focus on customer needs, a lack of effective engagement with a broad range of tenants and weak performance management and quality control.

Nick Atkin, acting lead housing inspector, northern region said:

'Councillors and officers recognise the need for substantial change and staff and tenants are committed to delivering improved housing services. The improvement plan is broad and ambitious and the necessary resources have been identified to deliver it. However, the scale of the task is considerable and reflects the relatively low base, when compared with similar authorities, that the service is starting from.'

The inspection report highlights some strengths:

-- Staff and tenants are enthusiastic and dedicated.

-- Several new initiatives have been introduced to improve services, including a revised framework for procurement.

-- Estate management and local caretaking services have a number of positive features.

However, inspectors found a number of serious weaknesses:

-- Procurement within the housing service is poor and the council has failed to demonstrate that all of the existing housing services it provides are cost effective.

-- There has been an historical 'reactive' rather than a planned and 'proactive' approach to deal with service improvements, and services provided to customers are inconsistent.

-- There are few departmental and individual targets, and where these do exist they are not consistently linked to corporate aims and objectives.

To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations, including:

-- Involve a broader group of tenants in managing and developing all aspects of the housing service and work with customers to ensure the focus is on meeting their needs.

-- Work with local residents to develop a plan for sustainable investment in housing, improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of repairs work and ensure compliance with all gas servicing regulations.

-- In consultation with customers carry out a thorough review of allocation policies with the emphasis on introducing a 'choice based' lettings process to promote sustainable communities. Ensure the Property Shop meets customer expectations.

This report covers: response repairs, including gas servicing; empty homes and rehousing; cash collection and rent arrears; estate management and anti-social behaviour (ASB); and caretaking and cleaning. There are over 500 staff (full-time equivalent) and the budget for the service is£114m including planned maintenance and improvements. The council plans to set up an Arms Length Management Organisation to run the service from September 2002.

Copies of the report are available from Salford City Council or on the Audit Commission website at

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