The Audit Commission inspection team gave the service one star because tenants are generally satisfied with the housing management service they receive but there remains room for further improvement. Surveys show overall satisfaction to be low in comparison with other authorities.
Mike Maunder, lead housing inspector for the Northern Region said:
'There is a clear drive and focus within the organisation to respond positively to problems and challenges and to deliver change and improvement.
'However, some uncertainty remains as to whether all of the actions set out in the improvement plan are achievable within the relatively short timescales.'
The inspection report highlights a number of key strengths:
* Staff and councillors are committed to the provision of a quality housing management service, and clear policies and procedures exist to help staff deliver the service.
* The council has improved the way it consults with residents and provided more opportunities for them to take a greater part in helping to manage the service.
* Overall, tenants enjoy an effective housing service, but there are shortcomings in some standards which need to be addressed.
However, inspectors also found weaknesses:
* Some recently introduced policies and procedures are not adequately monitored or consistently implemented across different areas of the borough.
* Opening hours and access to the service are not arranged to meet the needs of customers.
* There is no robust system of performance management in place.
* Variable levels of information are available to service users, depending upon the service area.
To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations, including:
* Involve customers in developing improvement programmes and encourage greater tenant participation in managing housing services.
* Ensure gas servicing regulations are complied with.
* Ensure that a performance management system is put in place to monitor the quality and cost of all services, and to make changes where necessary.
* Address all value-for-money issues within the empty property management service to eliminate the current waste of resources.
This report covers the full range of housing management services provided by the council, except for disabled adaptations and services for the elderly. The service employs a total of 1,414 staff and is estimated to cost a total of£20m for 2001/02 including repairs and maintenance. Since the inspection by the Audit Commission, the establishment of an Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO), TristarHomes, has been authorised by the government to take over responsibility for the management and maintenance of the council's housing stock, excluding sheltered housing.