A team of housing inspectors gave the service two stars out of a possible three because it delivers good quality, customer oriented services in areas including - capital improvement works; its homelessness services; allocation of homes; and its effective processes for tackling anti-social behaviour.
Nick Atkin, Audit Commission head of housing for the north said: 'Wigan and Leigh Housing has maintained a good standard of service to its customers. However the rate of improvement has not been as we had expected following our previous inspection in October 2002.
'Although the organisation has demonstrated that it is prepared to listen to what its customers want and is focussed on delivering high quality services, the board and senior management team have not matured sufficiently to develop a strategic approach and to consider the longer term aims and objectives for the organisation. The impact of this is their stakeholders and customers are not clear about future plans beyond achieving the current investment programme. This is a major factor in our assessment of their uncertain prospects for further improvement.'
The inspectors found:
-- resident involvement is an area of strength which is recognised by customers and impacting positively on services;
--the stock investment capital programme is delivering a high quality service with most customers having benefited from extensive capital improvements both internally to their homes and through external environmental works;
-- seventy five per cent of properties now meet the government's 'decent homes' standard and it is on target to achieve 100% by 2008;
--tenant satisfaction with overall performance has improved largely due to the capital improvement works carried out and also elements of the responsive repairs service, particularly the rapid response arrangements. In addition there are now appointments that are convenient to customers and more jobs are completed first time;
-- estates are well maintained, clean and tidy; and
-- leaseholders benefit from customer focused procedures and quality information.
There are still a number of weaknesses and areas of service that do not work well and require improvement. Significantly, the organisation has still to examine the costs of support services to ensure they deliver value for money. To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations, including:
--the organisation needs to do further work to ensure that all services deliver value for money; and
--it needs to revisit a customer access review, including office closures, and implement a transparent strategy for customer access taking into account value for money, customer preference, and compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act.
It should also renegotiate council restrictions regarding office usage in the management agreement.
Wigan & Leigh Housing is the arms-length management organisation of Wigan MBC and was established in 2002 to manage over 24,000 homes. This was the first re-inspection since it was judged eligible to obtain additional government funding to invest in the 'decent homes' improvement programme.
Copies of the report are available from Wigan & Leigh Housing or on the Audit Commission website at www.audit-commission.gov.uk
An arms-length management organisation is a company wholly owned by the council but set up to deliver management services on its behalf. The government's ALMO initiative encourages councils to take this route to manage, maintain and improve their housing stocks and 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 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 staff, ALMO Board members and members of the public using the service.
The Audit Commission is an independent body responsible for ensuring that public money is spent economically, efficiently and effectively, to achieve high-quality local and national services for the public. Our work covers local government, housing, health and criminal justice services.
As an independent watchdog, we provide important information on the quality of public services. As a driving force for improvement in those services, we provide practical recommendations and spread best practice. As an independent auditor, we monitor spending to ensure public services are good value for money.
Further details about the Commission can be obtained from its web site www.audit-commission.gov.uk
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