Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Simply Bad Management?

There’s been a bit of a row going on in Lambeth over the council’s monitoring of Councillor Kingsley Abrams email and his subsequent suspension from the local Labour group for four months.

However what seems to have been 'overlooked’ amongst all the shouting, accusations, counter-accusations, etc. is that the email incident which led to his suspension was simply another attempt in a sustained campaign of harassment aimed at forcing him out prior to the local elections on the 6th May.

All of which failed when he dug his heels in and refused to resign. Suspending him after he was re-elected with 2533 votes - the highest in that ward - simply shows how petty, spiteful and childish New Labour’s neo-tory leaders really are.

Yes, that’s all very interesting but what does it have to do with Dover?

Considerably more than you might think.

The reason behind all this ‘fuss’ is Kingsley Abrams’ staunch opposition to the now spectacularly failed Lambeth Living, an Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO) created in 2008 by Lambeth council to manage it's housing stock and which was described by the Audit Commission as “poor and deteriorating” with 11 out of 13 service areas being described as a weakness or having more weaknesses than strengths.

The report also expressed concerns over Lambeth Living’s steep rent increases which had been expected to exceed 17% last year and concluded that housing standards had significantly deteriorated under Lambeth Living’s management with little prospect for improvement.

However, damning as it is, the Audit Commission’s report simply confirmed what was already common knowledge.

Lambeth council’s ALMO experiment has been an unmitigated disaster.

Starting with an unexplained ‘deficit’ of £8.4 million in the first 4 months of operation - much of which has still not been fully accounted for. Residents and leaseholders being over billed, double billed, billed for works and contracts which simply did not exist. Accounting errors which left Lambeth Living with an additional deficit of over £4 million last year.

With this in mind it will probably come as no surprise to learn that only 2 of the more than 100 tower blocks in the borough have a valid fire safety certificate.

Describing Lambeth Living’s customer service centre as 'dire' seems somewhat anti-climatic by comparison.

The ALMO scam... erm... I mean scheme, being proposed by Dover District Council in partnership with Canterbury, Shepway and Thanet is essentially identical in all the important aspects to that created by Lambeth council.

Dover District Council’s claim that 21 of the 69 - soon to be 68 with the forthcoming demise of Lambeth Living - are ‘top performing’ is like claiming that one cesspool is performing better than another cesspool because it doesn’t smell so bad.

The truth is they both stink and it’s not something that most people would want in their community.

In fact, only 11 out of the soon to be 68 ALMOs actually meet the Decent Housing Standard while the other 10 are ‘on course’ to meet their obligations by the end of the specified two year period.

Which still leaves nearly three quarters of them failing and with the Audit Commission due to go on the bonfire in the near future that number will only grow as councils will then be free to appoint their own auditors.

Also amongst their various waffling claims of improved services, more say in how those services are provided etc. is the claim that council tenants would “pay similar rents”.

Note, similar, not the same.

This means that when the expected cost savings fail to appear - as seems likely based on other local authorities experiences - it will almost certainly be council tenants and leaseholders who will be expected to foot the bill for the ALMO's failures.

So what’s next for Lambeth council tenants and leaseholders? With the dismal failure of Lambeth Living the council claims it has only one option left - stock transfer. It is now seeking approval to ‘transfer’ ownership of a large portion of it’s better housing assets to ‘approved’ social housing landlords.

By the way, I’m fairly sure that there is absolutely no truth in the rumours of a secret deal to sell council housing stock to the Southern Housing Group at a significantly discounted price when the ALMO scam... I mean scheme, collapses.

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