Monday, February 22, 2010

Remember the Almo

If you subscribe to the fevered imaginings of the likes of Thanet Strife, then you'll no doubt believe that I and other councillors spend much of our time arriving at new and interesting ways of thwarting the democratic process and ignoring popular opinion.

Take 'Almos', not a nuclear test site in New Mexico or indeed a small fortification in Texas but 'Arms Length Management Organisations' as one example.

Without going into great detail, - the key facts can be found here - the idea behind these is to pool the management of council housing stock between local authorities and as a consequence, leverage economies of scale and deliver a uniform three star service to council house tenants and leaseholders at a lower cost. These have been demonstrably successful elsewhere in the country and so we are keen to explore the idea here in Thanet.

It's important however to note that any final decision between ourselves and other councils has to go before the Secretary of State and we have to follow a process of consultation with our tenants or as Cabinet Member Cllr Zita Wiltshire said last week:

"It's vital that we properly consult with tenants and leaseholders about these proposals and they have the opportunity to voice any views that they have about the plans. I think it's encouraging that we were all able to agree on the importance of a detailed consultation with the tenants, before any further consideration is given to a ballot. I think we can all agree that we need to ensure tenants' and leaseholders' voices are clearly heard and their views are taken into account before any decisions are made."

Before any of us in Cabinet make any decisions, we are properly briefed on both legal and cost issues as it's vitally important that what we do reflects the wider public interest. In this case, no other Almo in the country, I'm informed, has followed the very expensive route (circa £100k) of a ballot of the public. This is for a number of good reasons, which can include cost and the potential problem of a low response rate, as well as the difficulty in framing the question.

What we want to understand clearly is what people might expect from such a three-star service and what their concerns might be and this isn't as simple as a "Yes", "No" answer in a box. Fundamentally the council is saying "We believe that we can offer you a better quality of life through an Almo but what should we be focusing on to achieve this if we move the idea forward?"

Alternatively, we could spend £100,000 on an ambivalent question in a ballot and be heavily criticized for wasting council-tax-payers money without arriving at a clear picture of what people want and/or expect.

We shouldn't forget that this is a consultation which has to be approved by the Secretary of State before any steps are taken and so while in an ideal world, a ballot might make sense and indeed, was recommended by the council's Scrutiny Committee, once you sit down and explore the issue in more depth, the problems become manifestly clear, which is why a slew of different consultation measures were agreed-upon instead.

Finally, councillors do what they believe is best under the tight framework of local government regulations and responsibilities that binds them. Throwing abuse in our direction is hardly likely to inspire others to follow into local politics and try and make a small difference to the future of their communities.

Note: - Arms length management organisations (ALMOs) have led a revolution in the management of council housing since they were first established in 2002. There are now 69 ALMOs which manage more than one million council homes across sixty-five local authorities.

ALMOs have demonstrated that they offer a better service to tenants than any other form of council housing management – ALMOs achieved higher inspection ratings than local authority managed housing or housing associations.

Under an ALMO the local authority retains the housing stock and controls the allocation policy.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Simon for this straight forward and common sense explanation of what is involved. Yet another reason why I continue to take with a pinch of salt anything I read on some of the other blogs by less articulate and decent individuals.

ascu75 aka Don said...

Simon I see you sidestepping the issue here. Yes ALMO's are good, wasting £100.000's are bad. Council officers etc referring to local's as arseholes is beyond the pale and should be dealt with. If I was black I could go to Race Relations board but because I am a Thanet resident who looks after my interest's? YOU and Your fellow Councillors and to be deemed an aresehole by one of your number is beyond the pale. I am sure you will try and spin this so the person guilty receives his full allowances because as a council you have paid out allowances to Ted Watt-Ruffel and his Panamanian mate when they were in positions of error. So Simon stop trying to evaded the issue here and be seen to do the right thing by those who put you in your position in the first place.

DrM. said...


I'm not trying to evade any issues here whatsoever!

I think I have explained the ALMOs' bit and as I have commented on ECR, disrespectful comments of the kind you mention are unacceptable but in this case remain hearsay. Put another way, try going to an employment tribunal after some kind of hasty action over the same allegation and the results would be predictable.

As a council and as councillors, we are bound by the law not by what you might want us to do in ideal circumstances. Cllr Watt Ruffell is an independent councillor and an elected representative. You may not like that but I have no authority and neither does anyone else to change that state of affairs.

The same was true of Cllr Broadhurst when his work took him to Panama.

"The right thing" by you is not necessarily the right thing under the law.

ascu75 aka Don said...

Simon can you tell me 1)did cllr Broadhurst get his allowances paid even though he was not in the country and unable to do the job he was elected to do
2)did another member of the council sign him in as present so he could get his allowances
3)if question 2 is correct has any investigation been held into why a member would dishonestly sign a member as present etc.etc
Simon you can see what I am asking and you can see why I am asking it could you either answer or help me to obtain the answer. I realise you are not my councillor but I feel you are a decent chap and I think you would know how to obtain the answers.Simon no mneed to publish this if you dont want to email me at

DrM. said...


Cllr Broadhurst would have received his allowance until such a time as he resigned as a councillor. It's a legal entitlement.

I'm entirely satisfied that the 'signing-in' story was exaggerated having spoken to the democratic services officer. You see, councillors sign-in using a book, against the names on the page and the names are quite tightly packed together and so it's not difficult to A. sign against the wrong line, (it's called parallax and I get the same problem with aircraft check-lists, jumping a line and goes with increasing age) or B.The democratic services officer for much the same reason, reads the wrong line. As a result of the Broadhurst 'incident' everyone is alot more careful about making mistakes.

In any event, I don't think it would have made any difference because like any councillor, he would have had to have been absent rather more frequently to prompt a disqualification exercise and would have still been entitled to payment until such a time as he stepped down.

That's my understanding of the situation and I would hope that you have confidence in my integrity in giving you this opinion!

ascu75 aka Don said...

Simon I have never questioned your integrity and have always found you to be a good chap, I must saw you do at times answer a question in a skewed way but then most politicians are practised in spin.

DrM. said...

There is no intention to 'spin' whatsover. Rather, I have to be very careful what I write to avoid equivocation which could in turn be 'spun' against me!