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.