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Meeting of the Community Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 03/03/2003
Progress Report



The report informs members of the progress in implementing the improvement plans agreed by the Executive on 9th April 2002 and proposes revisions where necessary.

There are no Resource, Human Rights, Community Safety or “Opportunities for All” implications contained in this report.
APPENDIX C

WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL

COMMUNITY OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE – 3RD MARCH 2003

Title:
PROGRESS REPORT ON IMPLEMENTATION OF BEST VALUE IMPROVEMENT PLANS
FOLLOWING HOUSING SERVICE REVIEWS IN 2001/02

[Wards Affected: All]

Summary and Purpose

The report informs members of the progress in implementing the improvement plans agreed by the Executive on 9th April 2002 and proposes revisions where necessary.

There are no Resource, Human Rights, Community Safety or “Opportunities for All” implications contained in this report.

Consideration of this matter was deferred at the last meeting.

Introduction

1. The best value reviews of the housing responsive repairs, planned maintenance, voids management and allocation and nominations services were carried out between April 2001 and February 2002. Improvement plans for each service area and a cross-cutting plan for all housing services were agreed by the Executive in April 2002.

2. The improvement plans comprised broad targets to address the findings of the best value reviews. They also set out in some detail the actions required and timescales planned to achieve those targets.

3. An inspection of the repairs and maintenance service by Audit Commission Housing Inspectors was carried out from 28th November to 4th December 2002. The Inspectors’ findings take account of improvements effected since the best value review.

Progress in achieving the targets contained in the improvement plans

4. All the improvement plans relevant to the 2001/02 best value reviews are appended to this report (Annexes 1- 5). For ease of reference, columns have been added providing comments on progress and setting out revised timetables, where applicable. The main achievements or proposed changes to target timescales are summarised in the following paragraphs.

All housing services

5. The Best Value review recognised that improving complaints handling was an important factor in making the housing service more customer focused. A new housing complaints policy and procedure was implemented in July 2002. It is supported by a Lotus Notes database. All written complaints about housing issues can now be analysed by service section and reason. Responses within target timescales are also monitored.

6. Another key finding of the 2001/02 Best Value reviews relevant to all housing services was the need to improve written information provided to tenants. A major task during the current year has been the production, in close co-operation with the Tenants’ Panel, of a comprehensive tenants’ handbook. This was to be issued to all tenants in February 2003. Although it has taken longer than anticipated to produce, the additional time has been essential to ensure the content and design of the handbook meet the requirements of all stakeholders as far as possible.

7. The promotion of equal opportunities is another important target relevant to all service areas and work is ongoing. Awareness raising training held for all the Council’s staff in November 2002 has provided a platform for more housing specific equalities training to be arranged in 2003. This will link with the implementation of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) and Housing Corporation’s good practice standards on tackling racial harassment for which a separate action plan has been developed.

Day-to-day repairs

8. A three year strategy for the repairs and maintenance service was agreed by the Executive on 6th November 2002. This included various targets relevant to the repairs service also referred to in the Best Value improvement plan.

9. A series of workshops was held with the Tenants’ Panel during 2002 to agree a ‘customers’ charter’ for the service. This encompasses service aims and standards and should be complete by April 2003. The timetable for developing formal policies and procedures for delivery of the service is influenced to some extent by the time taken to develop the “customers’ charter”.

10. Desk instructions for Housing Management Assistants have been developed to ensure better information is obtained and given to customers requesting repairs by phone. The tenants’ handbook includes information on the service. Further work will be carried out with the Tenants’ Panel during 2003/04 to rewrite existing leaflets where appropriate.

11. The introduction of the new Measured Term Contracts in February 2002 has brought about significant improvements in performance. Closer working relationships with the contractors are under development. The creation of linked IT systems is not currently possible but will be reconsidered towards the end of the contracts in 2004/05. In line with e-Government targets, customers can now request repairs on-line.
12. The three year strategy for the repairs and maintenance service agreed by the Executive on 6th November 2002 included targets relevant to the programmed and cyclical maintenance service and referred to in the improvement plan.

13. One of the most significant issues affecting the service is the requirement to gather stock condition information relevant to the Government’s Decent Homes standards. Although the proportion of the Council’s housing stock that is non-decent can be estimated from the sample survey carried out in 2000, specific information in relation to the entire housing stock is not available. A plan has been drawn up for collecting the data. Once the information is available, further work can take place on transferring it to the Orchard integrated housing management system.

14. In order to achieve better value for money, the balance of expenditure on planned as opposed to responsive maintenance will be increased. A target has been set of achieving a 75%/25% split in favour of planned maintenance by 31st March 2005.

15. Service aims and standards will be completed by April 2003 following workshops with the Tenants’ Panel. Targets and codes of practice will be developed in relation to specific contracts and, in particular, during the development of partnering arrangements for external decorations during 2003/04.

16. Following the approval of a new asbestos policy by the Executive on 1st May 2002, an implementation plan has been developed. Advice concerning the risks posed by asbestos is included in the tenants’ handbook.

17. Information on how the annual programme of planned works is developed has been included in the tenants’ newsletter and handbook. Recent feedback from tenants and leaseholders suggests that more specific information on the type and general location of works being carried out would be welcomed. The format for this is to be agreed with the Tenants’ Panel and leaseholders during 2003/04.

18. The implementation of the planned maintenance module of the Orchard computer system has been phased in during 2002/03. Details of planned maintenance works are now put on to the Orchard system so that all housing staff have direct access to the same information.

19. Customer satisfaction monitoring has been introduced for planned maintenance works. Systems to check whether appointments have been made and kept in relation to the servicing of gas appliances could not be introduced during the current contract but this will be done when the contract is renewed in June 2003.

20. Another important outcome of the Best Value review is the introduction of partnering arrangements for planned maintenance works. This will begin with a pilot contract for half of all external decorations in 2003/04.

Voids management

21. This is one of the areas where there has been most improvement in performance since the Best Value review. In 2001/02, it was taking, on average, 47 days to relet an empty dwelling. In the first two quarters of 2002/03, this had reduced to 25 days. This has been largely due to the rapid implementation of the most significant items included within the improvement plan.

22. A reletting standard has been introduced to ensure an efficient and consistent approach to repairs carried out whilst properties are vacant. The Assistant Director of Housing was given the responsibility of overseeing all aspects of voids management and to monitor progress in relation to all empty properties. Procedures have been streamlined to ensure as many actions as possible are carried out in parallel rather than consecutively.

Allocations & nominations

23. To provide a more strategic approach, it was considered more appropriate to tackle the development of service aims/standards at the same time as a revised allocations policy. A report on this was presented to the meeting in January 2003.

24. Work on developing a strategy for dealing with properties that are in low demand is ongoing on an area-by-area basis. A meeting was held with local community representatives in Cranleigh on 8th November 2002 to explain the imbalance in the supply of and demand for affordable housing in the area. Steps are now being taken to identify and draw up proposals for affected properties.

25. A more fundamental review of the allocations policy, including the introduction of an element of choice had been planned during 2002/03. However, it is now considered that tackling hard-to-let properties needs to take place first and its impact assessed before a choice-based approach can be considered as a realistic option.

26. Improving information about the service was another target arising from the Best Value review. A new leaflet about the allocations process is to be produced in 2003/04 after the revised allocations policy has been agreed. The first newsletter for housing applicants was published in October 2002 and an article is planned for the spring 2003 issue of The Link.

Conclusion

27. Good progress has been made generally in the implementation of the 2001/02 Housing Best Value improvement plans leading to increased customer focus and measurable service improvements.

Recommendation

That the Overview and Scrutiny Committee commends the Executive to:

1. note the progress in implementing the 2001/02 Housing Best Value improvement plans; and

2. approve the revisions set out in the Improvement Plans at Annexes 1 – 5 to the timetables for the remaining tasks.



Background Papers (DoH)

There are no background papers (as defined by Section 100D(5) of the Local Government Act 1972) relating to this report.

CONTACT OFFICER:

Name: David January, Director of Housing Telephone: 01483 869361
E-mail: djanuary@waverley.gov.uk












comms/O&S2/2002-03/077 34321