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Meeting of the Community Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 10/09/2002
RESOURCE IMPLICATIONS OF FUTURE HOUSING SERVICE REVIEWS
AND IMPLEMENTATION OF IMPROVEMENT PLANS



This report identifies the resource implications for the Housing Service of continuing the programme of service reviews, implementation of improvements and the introduction of the Comprehensive Performance Assessment. It recommends the creation of a new permanent Housing Policy and Performance Assistant post to support the ongoing implementation of service improvements. This would replace the temporary post which is due to expire in March 2003. The resource implications are set out in the report. There are no Crime and Disorder, Human Rights or ‘Opportunities for All’ implications arising from this report.
APPENDIX G

WAVERLEY BOROUGH COUNCIL

COMMUNITY OVERVIEW AND SCRUTINY COMMITTEE
10TH SEPTEMBER 2002

Title:
RESOURCE IMPLICATIONS OF FUTURE HOUSING SERVICE REVIEWS
AND IMPLEMENTATION OF IMPROVEMENT PLANS

[Wards Affected: N/A]

Summary and Purpose

This report identifies the resource implications for the Housing Service of continuing the programme of service reviews, implementation of improvements and the introduction of the Comprehensive Performance Assessment. It recommends the creation of a new permanent Housing Policy and Performance Assistant post to support the ongoing implementation of service improvements. This would replace the temporary post which is due to expire in March 2003. The resource implications are set out in the report. There are no Crime and Disorder, Human Rights or ‘Opportunities for All’ implications arising from this report.

Introduction

1. At its meeting on 22nd October 2000, the then Policy and Resources Committee agreed to the creation of a two-year, full-time Housing Policy and Research Assistant post to assist with the programme of Housing Best Value fundamental service reviews. As anticipated, this has reduced the impact on operational staff whose service areas have been subject to review by relieving them of the research, investigation and analysis work required. It has therefore enabled reviews to take place without any reduction in the availability or quality of services provided to our customers. This approach has provided the added and valuable bonus of an ‘objective’ appraisal of services by staff not directly involved in their provision. The role of this post in supporting the implementation of improvements is set to be increasingly important in helping to sustain future service developments.

Programme of service reviews

2. The Executive approved changes to the programme of Housing service reviews at its meeting on 4th December 2001. The revised programme brought together related services so that reviews would be more strategic, in line with Audit Commission guidance. This meant increasing the scope and therefore the work involved in the reviews taking place in Year 2 (2001/02) to Year 4 (2003/04) of the five-year programme. However, it also meant that the first cycle of all Housing Department service reviews would be completed by the end of Year 4 instead of Year 5 (2004/05) so that necessary improvements could be identified and implemented more quickly.


3. In the current year reviews are taking place into:

Homelessness and Housing Advice
Right to Buy and Service Charges
Tenant Involvement and Tenancy Management
Rent Arrears Recovery

4. It would not have been possible to carry out the expanded programme of service reviews in 2001/02 or in the current year without the contribution of the Housing Policy and Research Assistant. Indeed, when the previous postholder left in September 2001, a consultant had to be engaged to assist with the tasks remaining to complete the reviews until the post was filled.

5. The current programme anticipates that in 2003/04 the following areas will be reviewed:

Housing Strategy/Enabling (including identifying housing needs)
Fully Sheltered Housing Service
Service provided to elderly tenants by Community Housing Officers
Careline Service
Day Centres for the Elderly
Community Care

6. It will not be possible to review all the above service areas without additional support equivalent to that currently provided by the Housing Policy and Research Assistant. Although a consultant could be engaged to assist with the reviews a contract of this duration would be likely to prove prohibitively expensive. Experience has also shown that it can be difficult to identify and isolate appropriate tasks that a consultant can carry out during reviews. What is needed is someone who can play a hands-on role, acting as a flexible and integral resource assisting the reviews in a very practical sense.

Implications of changes to Best Value regime and introduction of the Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA)

7. Changes to the Best Value regime mean that it is no longer a statutory requirement to complete fundamental service reviews in a five-year cycle. It could be argued that the Housing Department’s remaining service reviews could be extended over a longer period which would have the effect of diluting the resources required to carry them out. However, this would also potentially delay the identification and implementation of service improvements.

8. Although some aspects of the application of CPA to District Councils are not finalised it is clear that judgements about housing services will form an important element of the overall assessment of the Council by the Audit Commission. Those judgements will be based on a range of factors including the results of inspection.

9. An Audit Commission inspection had been expected to follow shortly after the completion of the 2001/02 housing service reviews but this has not yet taken place nor has it yet been programmed. However, given the broad range and scope of housing service reviews that have already been carried out and are currently in progress it is likely that the Audit Commission inspection, when it does take place, will be comprehensive in nature.

10. Experience of Audit Commission inspections by other services within the Council has shown there is considerable work involved in preparing for an inspection, co-ordinating activities while the inspectors are on site, responding to their findings and following-up their report. It is proposed that the new Housing Policy and Performance Assistant post would assist in this work in order to minimise any disruption of front-line services.

11. Judgements made about authorities’ performance management systems and the ‘scoring’ of performance indicators will also feature strongly in CPA. Much work has already been done to establish systems to produce performance data within the housing service including a recent review of all the local performance indicators. However, there is a growing requirement for further analysis of performance data and the implications of performance trends.

12. Another positive development for the Housing service has been joining ‘Housemark’’ an on-line information and benchmarking service for social landlords. This is an excellent tool that provides local authorities and housing associations with the opportunity to compare their housing services with each other on an ongoing basis as regards costs, performance and processes. However, this is only possible after a detailed annual data collection exercise.

13. Engaging in the kind of work described in paragraphs 11 and 12 above is considered to be a worthwhile investment of staff resources as it helps bring about improvements in services. However, it is not usually practicable for operational staff to carry out or co-ordinate these activities. It is therefore proposed that the new Housing Policy and Performance Assistant post would assist in this area.

Supporting service improvements in the longer term

14. Although Best Value reviews have been criticised for being too bureaucratic they have provided the opportunity and mechanism for a systematic examination of services from a customer perspective. Operational staff are often too busy with the day-to-day tasks of providing services to carry out the research and analysis required to identify and implement improvements, particularly if they affect more than one service area.

15. The first cycle of Housing service reviews is due to be completed by 31st March 2004. Although detailed proposals have yet to be drawn up, it is anticipated that it will be necessary to carry out some follow-up reviews and monitor the Improvement Plans, especially if the first review identified significant weaknesses.

16. The current Housing Policy and Research Assistant post has been focused on identifying improvements required in services as a result of reviews. As the number, range and complexity of improvements identified increases there is a growing need to ensure that progress towards achieving Improvement Plan targets is closely monitored. This is matched by the need for increased support for operational staff in the implementation of improvements, particularly where these have implications for more than one service area. An example of this occurred following the 2001/02 service reviews which identified the need for improvements in complaints handling, monitoring and analysis within the Housing Department. The work involved in developing the new policy and process and co-ordinating its implementation was carried out by the Housing Policy and Performance Officer. This proved to be a valuable contribution, illustrating how Housing Policy staff can help to speed up the introduction of improvements. The broadening of their roles is therefore likely to have long term benefits to housing services.

17. It is therefore proposed that the temporary post of Housing Policy and Research Assistant should be made permanent. The post would be re-titled Housing Policy and Performance Assistant and job description changed to recognise the shift in emphasis from Best Value service reviews to a more general role of supporting improvement initiatives and their implementation.

Cost implications

18 Provision already exists in the staffing budget of the Housing Revenue Account for the temporary post. The cost of the post in the current year is likely to be 25,496 inclusive of employer’s on costs.

19. The above cost estimate is subject to the evaluation of the revised job description.

Conclusion

20. Additional resources are required to complete the planned programme of service reviews, provide support to operational staff to implement improvements in services and minimise disruption resulting from inspections by the Audit Commission. The development of the CPA and the inclusion within it of the housing service as one of the service blocks means that housing services will continue to feature prominently over the coming years.

Recommendation

That this Committee agrees any observations to be forwarded to the Executive on the recommendations that:

1. the resource implications for the Housing Department of continuing the programme of service reviews, implementation of improvements and the introduction of Comprehensive Performance Assessment should be noted; 2. the temporary Housing Policy and Research Assistant post within the Housing Department should be made permanent and re-titled Housing Policy and Performance Assistant; and

3. no additional budget provision is required in the 2002/03 Housing Revenue Account budget, but appropriate provision be made in the staffing budget estimates for 2003/04 and thereafter.
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Background Papers (DoH)

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

Name: David January Telephone: 01483 523361
Email: djanuary@Waverley.gov.uk

comms/o&s2/2002/03/034