Headlines: May 10th, 2004

A number of organisations representing local government have joined forces to call on the government to ensure authorities have enough money to pay for improvements needed to meet the Decent Homes Standard in areas where tenants vote for their local council to keep its housing stock following the stock options appraisal process.Under present proposals there are only three options available for raising additional cash for repairs and modernisation. The coalition of public bodies is backing a so-called ‘fourth option’ that would create a level playing field by expanding the choice for councils who need funding to improve their housing.

The coalition includes the Local Government Association, the public service union UNISON, the Association of Public Service Excellence and the Local Government Information Unit. It has welcomed a recommendation in a new report from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister select committee that further options for local authorities to meet the decent homes standard should be explored.

The present options are for residents to vote to transfer council housing to a housing association, the use of Private Finance Initiatives to raise cash for limited improvements such as for new windows or kitchens. The third option – for the creation of an arms length management organisation to deliver improvements to housing stock and management – is available only to top-performing councils. Although new borrowing powers for housing came into effect last month, improvements to meet the Decent Homes Standard will have to be paid for from councils’ own resources.

UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis, said the government had made a commitment to give all council tenants a decent home by 2010, but it seemed now as though that promise had been abandoned. Tenants who voted to stay with their local councils should not be penalised but should have the right to stay with the council and have their homes improved with an investment allowance. LGA chairman Sir Jeremy Beecham said they were keen to discuss with ministers how they could expand on prudential borrowing and the existing three options to explore further means by which councils could meet the Decent Homes Standard.