More than 110 tenants who have chosen to stick with
their council as their landlord met on 13 May 2010 for their fourth
annual conference. Birmingham City Council, the largest stock
retained authority in England, hosted the event.
ARCH is a cross party political body set up to fight for a
better deal for tenants who have chosen for their council to be
their landlord. ARCH has contributed to the review of the Housing
Revenue Account (HRA) Subsidy System, under which council rents are
paid into a national pot for redistributive purposes. ARCH has
called for a new local self-financing system. It will be responding
formally to proposals for reform, upon which consultation is
currently taking place.
The ARCH member authorities' tenants and residents showed their
continued support for stock retention when they got together at the
prestigious Banqueting Suite at Birmingham Council House.
The Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Cllr Michael Wilkes, officially
opened the event. Birmingham City Council has retained direct
ownership of around 68,000 properties following ballots among
tenants. He said: 'We are very positive about council housing
under Cllr John Lines and senior officers and tenants, with whom we
engage as much as possible.'
He said: 'These are crucial times for council housing so this
conference is very timely.'
Marlene Price, chair of ARCH tenants' sub-group and
resident representative on the ARCH executive board, said: 'As ARCH
grows, our voice as tenants and residents grows. ARCH now has 54
member authorities responsible for half a million properties. This
event shows the strength of feeling among people who live in local
authority homes that stock retention is the best option. It is the
only option based on genuine democratic accountability.'
Mrs Price described the work of ARCH to develop its tenant
governance structure to ensure the views of people who live in
local authority homes are heard. She explained how the ARCH
Tenant sub-group has been meeting for over a year now and has a
healthy list of attendees. She said: 'The sub-group was
integral in the planning of today's event, both the agenda and
speakers attending. We successfully elected Jennifer Holmes as the
vice-chair of the group at our last meeting in March. We will both
now be able to attend the ARCH Executive meetings and feed back to
our members - providing an important link between the executive and
She also described how information on ARCH is available via the
ARCH website, which has a specific members' area, newsletters,
briefings and the annual reports. ARCH encourages the sharing of
information and is keen to gather tenants' and residents'
Mrs Price outlined the 'significant issues' facing stock
retaining landlords to be covered during the day's conference. 'Top
of the list is the housing finance review and how it affects
tenants. Next is building new council houses. How easy is it to do,
will councils have capacity to do it on a scale that could have an
actual impact on waiting lists?'
She added: 'We are entering a time of political change with the
first formal Coalition government in 70 years. It is therefore
likely that there will be some change in the world of local
authority housing. ARCH will be keeping a close eye on all changes
happening in central government and ensuring that ARCH's point of
view is conveyed in the strongest terms possible. We as residents
also have a role to play in ensuring that our views are also
conveyed to central government.'
Cllr Milan Radulovic,
ARCH'S national chair and housing portfolio holder at Broxtowe BC,
told the conference: 'Direct ownership and management of council
housing means direct democratic accountability. That ability to
influence the home in which you live and the service you receive is
undoubtedly part of the reason more than one million of you have
chosen to stick with the council as your landlord - despite the
odds being stacked against local authorities in ways in which we
are all only too familiar.
'That faith tenants have placed in their council by choosing to
stick with their local authority landlord has not been misplaced. A
recent report by the public spending watchdog, the Public Accounts
Committee, showed that retained stock councils have managed to meet
Decent Homes standards at a fraction of the cost of other housing
providers. ARCH's research report Under One Roof also demonstrates that having
your council as a landlord means housing is more effectively linked
to a whole host of other priorities and services that make
individuals' lives and entire communities - tick. Retained
council housing has vital links with health, education,
environment, economy, transport, social care, youth services and
better, cleaner neighbourhoods free of anti-social behaviour to
name but a few vital services', he said.
Cllr Radulovic described how ARCH has been successful continuing
to raise the profile of council housing since the last tenants' and
residents' conference and will push for opportunities to build upon
the organisation's and the sector's achievements in the year
ahead. He added: 'ARCH made sure tenants' and residents'
views were taken into account as it developed its official
submissions to the review of the housing finance system. We hope
that the new Parliament will listen to one million tenants who have
chosen for their local authority to be their landlord and give us
the fairer funding system we have been campaigning for.'
Cllr Radulovic concluded: 'As a nation, we now have a new
Government and we wait to see what the future holds for stock
retained councils. One thing is for sure. ARCH will continue to do
its utmost to fight for a better deal for its tenants and
Birmingham City Council's cabinet member for housing, Cllr John
Lines, commented: 'As you know, we all have something in common -
retained council housing. I am proud of the tradition of council
housing in this city.' He thanked ARCH tenants' sub-group member
Jim Nicholl in particular, for the hard work he put in to make the
Cllr Lines continuted: 'Tenants in Birmingham made it very clear
on a number of occasions that they wanted to remain with the
council as their landlord. I gave a commitment to improve their
homes to the decent homes standard and I am proud that we have been
able to exceed the government's target by what is known in this
city as 'Birmingham's Fourth Option. Not only that but we have
started the largest building of council homes across the city in
three decades, through the Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust with
a plan to build 500 new homes a year, and yes, these new homes will
be managed by the council.'
He commented on why his authority joined ARCH: 'We joined ARCH
to work alongside other retained stock authorities to lobby the
government for a change in the biased and unfair subsidy system and
to pursue other matters of which we share a common interest. With
this in mind I am pleased to welcome you to this conference to
further our cause.
'Tenants are at the heart of all we do in Birmingham and will
continue to be the driving force of service improvements and
developments in housing for many, many years to come I hope…I am
sure many tenants here from other authorities have experiences of
being involved and making a real difference to services, their
homes and neighbourhoods in which they live.'
ARCH's secretary John Bibby, director of housing and community
services at Lincoln City Council, reflected on the association's
history and future. He described how his authority and small number
of others such as Broxtowe BC, Exeter City Council and the London
Borough of Wandsworth, initially came together following stock
option appraisals as there was no additional money to meet Decent
Homes standards. 'It was clear we had to live on the budget
we had. It seemed to us as directors and councillors that nobody
was speaking up as a unified voice for the sector. From that
initial series of meetings we have grown into the organisation we
He continued: 'As a
relatively new organisation, we are not perfect and have plans to
develop and more forward. Having attended several of these annual
conferences there is still a need for a voice for council housing
and the stock retained sector.'
Mr Bibby described progress on housing finance reform: 'We have
been campaigning for reform. We felt that was not a level playing
field. We started arguing on your behalf for a level playing field.
A lot of officers and elected members have been represented on
working groups and that culminated in the offer currently on the
table for reform of the housing finance system. There is a closing
date of 6th July for a response to that offer.'
He urged the sector to continue to argue for reforms under the
new Coalition government. 'We have the tantalising prospect of
reform of housing finance. We need to make sure that, in dealing
with the overall national debt, that council housing does not lose
out. We are continuing to argue the case for a more sustainable
future for council housing.'
'Make sure you express your views as tenants and residents about
the future of council housing,' he urged delegates. 'When we set up
ARCH we wanted to make sure we had a tenant voice. This is the
fourth annual conference. What is encouraging is both the
increasing numbers and the quality of the debate that has taken
place over the years.'
Consultant Graham Martin led a useful session on reform of the
HRA. He explained how under the proposed settlement, a total debt
of £18bn means an average of £7,000 per home. Each council will
carry out an exercise to prepare a 30 year financial business plan
taking into account all income, expenses and investment. He said:
'All control will be with the council, which will be better able to
plan and have more money to invest in housing.' While the trade off
is that councils will need to take on debt, the typical council
will be able to repay debt after 20 years. 'The reason for transfer
disappear. Councils get at least 10% more to spend a year than at
present,' he said.
Tenants and residents from stock retained authorities raised key
questions and shared their opinions on HRA proposals during the
One tenant asked about protection from putting council rents up to
prop up other council services under a new finance regime.
Graham Martin responded that this is something to include in
ARCH's feedback on the consultation.
Another commented that they would want the HRA ring-fence to
remain so that housing revenue is targeted at housing.
Tenant sub-group member, Alison Moore from Exeter City Council,
asked: 'If we were to take on the debt for the HRA, can we search
for lower rates of interest or do we have to borrow from the
Martin replied: 'I understand there can be a range of sources but
there are proposals in the consultation paper to deal with how
interest rates are charged between the housing revenue account debt
charges and general fund debt charges"
Some tenants expressed anxiety about taking on debt. As one
commented: 'We have worked hard to get rid of the debt and would be
opposed to further burdens.'
A Southwark resident pointed out that the position for councils
such as his who appeared to be losing out under the proposals and
that this needed careful consideration: 'We have a £800m investment
gap. Under the offer being made we understand that we will be left
with £390m debt and it is going to cripple us. We will not be able
to pay that off in 20 years.'
ARCH's secretary John Bibby responded: 'What we are being offered
is the chance to buy ourselves out of the subsidy system to be able
to keep your rents. The executive will consult further with its
members before making the official ARCH response to the HRA
proposals by 6th July. We brought housing and finance officers from
member authorities together last week to discuss a collective
response. For authorities such as Southwark, and there are about
half a dozen of them, there is perhaps an argument that ARCH needs
to make about making some special dispensation and we will come to
a view on that. We will be running a series of consultations for
the ARCH member authorities. We are trying as an association to get
an overall picture and respond to the general position.'
ARCH will look to produce a specific briefing on the HRA reforms
for tenants and tenants organisations.
Cllr Radulovic urged delegates to ask for a meeting with their
elected members and officers to ask about the impact of proposals
in their own particular circumstances: 'The figures we have seen,
with small number of exceptions, show the vast councils would have
more at their disposal than if the current system carried on. You
need to go back and talk to your own officers and elected members
about how it would affect you.'
Alan Hill, Lewes DC tenant, raised the question of who would be
monitoring local authority finances under a self-financing
Mr Martin replied that how council housing departments will be
governed is one of the issues that is up for discussion in the
consultation: 'How do tenants get a formal say in the process is
one of the issues. Tenants need support to examine whether your are
finances being run properly - in my experience, tenants can grasp
it quickly but need training.'
Jennifer Holmes of West Lancashire DC, vice chair of ARCH tenants
sub-group, who sits on the TSA tenants' panel, advised: 'There is
training out there. I have been on a course to become a tenant
inspector. There could be scrutiny committees. This is the first
time tenants have been able to get involved in setting what they
want. Go back through your tenant participation officer and ask
them when they are going to get help to set standards for what we
want as tenants.'
Tenants from Stoke on Trent City Council told the authority they
had employed a consultant to check finances and, following this
experience, have since been travelling the country talking about
their involvement to other authorities, they commented.
Delegates at the ARCH annual tenants' and residents' conference
2010 also heard from Brindha Nathan, domain policy manager at
the Tenant Services Authority (TSA). She described how TSA has been
regulating council housing as of 1st April.
TSA's aims are: 'A fair deal for tenants, protecting the taxpayer
and to deliver a modern and effective way of regulating.' She said:
'The new regime focuses on the relationship between tenants and
their landlords and ensuring a two way conversation is happening,
this is what we call co-regulation and moving away from the
traditional relationship between the landlord and regulator.'
She said standards are outcome-focused. 'We are asking tenants to
talk to their councils. Tenants in different local areas may have
different priorities and must talk to their landlords about
creating local offers.'
Other speakers included Kofi Ackah of Birmingham City Council, who
explained how his authority had addressed rent arrears in a
Tenant and leaseholder participation compact
manager, Ross Lambert, collected the ARCH Green Efficiencies Award
2010 on behalf of Southwark Council.
Tenant Michael Hewlett colleted the ARCH Tenant Participation
Award 2010 on behalf of Croydon Council.
Announcing the winning Southwark entry, presented by John Bibby,
Marlene Price commented:
'ARCH commends Southwark as the Green Efficiency Award winner for
its initiative to insulation wall cavities. A lot of council
buildings are high rise and have cavities that if they try to
insulate to make homes warmer and improve fuel efficiency this
means putting scaffolding up, which makes the area look unsightly
and is costly. This innovation means this council can to fill the
cavity in the high rise without the need for lots of scaffolding.
This has enabled energy costs and save lighting and heating costs
by at least £50 per year.
Announcing the winning Croydon entry, presented by John Bibby,
Marlene Price commented:
'ARCH commends Croydon as the Tenant Participation Award winner
for measures including; taking part in the development of the
national resident involvement champions; organising and hosting
learning exchanges attended by 80 delegates; and involvement in
capital programmes, environmental improvements, youth provision and
selection of contractors. Croydon has reviewed the effectiveness of
all participation activities and details outputs, outcomes and
value for money to ensure the most effective and efficient methods
ARCH recently published Under One Roof: The holistic benefits of retained
council housing, which outlines the result of research
demonstrating the added value local authority direct ownership and
management of housing brings in terms of meeting local government's
wider goals and joining up service delivery. The results of the
research were discussed at a workshop during the conference.
Tenants gave feedback that they had found the event most
useful, but that they would like more opportunity for this open
forum style debate and to hear more from tenants in other
authorities at next year's conference. John Bibby assured them this
was possible and said: 'At the next annual conference it would be
helpful if tenants themselves were able to come forward to run
sessions about what is happening in your authority and learn from
each other". Other comments included that not all tenants have easy
access to the internet and that information needs to be available
in a variety of formats.