|The following letter is about the leaseholders recharges. The original document can be found on this link.
Many Thanks to Goldington TRA for their help on this matter.
Leaseholder Recharges Scrutiny Panel
Cllr Meric Apak (Chair) Labour
Cllr Sally Gimson Labour
Cllr Tom Simon Liberal Democrat
Cllr Jonny Bucknell Conservative
Cllr Paul Braithwaite Liberal Democrat (substitute member)
Dr Peter Wright Chair of the Leaseholders Forum (external expert)
I cannot help but speculate whether, before my time as a Councillor, my predecessors have been in this same position, aspiring to resolve leasehold related issues in council housing.
My personal aim through this scrutiny process has been to shine a torch on our failings as shown by the evidence we have collected, learn from this, and make recommendations to unravel this complex tangled mess which we seem to have allowed to fester.
Alas, for too long now we seem to have turned a blind eye to a culture which treats our leaseholders as second class residents – at least that’s the impression I get from my postbag. We need to accept that leasehold tenure in council housing is here to stay and that our leaseholders make a positive contribution to Camden.
Leaseholders are neither an irritating adjunct to council housing nor an ATM machine, and we need to differentiate the ordinary vast majority, from the minority who used the Right-to-Buy scheme for property speculation purposes.
We need to tap into Leaseholders’ knowledge and expertise to help Camden drive costs down, particularly in supervision and management. Services need, particularly in today’s straightened times, to provide value for money and to be comparable with those procured elsewhere in the marketplace, whilst complying with health and safety requirements. Not driving costs down can only result in unjustified charges to leaseholders which will not be recovered, which in turn can only be met by the Housing Revenue Account – thus pushing rents higher. So when we say leaseholders are “subsidised by tenants”, are we not highlighting our own failure?
We need to come up with ingenious methods to successfully engage with and meaningfully involve leaseholders (together with tenants) during the consultation process and convince them from the outset that this process will deliver a high quality service and value for money.
For this to work, there needs to be ‘buy-in’ from leaseholders that the survey and estimated cost of works to be done is worth the paper it’s written on. We then need to execute the agreed work, on time and to the agreed budget. This is obviously a simplification of what is needed – perhaps even a fanciful aspiration some might say.
Our success will be measured by how much culture change we can bring about throughout the officer ranks of the Council. We have a real opportunity to expand the ‘Right First Time’ philosophy, and to instill ‘buy-in’ for this concept right from the very junior member of staff to the most senior manager, and through to external providers and partners involved in delivering services to our leaseholders and tenants.
I would like to extend my thanks to the panel members for assisting me in this process. I would also like to say a special thanks to our Assistant Director Stuart Dilley, who agrees that there does need to be a culture change within the Council. Special thanks also to our committee clerk Vinothan Sangarapillai who has been instrumental in capturing the evidence through his diligent note taking.
But most of all, I am truly grateful to the many leaseholders for the large number of case studies that they have submitted to the Panel and took the time to describe the many harrowing experiences they have endured under the unsatisfactory historic arrangements – thank you.
Meric Apak – November 2012
Terms of Reference
1. The Committee has set up the working party named as “The Leaseholder Re-Charges Panel” (LCP) to complete a piece of time limited work i.e. a “Task”.
2. The task for the LCP will be to:
Explore the progress made implementing the recommendations of the previous panel set up in 2010,
Investigate the current re-charging process for all works and services, the object being to explore how re-charging can be delivered more efficiently with better value for money,
Examine the accounting and administration of service charges for tenants and leaseholders so as to ensure :-
o The maximum cost-effective recovery of costs the Council incurs;
o Residents have the maximum possible chances to access information that can be made available at minimum cost to satisfy them that costs charged to them have been reasonably incurred;
o Councillors, officers and residents regularly receive information allowing them to monitor costs incurred, the cost of managing those costs, and to compare the figures with other housing providers in the public and private sectors;
o The proper allocation of costs between residents, the Housing Revenue Account and the General Fund;
Consider implications of the findings and any recommendations with appropriate outside organisations if indicated (e.g. the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accounting, the Leasehold Advisory Service, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, and the Greater London Assembly scrutiny of leasehold service charges),
Consider implications of the findings and any recommendations for project management, procurement practices, finance management and internal audit within the Council,
Consider implications of the findings and any recommendations for joint monitoring by councillors and residents.
3. The makeup of voting council members on the LCP shall be proportional to the political makeup of the Council.
4. The LCP will be made up of at least four council members and one co-opted member serving on the committee. If the Committee has not any co-opted members this will not prevent panel from forming or working. The LCP shall have the power to appoint up to one ‘expert’ to advice the panel on leaseholder re-charging and value for money matters on works carried out to council owned buildings.
5. The LCP will submit progress reports to Committee meetings outlining works done to date and a plan of action of how it intends to progress further and conclude its work.
6. The LCP may at its discretion hold meetings, carry out fact finding visits, ask officers to provide information, and gather evidence in support of the task and within its specific terms of reference. Officers, stakeholders and outside organisations may be invited to attend the panel’s meetings to give evidence as required.
7. The LCP will aim to conclude its work in time for the scrutiny committee meeting on 28th November 2012 with recommendations to be considered for submission to the Cabinet or Cabinet Member for Housing.
8. Working parties shall agree to be bound by the Council’s code of conduct and the Committee’s terms of reference, and agree to work to the mandated task and work programme set out by the committee and report back to the committee their findings and recommendations within agreed deadlines.
9. The LCP will agree to service their own work and subject to resources being available working parties will welcome clerking of its meetings by Committee Services. The Chair of the panel will have the responsibility of writing the panel’s report which will reflect a consensus view of the panel where possible, or a majority view. The Chair will present the report to the Committee and ask that it is formally adopted by the committee who shall ask officers to formally submit their response to the following meeting of the committee.
10. If more than one working party is set up at any one time, each working party will be expected to coordinate their efforts with others to avoid duplication. In particular when asking officers for further information, working parties will be expected to work together on cross cutting issues and share information as much as possible.
Chair and Membership (4 councillors + 1 co-opted member):
Membership of the panel shall be 2 Labour (Councillors Meric Apak and Sally Gimson), 1 Conservative (Councillor Jonny Bucknell), 1 Liberal Democrat (Councillor Nancy Jirira), and 1 co-opted committee member (Mohammed Mukider Rahaman).
Councillor Meric Apak to be the chair of the panel.