Stevenage council housing under review

Stevenage Borough Council is considering taking back control of its housing stock from the independent company that has run it for five years.

The authority is examining whether its almost 10,000 rented homes should be controlled directly by the council rather than Stevenage Homes – the so-called arms length management organisation (ALMO) it owns.

The company, which employs 270 people based at the council’s offices on Danestrete, has managed all aspects of the housing stock since 2006. It was rated as providing a ‘good’ service by a government Audit Commission inspection in 2009.

The management review comes after the government removed the need for councils to have an ALMO in order to get funding to improve their housing.

A steering group including councillors, council staff, tenant representatives and members of Stevenage Homes’ board has been set up to look into the issue, while the independent Chartered Institute of Housing has been asked to make a report on the options available.

Leader of the council, Sharon Taylor, said the review was the right thing to do to get the best deal for tenants.

“I think it’s always right to respond periodically to consider we are getting best value for money for our tenants and have a look and see if there’s anything we might be able to do in a better way.

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“Our funding position has changed dramatically. We need to be consistently reconsidering. Part of the process is reconsidering how things are run and housing is no different.

“The aim of all of us is to deliver a first class housing service for tenants. Working closely with the tenants to determine the kind of service they want. Are there things we could be doing that better meet their needs? Or things that we are doing that don’t need doing anymore?”

She added that if a decision was made to bring housing stock back within a council department, the authority would not want to lose staff expertise.

“At the moment we are just in a review process. We have learnt a huge amount through this process (with Stevenage Homes). We wouldn’t want to lose the considerable knowledge and experience staff have. Should that be the outcome of the review I think there would be a smooth transition from one to the other.”

Lorraine O’Brien, chief executive of Stevenage Homes, said the company was “proud to have delivered a high quality, value for money housing service for Stevenage”.

She added: “We are committed to providing tenants and leaseholders with the best possible service, which is why we are working in partnership with Stevenage Borough Council to review the way that housing services are managed in the town.”

All tenants in the town have been notified of the review and will be kept informed of developments, Ann Webb, council executive member for housing, said.