John Biggs, Labour Party candidate for Mayor of Tower Hamlets, has made a bold proposal to scrap the Council’s discredited 'arms length management organisation' (ALMO), Tower Hamlets Homes (THH), that manages the Council's homes and bring management of the council’s housing stock back into the Council.
This would save money and make it clear that responsibility belongs with the Council, improving accountability.
Although good in places, THH has struggled to provide the consistent quality of service tenants and leaseholders deserve and the current Mayor has exacerbated the challenges the organisation faces by meddling with THH management and decision making while failing to provide the leadership required to improve the situation.
Residents, leaseholders and housing experts agree that something has to change at Tower Hamlets Homes and John’s proposal, which would be put out for consultation, would directly respond to concerns about rising leaseholder charges, poor repair and maintenance performance, mismanagement, a lack of accountability and residents with no power to influence decisions that affect them.
The priority of any John Biggs led Labour Council would be improving service and value for money for residents. There are several key benefits to bringing the service under direct council control. These include:
- Reduced costs to residents and leaseholders
- Improved repairs and maintenance
- Assembling a strong management team with a clear governance structure and focus on service delivery and not running a company separate from the council
- Making the service answerable to residents both through the Council's democracy and a strong tenants and leaseholders consultative framework
Under John’s plan, one of the highest priorities would be to ensure job security and a better motivated workforce as a result of changes – savings would be made through absorbing THH back office functions into the local authority.
As noted during the Full Council meeting in November 2013, leaseholder charges are not under control, with leasehold owners regularly being charged for services they haven’t received, and regular increases above inflation. And management is in disarray with Tower Hamlets Homes Chair Barry Simons recently forced to resign after bullying and inappropriate behaviour from the current Mayor’s right hand man Cllr Alibor Choudhury.
A number of local authorities including close neighbours Islington and Newham have scrapped their housing ALMOs and brought the service in house. In Islington the move was estimated to result in a cost saving of as much as £1.5 million.
John Biggs today said:
“Tower Hamlets Homes tenants and leaseholders deserve better. As the Decent Homes programme comes to an end we need a fresh start, full transparency, resident oversight and refocusing management on achieving the best deal for residents. And I believe we can give residents real savings and a real voice in the running of the organisation. I think that ending the current arrangement is the right way to go - other councils have already done this - although I will of course consult with residents and staff and our financial planners to make sure this is absolutely the right way for us.
"There are many committed people working at Tower Hamlets Homes that deserve a Mayor and a council that supports their efforts and don’t take every opportunity to undermine them and bully their management. If I’m Mayor I’ll take tough decisions like this on behalf of tenants and leaseholders that will make a real difference in their lives.”
Jim Fitzpatrick, MP for Poplar and Limehouse, said:
“Housing is the biggest issue in Tower Hamlets. This idea shows John Biggs will give it the focus and leadership it needs.”
Cllr Sirajul Islam, Leader of Tower Hamlets Labour Group, said:
“With housing costs remaining a major issue for residents it is clear the current system isn't working. Tower Hamlets Homes has faced serious criticisms from residents who feel let down by the unending increases in THH charges, and recent changes in services.
“This is a bold proposal from John Biggs which would give the council the power to make the changes everyone wants to see. One things for sure, it's a breath of fresh air after nearly four years of Lutfur Rahman's complacency in the face of THH's soaring costs and worsening service.”