Sheffield Homes staff jobs at risk

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HUNDREDS of Sheffield Homes staff are facing redundancy after council officers recommended the award-winning housing management firm is wound up a year earlier than planned.

Sheffield Council cabinet member for housing, deputy leader Coun Harry Harpham, told The Star he could give ‘no guarantees’ about whether jobs are safe in any departments within the company.

The organisation’s 1,100 employees include groundsmen who clear litter, cut grass and clean estates, neighbourhood wardens, tenancy workers and debt support workers.

The company - which manages 43,000 properties citywide, with an annual operating cost of around £38 million a year - is having its roles taken back under council control after a ballot of tenants held earlier this year.

The original plan was to wind up Sheffield Homes in 2014.

But a letter from Coun Harpham, being sent out to tenants’ and residents’ associations this week, says the ‘preferred option’ is now to bring the date forward to next April - a year early.

One worried Sheffield Homes worker said: “The whole thing has left staff fearing for their future.

“The council says it will transfer staff to save a lot of money and Sheffield Homes’ biggest cost is wages. The council wants to start cutting jobs or conditions a year early.”

Coun Harry Harpham told The Star: “We cannot give any guarantees to any Sheffield Homes staff.

“We have not yet worked out how many jobs will be lost or what departments will have redundancies. We are just in the process of starting a project to transfer the staff over.

“A decision has not yet been made on whether Sheffield Homes will be merged into the council in 2013.”

Chief executive Peter Morton is understood to be in the process of taking early retirement from Sheffield Homes, and Director of Customer Service Janet Parry will take early retirement in August.

The worried worker said: “Management jobs will be in the firing line because there is duplication with council managers, but we have been given no reassurance about other jobs either.

“Winding it up will cost the council money in redundancies, moving staff between buildings, and rebranding.”

Coun Harpham declined to comment about the departure of Mr Morton or Ms Parry. He also said a decision has not yet been taken on whether to remove the Sheffield Homes brand and what the cost would be.

A ‘final decision’ on the proposed early transfer will be made next month at a meeting of a project board being set up to oversee the reintegration of Sheffield Homes with the council.

The board will include three tenants, including two Sheffield Homes tenant board members, but there are no plans to allow the 42,000 residents living in Sheffield Homes properties to vote on who should take the places.

The worker claimed tenants balloted on whether to return housing to council control were ‘misled’ - because council officers banned Sheffield Homes from promoting itself, whereas he claimed the council spent a portion of a £400,000 consultation budget on ‘telephone canvassing’ and marketing for its preferred option - a claim that was denied by Coun Harpham.

Eighty eight per cent voted in favour of council management, on a 55 per cent turnout.

Coun Harpham confirmed: “We spent £400,000 on consultation. Some of that was spent on making phone calls to tenants but these were to check they had their ballot papers.

“People cannot argue with the overwhelming result on a turnout similar to a general election.”

Maintenance of council homes is provided by subcontractor Kier and is unaffected.