Council homes new era

Council Housing returns to the control of Sheffield City Council'Views of Council Housing at Parson Cross
Council Housing returns to the control of Sheffield City Council'Views of Council Housing at Parson Cross

SHEFFIELD’S 42,000 council tenants will enter a new era from April 2014 when day-to-day housing management returns to the authority.

They voted overwhelmingly for the council to resume direct control of their homes and estates after eight years in the hands of Sheffield Homes, an arm’s length management organisation kniown as an Almo.

Of the 55% of tenants who voted, 88% wanted the change.

“I felt tenants would support coming back to the council but the margin of difference in the vote surprised me. I didn’t expect it to be that high,” said Coun Harry Harpham, cabinet member for homes and regeneration. “It clearly shows we are on the same wavelength as the tenants.”

While the council remained in overall control, Sheffield Homes took over daily management in 2004 with the advantage of being able to secure more than £700m from the Government for the Decent Homes programme.

Following the ballot, which was conducted independently by Electoral Reform Services with a budget of £400,000, the council says its priority will be to involve as many tenants as possible in shaping the housing service.

Sheffield Homes, which has won a top rating from the Audit Commission for the last three years and earned several independent awards, will now work with the council before the formal handover.

During the interim, one of the targets will be install central heating in the 1,600 homes that do not have it.

The council believes returning management in-house will save £1.2m in running costs – money that it has to commit to housing services – partly as result of a reduction in some top-level management posts and ‘back office’ roles. Most of Sheffield Homes’ 1,000 staff – many of whom worked for the council before the firm was set up – will return to the local authority.

Coun Harpham said Sheffield Homes had done a “great job” over the last eight years but he thought the system would be more democratic back under the council’s one roof.

“I prefer to see it as a big vote of confidence in the council rather than a rejection of the Almo.”

June Smith, who chairs the Flower Estate Community Association in Wincobank, said: “We feel safer with the council managing our homes.

“Under Sheffield Homes, councillors had less influence and less work seemed to be done maintaining our area.”