Stoke-on-Trent City Council has been commended for making notable improvements within a short space of time to its housing and customer services provision.
The authority proactively commissioned an independent ‘health check’ into its role as a landlord and housing provider in 2016 to ensure it was providing the highest possible standards.
The report highlighted a number of positive developments that had taken place over the preceding 12-month period and also some areas for improvement, which were incorporated into an action plan.
An independent re-inspection of the housing and customer services provision took place in February this year and found a transformational improvement had been made.
These improvements included:
- a new staffing structure, which has resulted in greater clarity of roles, responsibilities, accountability and costs.
- the successful transfer of all housing repairs and maintenance services to Unitas, with no negative impact on residents and which has also provided local contractors with work – keeping the Stoke pound in the city.
- the creation of Fortior Homes to meet the growing housing demand in Stoke-on-Trent.
- the start of a programme of building new, affordable homes.
- a four-year investment programme for the city council’s housing stock.
- a new and revised policy framework, involving consultation with stakeholders and followed up with staff training and briefing sessions.
- a readiness to embrace new challenges, for example the recent Homelessness Reduction Act and the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation.
- a focussed accountability for performance, with a reporting framework that provides a comprehensive overview of performance and achievements.
A number of positive measurable outcomes during the first six months of 2017/18 were also highlighted in the re-inspection report, including:
- strong leadership from members and officers, enabling the rapid and effective transformation of the service
- one hundred per cent of homes had a valid gas safety certificate
- the proportion of homes with electrical test certificates less than ten years old was increased from 99.53 per cent to 99.99 per cent
- average re-let times for all voids reduced from 53.6 days to 39.9 days
- achieving repairs appointments within agreed time slots improved from 63 per cent to 95 per cent
- the number of void properties incurring rental losses was reduced from 407 in the previous six months to 174 by December 2017, resulting in a reduction in weekly rent loss
- compared with 106 homes in the previous six months, 200 empty properties were brought back in use by the council’s empty homes team
- the city council has achieved the Bronze Award for the Gold Challenge for the homelessness service
- stronger approaches to supporting tenants with rent arrears
- improved customer service, enabling people to contact the council in a different way. This has seen an increase in email correspondence and website transactions in the first six months of 2017/18
- shortlisted for the UK Housing Awards 2018 as a ‘Strategic local authority of the year’ for its approach to meeting housing needs
- acknowledgement that the direction of travel for further improvements is ‘excellent’
Council leader Councillor Dave Conway said: “I’m very pleased with this independent re-inspection report, which has highlighted the speed at which these transformational changes have taken place – and what we can achieve if this progress continues.
“When I became leader of the council I was very clear about my vision for housing and customer services and the changes that needed to be made. The authority proactively commissioned an independent inspection of these services to allow us to better understand what is working well and what needs to be improved. We wanted to make a real difference to residents’ lives, and had spent a great deal of time listening to their needs and suggestions.
“Areas of improvement were highlighted and addressed, and the independent re-inspection has shown us that we have made huge progress. We have shown strong leadership – from both members and officers – and will continue to strive towards the best possible service we can offer our residents.
“The improvement journey has been speedy and effective, and could not have been achieved without the hard work and dedication of all those involved. We are determined to continue to further improve the service delivery to our residents.”
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