Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Council serves up a dog's dinner

The Housing Revenue Account is meant to be spent on improving council housing and its environment. It's made up of tenants' rents and Assembly grants for major repairs and is separate from the rest of the council's income. Wrecsam Council allocates about £800,000 a year from this budget for environmental improvements across the borough.

Today's Housing scrutiny committee discussed the environmental improvement budget that each councillor is allocated according to the amount of council houses in their ward.

The budget has, up until now, been spent on a variety of projects such as off-street parking, landscaping and play areas on council estates as well as alley gating and new security doors for flats. With many of these, both tenants and private residents benefit.

At the meeting I argued that the criteria should be tightened for the sake of clarity to ensure that tenants benefit from the money they spend and that this should be introduced in the next financial year (2010-11) rather than mid-way through a financial year when some schemes have already been planned and allocated. In the mean time, the existing arrangements should be permitted.

Cllr Carrie Harper, who sits on the committee, proposed this formally but failed to get a seconder.

After the meeting she said: "No officer or member of the committee could provide a rational, or in fact any, explanation at all for the change of rules only applying to play areas and not other schemes, yet they still refused to second the motion to take it out, the reasoning for which was explained clearly. When these recommendations originally came to scrutiny, play areas were not a particular issue, we still do not know on whose suggestion this was added into the report."

What was passed was a dog's dinner that permits landscaping but does not permit play areas, it permits security lighting but not path lighting. Off-street parking schemes are not limited to tenants - the parking bays are open to all and private tenants are probably more likely to own a car. So which benefit tenants and which do not? Nobody knows.

Changing the criteria mid-year will be seen by many, not least the tenants who took part in a public participation event earlier this year, as moving the goalposts to exclude them from the democratic process.It leaves the council open to a charge of changing the rules arbitrarily.

6 comments:

Nia said...

Thats what the council do best Arfon! I remember many years ago now that Coedpoeth tenants were allocated 80,000 for new bathrooms, these never appeared, despite the inspector coming around to inspect and tell us what we would have. When I quieried this I was told the money had to go for council shortfall! They use our money like manopily money and... Read more seem to get away with it. If I took 50 pound from our petty cash I would be sacked. We need a scrutiny group that have no political or financial interest to ensure the people of Wrecsam or indeed Wales have what they need and want.

Jack Ryder said...

The reality is democracy did win the day.. A politically balanced scrutiny committee in the majority supported not to include play areas.

We must ask who is going to maintain these play areas? Who is going to maintain the pathway lights?

It would be unfair to saddle another department or the housing revenue accounts with significant maintenance costs long term.

The reality is the housing revenue account should benefit council tenants and their quality of life.

Doesn't Caia have enough money being ploughed into play compared to other areas?

Plaid Whitegate said...

"Jack"

Why did the committee agree to allow landscaping works, which will also have to be maintained by another department?

I agree the HRA should benefit tenants - that's what the article says.

Shame your anti-Caia blinkers prevent you from seeing the bigger picture.

Anonymous said...

The bigger picture being that many children across Wrexham receive less spending per head on services than children from Caia?

What we need is an equitable situation which removes disparity.

Play facilities will not help Wrexham meet the Welsh Housing Quality Standard or address the issue of housing deprivation.

At least landscaping landscaping will help improve the appearance of parts of communities and help remove the class division which has existed as a result of socialist stigma around council house estates.

Plaid Whitegate said...

How will landscaping help meet the WHQS?

Your last paragraph is so confused I don't really know where to start. Do you believe landscaping will help remove class divisions? Do you believe socialist stigma (?) created council housing? If so you must be forgetting the million council houses built under Harold MacMillan.
Class divisions need sweeping away - it won't be done with a bit of landscaping.

plaid whitegate said...

"We must ask who is going to maintain these play areas?"

The intention is for a self-managing group of local people to maintain the skate park, as we do with the new allotments at no cost to any council department.