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.