Secret housing report reveals cuts plan for Sheffield

Gleadless Valley estate  Aug 26 2002
Gleadless Valley estate Aug 26 2002
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UP to £4.9 million a year and 139 jobs were set to be axed from Sheffield’s housing services under secret plans discussed by council chiefs, a report has revealed.

But Sheffield Council has moved to reassure the 1,000 staff at Sheffield Homes – which costs £40 million a year to run and is being returned to council control – that such a high level of redundancies will not now take place.

The confidential document, which also said there was a risk services could deteriorate or fail if the council took control of homes, was only published last month after efforts by Lowedges tenant Martin Brighton.

He had requested the report, giving the business case for keeping Sheffield Homes once its contract expires in 2014 or returning estate management to council control, under the Freedom of Information Act, but was refused, so appealed to the Information Commissioner.

The initial publication did not contain the financial information and redundancies – but a full version has now been published by the council after a further challenge from Mr Brighton.

The council, which won a tenants’ ballot to retake control of housing earlier this year, said it chose not to publish the document because it had decided against such large savings or job losses, so the report was ‘out of date’.

But Coun Harry Harpham, cabinet member for housing, said the full content has now been revealed in a bid to be ‘open and honest’ to tenants.

He said savings would be £1.2 million each year and the level of redundancies has still not been decided.

Money saved will be re-used on services.

Tenants are planning to request a judicial review challenging the fairness of the ballot process, because claims services would be at risk under a return to council control were never made public.

Coun Harpham said: “We wanted to be open and honest. We felt the redacted report ,without the information about savings and job losses, was creating more confusion and speculation.

“We are looking at savings of £1.2 million which will be implemented over two years – and have already saved £400,000 from the loss of four top-level staff.

“Because the level of savings and job losses, and therefore the main risk to services, was not going ahead, we decided not to release the content of the report before the ballot.

“I accept there is still a risk to services – as with any major change – but there is a risk crossing the road.

“I will work day and night to ensure tenants have the best services possible.”

Richard Webb, council director of communities, added: “Full information was given to Sheffield Homes’ board before the ballot.

“Tenants were absolutely not misled before the ballot because the information and scale of risks were no longer valid.”

The council said it hopes to minimise risk to services by keeping all housing operations under one department, instead of splitting functions between council departments.

Powers taken away

SHEFFIELD Homes has said powers were not taken away from the tenants’ board in secret.

One member told The Star he and other people on the board had not been informed of the change before it was confirmed in an email to staff and board members last month.

But Michael Shepherd, chairman of Sheffield Homes’ board, revealed members were informed at a meeting in May.

He said: “Sheffield Council, which is sole shareholder of Sheffield Homes, informed the board at a meeting on Tuesday, May 15, that it was making changes to the contract with Sheffield Homes, and taking some responsibilities back to itself.

“Sheffield Homes’ board of directors still has an important job to do in delivering and improving services to tenants and leaseholders.

“We will continue with this until April when the council will take over that role.

“We are actively working with the council to ensure a continued level of service and performance.”

Sheffield Homes staff have not yet been told where redundancies will fall.

What do you think about the future of council housing? Email: letters@thestar.co.uk