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Single housing authority: Council Leader responds

Saturday, 17 November 2012 17:17

DWCphpWPpR3IAMCouncil Leader Councillor David Christian JPDouglas Borough Council leader Councillor David Christian JP has expressed some reservations after Social Care Minister Chris Robertshaw MHK made comments recently in the press that would indicate the government’s preference for centralised public sector housing provision.


Speaking on behalf of the Island’s largest housing authority Councillor Christian reiterated the Council’s earlier concerns over the government’s recent consultation on affordable housing provision, saying it offered no clarity in relation to devolving wider powers to local authorities and appeared largely in favour of creating a single housing authority.


Councillor Christian said: ‘I welcome, however, Mr Robertshaw’s assurance that he wishes to work in partnership with local authorities to respond to issues raised in the review.


‘As the largest housing authority in the Island with around 2271 properties this Council demonstrated in its response to the document that were we allowed to set our rents, we would be able to remove the taxpayer and ratepayer subsidies and also determine our housing repairs and maintenance priorities.


‘Clearly there is a need to reform local government and devolve more services to local authorities as indicated in the scope of government report. We believe, however, that both functions should be reviewed together, adopting a joined-up approach led from the top by the Chief Minister and the Council of Ministers, to avoid the mixed messages that are being sent out at present by different government departments.


‘I do take some comfort from the fact that Mr Robertshaw has said no firm decision has, as yet, been made, although I am not convinced his officers are all singing from the same hymn sheet.


chrisrobertshaw1Social Care Minister Chris Robertshaw MHK‘While I accept that in the adjacent isle a stock of some 6000 properties would probably fall under one authority, the fact remains that housing is a major local authority function. If we are to reform and create strong effective local government, housing must be central to that new structure. The Council will continue to oppose the formation of a single housing authority, as we believe it would not only greatly reduce the level of service we provide to our tenants but also undermine local representation.


‘The Chief Minister has stated on many occasions that there is a need to reform local authorities – it’s a subject for debate that’s been around for 50 years or more. Now is the time for him to turn those words into action and propose a structure that puts something on the table we can discuss.


‘We recognise the government’s need to balance its books and accept that this is likely to mean increased charges to ratepayers and public sector housing tenants. Finance alone, however, should not decide this debate, and whatever shape local government is to take in the future could be in place for 50 years or more, so we need to get it right, not just opt for a quick fix.


‘We support a “four plus one” local authority structure. 2016 is fast approaching and decisions have to be made. The Council will be pleased to work with government and the Minister to move the debate forward and reach an equitable long-term solution that will provide a fit-for-purpose public sector housing system for the Island.’