Sheffield Labour Councillors have reacted angrily to some of the proposals for the Housing Revenue Account, which will go to the Housing Committee on 2 February.
The report has been led by Committee Chair Douglas Johnson, Green Party, and Committee Vice-Chair Penny Baker, Liberal Democrat.
As well as cuts to services, it reduces Labour’s previously agreed plans for 3,100 new Council homes to 2,310.
Council Leader Terry Fox:
‘We’re greatly disappointed that the Green and Lib Dem councillors of the Housing Committee have rollbacked on Labour’s Council housing building targets.
“Their report has issued a series of service cuts and rent rises without a suitable wider strategy. Whilst we accept, sadly, that rises and cuts are necessary given the extraordinary financial difficulties, we believe it is unacceptable for Housing Repairs to continue underperforming, and that a radically different approach is needed.
“We need to invest in housing repairs and decent homes that will deliver savings in the longer term and bring our housing up to standards that will be introduced by a future Labour government. It’s crazy that we’re spending £48 million per year on housing repairs and getting a sub-standard service for our tenants. Improvements are being made, but we need to go quicker. A lot of the Council’s housing stock is aging and needs serious investment to ensure it is fit for purpose. Throwing money at homes to patch them up is not always the best approach. Some of the Council’s 39,000 homes can’t be retrofitted, de-carbonised, or adapted to an acceptable level. That’s why we want to push ahead to replace old stock with new homes.
“Therefore, Labour Councillors are proposing that we invest more now to save Council homes.
“We know from past experience that the Lib Dems don’t see Council housing as important – who can forget that they previously proposed the whole Council housing stock was transferred out of Council control, against the wishes of many tenants?
“And the Green Party have been overwhelmed by the challenges and offered little of their own in the way of solutions. Now, we see unacceptable proposals from both these parties to reduce our target of new Council homes. The Council needs to look again at options, including prudent borrowing and approaches taken in other cities, to retain the target of 3,100 Council homes built by 2029.”
Greater say for tenants in decision-making
Labour councillors are also arguing for improved tenant engagement with the development of Housing Advisory Panels, bringing together all residents and linked directly into the Local Area Committees (LACs). This would make the Council more responsive and accountable to local needs.
Housing Advisory Panels have been enacted in Leeds, and parts of London, which involve tenants, housing staff and Local Councillors, and have been highly successful.
Councillor Belbin (Firth Park Ward), who sits on the Housing Committee and chairs the North East LAC, said:
“Savings have to be made to balance the housing revenue account, which means it’s more important than ever that tenants are given a greater say on spending and the services they receive. Our proposals for Housing Advisory Panels will do just that.
“Housing issues make up a huge proportion of councillors’ casework and our residents deserve better. As well as providing greater accountability to the housing service for Council tenants, we want to see Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) joining these Panels and we would instruct the council to speak with RSL tenants direct to see what can be done to help provide a more joined-up approach for neighbourhoods”.
Investment in Warmer, Greener Homes
The Council is investing in existing homes over the next 5 years, to make sure that tenants live in warm and safe homes. As part of this £62 million is being spent to retrofit homes, including decarbonisation and bringing all homes up to at least EPC C Energy standard, helping residents to save on energy costs and contributing to net zero targets. Whilst this is hugely welcome, Labour Councillors want to see the overall total being spent on Heating, Energy and Carbon Reduction to increase to £100m.
Councillor Terry Fox:
“The council is spending a fortune on housing repairs but it’s not going as far, or as fast, as we need it to. We also have a climate emergency and need to reduce the carbon footprint of our housing stock – which in turn will create warmer homes, with lower fuel bills.
“We see that there is a clear need to invest more in retrofitting homes more quickly. As such we will propose looking at all of our capital spends to see what can be utilised to bring up the total amount to £100m over the next five years.
“Finally, we’re proposing a root and branch review, learning from other Councils across the country, to deliver a housing repairs service fit for Sheffield so that every penny is spent as wisely as possible.
“Bad homes make people ill. By intervening early it saves money in the long run. Proper investment is the only right thing to do.”
The Housing Committee will vote on the Housing Revenue Account on 02 February, with the final decision going to all Councillors on 20 February at Full Council.
The papers for the meeting can be found here – Sheffield City Council – Agenda for Housing Policy Committee on Thursday 2 February 2023, 2.00 pm