On 20th February Sheffield’s Housing Revenue Account (HRA) was voted on by councillors.
The HRA sets not only the city’s council housing budget, but how these funds will be spent.
This was initially developed by the Housing Committee – which is chaired by Green Cllr Douglas Johnson and Liberal Democrat Vice-Chair Penny Baker.
The council had a commitment to provide 3,100 new council homes by 2029, however, Labour councillors reacted furiously to the proposals from the Liberal Democrats and Greens to reduce this by nearly 800 units.
Rather than this reduction, Labour councillors secured the original council homes target.
Labour also secured a series of amendments to the plan, including going much further with investing in warmer, greener homes.
£62 million is being spent to retrofit homes, including decarbonisation and bringing all homes up to at least EPC C Energy standard, over the next five years. This will help residents to save on energy costs and help towards net zero targets. However, Labour Councillors want to see the overall total being spent on Heating, Energy and Carbon Reduction to increase to £100m.
Clear choice – invest in housing or accept a managed decline
Liberal Democrat Councillor Penny Baker argued at the meeting the council should not invest more in council homes and instead ‘tread water for a bit”.
Labour on the other hand argued that the council is faced with a stark choice between two options – “either be ambitious with investment and deliver for Sheffield, or accept decline with less council homes delivered to a poorer standard”.
Better tenant engagement and a better housing repairs service
As well as additional investment in homes and for the housing repairs service, Labour secured a greater say for tenants in decision-making with the development of Housing Advisory Panels.
Housing Advisory Panels will bring together all residents and will be linked directly into the Local Area Committees (LACs). This will 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.
Council Leader Terry Fox said:
“In the midst of a housing and climate crisis, Sheffield needs an ambitious capital investment programme to build more Council housing and raise the standard of our existing stock. Our tenants are sick of having problems patched over and not being able to afford to heat their homes. By investing in whole house improvements and retrofitting to create warm, affordable housing, we will reduce the need for repairs and make savings over the longer term.
“The budget put forward by the Green and Liberal Democrat led Housing Policy Committee was a recipe for further managed decline and reduces the number of new council homes. Nor has the committee overseen enough progress on retrofitting over the last year. Sheffield Labour are determined to reverse this decline, stick with the target we introduced to build 3100 new homes and bring our stock up to the decent homes standard that the next Labour government will introduce.”
Labour Housing spokesperson and Chair of the North East Local Area Committee Fran Belbin:
“Access to decent housing and keeping homes in good condition are the most common issues raised by residents in my ward, Firth Park, and many others. Often tenants report that the Council wastes time and resources carrying out multiple repairs or patching over damp and mould instead of getting to the root of problems.
“It’s time the Council listened more closely to what they are telling us. That’s why the Labour amendment also included a proposal to introduce Housing Advisory Panels, linked to the Local Area Committees, to engage a much wider group of residents with our housing strategy and plans. We need to involve residents in all aspects of improving our housing, rather than rubber stamping consultation exercises.”
Parson Cross tenant Hannah Shepherd said:
“I’ve lived in my council home for more than 12 years and in that time have had over 250 repairs. Too often the job is done to a poor standard or doesn’t resolve the problem, leading to more and more callouts. I’ve complained for ages about damp, and workmen keep coming out and say they can’t complete their job – because of the damp. This week I had a window replaced – but the replacement was already cracked. It’s obvious that the Council would save money if they just got to grips with the real problems. I really like the Labour proposal for residents to get involved with local advisory panels – I am sure it will impact the future of housing for the better and give tenants like me a stronger voice.”
Walkley councillor Tom Hunt said:
“Residents know exactly what improvements are needed for their homes. That’s why they should be at the heart of co-designing housing improvement plans. At Edward Street Flats I’ve worked with the brilliant tenants and residents and housing officers to sit round the table and the plan long-term investment that residents need. Tackling the root causes behind repairs and investing for the long-term will lead to better, warmer homes.”
Councillor Terry Fox concluded:
“We’re learning from what Labour councils are achieving on housing around the country, and exploring different ways to invest, through recapitalisation, partnerships, borrowing and different ownership models. I’m delighted our amendment was agreed. If Labour win back overall control in the May elections, we will bring forward a HRA budget that will ensure Sheffield residents get the warm, affordable housing they deserve.”
Labour Group HRA Amendment
- Regrets that the report plans to reduce the Stock Increase Programme (SIP) to 2,310, from the previous target of 3,100 new council homes by 2029 as set by the previous Labour administration, and believes that all options – including prudent borrowing, re-capitalisation/re-profiling, and different ownership models – must instead be considered to not only retain the figure of 3,100 but to go further still;
- Believes that tenants need to be much more engaged and empowered within decision-making and service delivery, and welcomes Labour’s proposals to develop Housing Advisory Panels, bringing together all residents and linked directly into the Local Area Committees (LACs) and including a greater working relationship with all Registered Social Landlords (RSLs), to make the Council more responsive and accountable to local needs;
- Believes that the council should not accept a sub-standard repairs service, and that radical action is needed to deliver what is required, and, therefore, believes that investing more now to upgrade homes is not only the right thing to do for tenants, but will ultimately prove cost effective in bringing down the long-term repairs bill;
- Believes that the council needs to be working in anticipation of a new change of government within the next 18 months, and a new Decent Homes standard this could bring; which will certainly require improvements to tackle damp and mould and ensure homes are warm and heated affordably;
- Notes that the Council is investing in existing homes to make sure that tenants live in warm and safe homes, including £62 million 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 – believes that, whilst this is hugely welcome, the total spend on Heating, Energy and Carbon Reduction should be more ambitious and increased to £100 million: through securing external funding, recapitalisation, reprofiling and prudent borrowing, and that the additional investment must complement a programme of skills and job development;
- Believes the Council is faced with a stark choice between two options – either be ambitious with investment and deliver for Sheffield, or accept a managed decline with less council homes delivered to a poorer standard, and believes that only the former is an acceptable proposition for the city;
- Believes that, in contrast with the current government, the council will always prioritise support for neighbourhoods and put housing needs at the top of our agenda to produce the strong, thriving neighbourhoods that Sheffield deserves;
The Full HRA report can be read here: https://democracy.sheffield.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=154&MId=8360