Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Ditch this quango set-up and give us a say, tenants urge council

PRESS STATEMENT
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

DITCH THIS QUANGO SET-UP  AND GIVE
US A SAY, TENANTS  URGE COUNCIL

 A city council is challenged today to ditch its arrangements with  a quango housing association because taxpayers are not getting a chance to discuss important issues.

Carlisle Tenants` and Residents` Federation complains about the city council`s  “gagging” arrangement with the giant Riverside Housing Association of Liverpool which took over the city`s 7000 former council houses ten years ago.

In a letter to the council, the  Federation  also claims that Riverside has too big a representation on the council.

Twelve per cent of council members- including the council leader- have Riverside connections through work or membership of the Riverside governing board, says the letter.

 Despite this big representation,  city taxpayers are not getting the chance to discuss Riverside`s demolition of sheltered homes in the city and Riverside`s rent hike.  Riverside`s rents have risen twenty per cent more in recent years than rents in a similar town, Barrow in Furness, which  kept its council housing, says the letter.

The letter urges the council to change its working arrangements with Riverside so that tenants and taxpayers  get to know what is going on and get a chance to discuss issues.

Issued by Carlisle Tenants` and Residents` Federation                                May 29  2013


Here is the letter

from the Federation  Secretary

to the city council:




Carlisle Tenants` and Residents`  Federation.

May 28 2013



Mr Jason Gooding
Town Clerk and Chief Executive
Carlisle City Council

Dear Mr Gooding

Nominations for the Riverside Carlisle board- representations and complaints

I understand that the council` nominations for the Riverside Carlisle Board go  before the Executive on May 31. The Federation has asked me to make representations to the council about this matter and the related working arrangements which the council has with Riverside

For the last few years, the Federation has lobbied councillors about several issues concerning Riverside and  parallel representations about these issues have also been made through questions asked at meetings of the council``s  Community Overview and Scrutiny Panel.

Complaints about Riverside have also been addressed to the council through yourself  and your predecessor as Chief Executive. Concerns about these issues have also been made through the local Press. Concerns about these issues have also been made to the  two local M.P.s, Mr Stevenson and Mr. Stewart.

In the view of the Federation,  these concerns are not being adequately addressed  under the present working arrangements between the council and
Riverside. Central to these arrangements are the four council nominees.

In the experience of the Federation there is good reason for having  serious doubts about the value of these arrangements as a means of addressing tenants` complaints and other complaints.

There are also concerns about the value of addressing tenants` complaints and other complaints about Riverside through the  council`s Community Overview and Scrutiny Panel. It has been explained to the council in the past that because of almost insuperable difficulties in raising issues with Riverside, this  panel became the only vehicle for this purpose. This panel allows only a maximum of three questions and for that and  for other reasons has  only  very limited value.

An added  problem is the (properly declared) membership of the  Riverside  board by the Panel Chairman. The Federation does not consider that  it is
fair and equitable in the context of scrutiny that  Federation questions about Riverside should be addressed to a member of the Riverside board.Additionally, after the panel meeting, it is not fair and equitable that she can also be lobbied as a councillor - as she has been in the past-  about Riverside issues.

There are also concerns about the Panel chairman`s replies to Federation questions. Many of these replies, in the view of the Federation, are pedestrian, do not  evidence  proper scrutiny and are too accepting of the status quo.

There are also concerns about apparent “gagging” by Riverside of  the council nominees and the priority given by the council`s nominees to Riverside interests over the interests of taxpayers. There is apparently in existence some sort of “gagging” arrangement by Riverside under which Riverside affairs are “secret” and cannot be discussed in the  context of council business.

Additionally, the Federation has criticised one nominee for giving his loyalty to Riverside on one occasion in preference to his loyalty to his ward taxpayers.

Related to the above are concerns about the Riverside board, particularly about the judgement of the regional  director of Riverside who in the view  of the Federation showed absence of proper judgement in becoming a political nominee in the Police and Crime Commissioner election and a further absence of  proper judgement in stating that he  could combine his regional director job with that of Cumbria Police and Crime Commissioner.

Related to the above are concerns about Riverside “operations” such as the demolition of much of the city`s sheltered housing and the recently established comparison of Riverside`s twenty per cent higher rents over those of  similar housing in Barrow which is still council owned. These and other “operations” are neither reported to nor discussed by taxpayers under the present arrangements. In the opinion of the Federation, they should be reported and discussed.

Related to the above are concerns about the present relatively disproportionate dominance of Riverside representation among council members. Riverside now has direct representation, through an employee and through five board members (including the high profile Leader of the Council) of close on 12 per cent of council membership. Riverside, it must be emphasised, is a quango, unelected and apparently accountable to no one but itself. Its present place in the council`s democratic process arguably is questionable.

In the view of all the above, the Federation considers that the present working arrangements between the council and Riverside are not adequate The Federation urges the council to make the necessary changes to these arrangements and chose nominees for the Riverside board  who will support these changes and ensure their implementation.
Copies of this letter are being sent for information  to Mr Mark Lambert, the council`s Head of Governance, to Ms Nicola Edwards, the council`s Overview and Scrutiny Manager, to Councillor Jessica Riddle, the council`s Portfolio Holder for Housing, to Councillor Ray Bloxham the previous portfolio holder, to Councilor Barry Earp , to Councillor Steven Bowditch, to Mr John Stevenson M.P  and Mr Rory Stewart M.P.  and to three of the four council representatives on the governing board of Riverside Carlisle, Councillors Luckley, Bainbridge and Layden. The fourth council  representative, Councillor Hendry, is not included because of his failure to acknowledge or reply to Federation letters.



NOTE: Information about Carlisle Tenants`and Residents` Federation is contained in the first entry of this blog, dated March 25 2013