Arm’s-length management organisations could take over ownership of council homes by 2006 under radical new proposals drawn up by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.
Documents leaked to Inside Housing reveal the group is due to hold its first meeting later this month.
It has been given until the end of the year to draw up a report on ‘clear options for ALMOs after they have achieved the decent homes target’.
According to the document, written by a senior official at the ODPM, the group will look at options ‘ranging from ALMOs taking on ownership of the stock to management reverting back to the local authority’.
The National Federation of ALMOs said that a review was timely as a number of round one organisations were poised to hit the decent homes target by 2006.
Hounslow Homes managing director Chris Langstaff said his ALMO expected to meet the target by April 2006 and was interested in taking over the ownership function after that.
‘I think we should explore it but we would have to do it in partnership with our tenants and with the council,’ he said. ‘Our tenants voted for the ALMO but not for a change of ownership.’
But Defend Council Housing said the proposals backed up their case against ALMOs.
Committee member Alan Walter said: ‘Ministers always express mock outrage when we call ALMOs two-stage privatisation but this proves that we were right to argue that they are simply a vehicle to get around tenants’ resistance to fullblown stock transfer.’
The review group will look at the options for increased freedoms and flexibilities for ALMOs ‘but within public expenditure constraints’ – meaning that it will not consider giving ALMOs the same borrowing powers as housing associations.
It will also draft a new regulatory framework and will consider ‘whether the long-term existence of an ALMO is predicated on sustaining high performance’.
ARTICLE TAKEN FROM THE GUARDIAN:
Council housing transfer plans 'betray' tenants
Friday September 3, 2004
The government has been accused of "conning" hundreds of thousands of council tenants after it emerged it may renege on a promise to allow them to keep their cherished status as council tenants.
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) has earmarked significant grants to repair council homes if tenants agree to switch the management of their homes to new arm's-length management organisations (Almos).
With one notable exception in Camden, the initiative has proved popular with tenants because, although management of housing switches to the new organisation, the ownership of their homes stays with the council.
This has generally helped to reassure council tenants that the extra rights they enjoy compared to housing association tenants will not be taken away by opting for Almos.
However, a new paper from the ODPM proposes giving Almos complete ownership of council homes, perhaps as early as 2006, as one of a number of options for the future.
Defend Council Housing, which campaigns against Almos and stock transfer to housing associations, said the plans were a "betrayal" of tenants who had been told Almos were not a first step to privatisation.
Committee member Alan Walter said: "It was always our argument that the government brought in Almos as stock transfer by the back door because they could not get tenants to agree to transfer in many areas.
"We always said it was a two-stage privatisation to get housing out of councils' hands completely. This confirms our predictions."
While councils must get the support of tenants through a ballot for stock transfer, there is no such legal requirement for Almos, although some authorities like Camden have put the issue to the vote.
"An awful lot of tenants have been deliberately conned," he said. "We will be demanding that ballots are held before ownership is transferred."
A review body, comprising officials from the ODPM, the Treasury, the Audit Commission, Almo chief executives, council housing directors and tenants' representatives, will meet for the first time this month.
The team will report to ministers in January on options for the future of Almos after they have met the government's target to bring all homes up to a decent standard by 2010. They will consider everything from Almos taking on ownership of stock to homes reverting to council control.
Mike Owen, the chief executive of Carrick Housing, an Almo in Cornwall, said he was hoping the review would come up with some radical options.
He called for consideration of allowing Almos greater borrowing flexibility while remaining under council ownership, as well as tenant-led transfers.
"Some Almos have almost reached the decent homes target and there needs to be consideration of the way forward," he said. "They have been a great success. I don't think tenants who have lived under five or 10 years of improvement will be fearful of Almos so I do not see why we should be hostages to Defend Council Housing shouting privatisation."
John Perry, a policy adviser at the Chartered Institute of Housing, said the review could lead to a new housing sector, that of council-owned housing associations.
"There would have to be two main changes to the rules," he said. "The government would have to treat publicly owned companies differently from direct spending by central and local government, as happens in the rest of Europe. And local authority owned associations would have to be permitted to register with the Housing Corporation. Obviously these are big changes."
POSTERS COMMENT: As many housing and tenant activists with intelligent forethought have
long realised we've been given three options by a Labour government for our publicly owned and controlled 'council' housing that is Privatisation, Privatisation or Privatisation, that's the same kind of choice that Margaret Thatcher had in mind for us working class people in the 1980's.
"#CHOICE - WELL THERE'S NO CHOICE AT ALL PEOPLE!"