Council to consult public over axing Ashfield homes but rejects a residents referendum on the issue

NMAC10-2465-2

Kirkby Ashfield District Council Offices
NMAC10-2465-2 Kirkby Ashfield District Council Offices

A call for a residents referendum to decide the future of Ashfield Homes has been scotched by Ashfield District Council.

Opposition councillors asked for the poll when they called in the authorities proposal to bring the management of its council housing stock back in-house and to axe Ashfield Homes.

The Cabinet’s decision in principle to end Ashfield Homes’ contract was passed by the cabinet on January 7

It was called in at a Scrutiny Committee meeting on Tuesday by opposition councillors, who say tenants had not been properly consulted in a report leading to the decision.

The report said moving the service in-house would offer the greatest opportunity to improve service performance and value for money, deliver better financial viability for council housing and would remove organisational barriers.

The move would mean tenants and leaseholders would see no change to frontline services and it would be delivered by the same members of staff.

Conservative Councillor Phil Rostance (Hucknall West) called for the Council to accept that the view of the tenants was the most important factor in the consultation process and to directly contact them for their views.

In a cross-party attack on the Council’s plan, both Conservative and Independent Councillors voiced their concern that the plan ‘lacked detail’ to convince them, and also that the plan would ‘take away possibly the only aspect of the Council that is viewed positively by the community’.

They said Ashfield Homes is generally considered to be a successful body compared to others nationally and its residents have overwhelmingly come out in support of keeping it.

Following the discussion,Hucknall North Councillor Ben Bradley made two proposals to the Committee. He asked that the group recommend a full consultation of all Ashfield Homes residents to include a referendum on their views about the plans.

He further proposed that following the public consultation the results should be reviewed by a cross-party group of Councillors rather than solely Labour representatives.

Both of these suggestions were rejected.

Councillor Phil Rostance, who initiated and lead the ‘call-in’ decision, said: “I’m really disappointed that this Committee weren’t able to agree that all tenants whose services will be directly affected should be contacted about this issue. We now face the situation where many tenants are going to see big changes to their housing and maintenance services, to their terms and conditions, without being able to have a say and in many cases perhaps without even being aware that it’s going to happen until it’s too late.

The council will carry out a test of opinion of tenants and consult leaseholders and other residents to find out their views on the proposal, before a final recommendation to a full council meeting.

Councillor Keir Morrison said: “We feel we can have a smaller consultation which is relevant and proactive rather than using a ballot which would be more expensive,

He said the authority would use the best possible sample to get an opinion on the report to enable the authority to deliver first class housing services and to protect jobs.

Front line services will not be affected, savings would be used to deliver front line services and expertise would not be lost.

Residents groups could apply to take control of the council’s housing stock themselves if Ashfield Homes is axed.

Pat Simms, a tenant representative for Ashfield Federation of Tenants and Residents, said: “During the consultation, tenants made it clear we are highly satisfied with Ashfield Homes.

“Housing repairs have been excellent since it took over in 2002 and we feel Ashfield District Council will not be able to match the standard.”

Mrs Simms, who was on the board of Ashfield Homes for eight years, said the federation was looking for funding for a legal consultant, with a view of taking out a tenant-led stock option in future.

She said: “Unless councillors vote to keep Ashfield Homes, they will leave us with no option but to lead a tenant-led stock transfer bid.

“We have contacted the Homes and Communities Agency with the aim to start this in the New Year.”