Agenda item

Strategic Housing Review

Gareth Edmundson, Chief Executive and Councillor Jeffries, Cabinet Member Housing


Objective:Consider the recommendations of Campbell Tickell and comment as necessary.


Having declared a prejudicial interest, Councillor Mason handed over the chair to Councillor Horwood, as Vice-Chair and left the room. 


The Vice-Chair explained that having reviewed the forward plan as part of the agenda setting process for this meeting, lead members had requested that this item come to committee prior to Cabinet.  The draft Campbell Tickell report had been circulated with the agenda, along with a discussion paper which provided some context to the issue, as well as options for the committee to consider. 


The Vice-Chair welcomed Gareth Edmundson, Chief Executive and Councillor Jeffries, Cabinet Member Housing, as well as Steve Slater, Interim Chief Executive at CBH and Martin Stacy, as the Lead Commissioner for Housing Services. 


Gareth Edmundson reiterated that this was an opportunity for O&S to ask questions and provide feedback prior to Cabinet considering a report on the 26 January, which had now been published and recommended that the Campbell Tickell report be endorsed and the strategic review be taken forward and implemented. He felt it was a huge credit to both CBC and CBH that despite all the challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic had presented, both organisations wanted to move forward with an ambitious shared agenda, including cyber, regeneration, growth and investment in housing, as well the flagship programme; tackling child poverty, delivering inclusive growth and making sure no child is left behind.  Housing is so fundamental to all of these priorities, it was considered important to ensure that the partnership was as strong as it could be.  The impact of the pandemic and on our ability to deliver those shared priorities in the medium and long term, made it even more appropriate to look at the existing relationship between CBC & CBH.  Given the added pressure of the Covid-19 response, every effort was made to ensure that the review did not risk operational delivery. This was achieved by both organisations working in partnership to jointly commission the review.  Gareth wished to put on record his thanks to Steve Slater and CBH for the way in which they have embraced and approached the review, and participated in identifying opportunities for the relationship to evolve and strengthen.  Clearly, as part of any meaningful review, there was a need to consider an alternative service model to act as a comparator and therefore Campbell Tickell were asked to consider the option of bringing the service back in-house.  It was also felt that this was a good way of validating the options that were open to the council.  The recommendations from Campbell Tickell to retain CBH provides an extremely strong platform on which to continue to deliver our ambitious priorities for the future, together. 


The Cabinet Member Housing stated that had hoped to be able to bring the Cabinet report to this committee, but circumstances including Christmas and Covid, had prevented this from being possible.  The drivers for this review had come into sharp focus during the first national lockdown in March, with communities at the forefront. Ultimately an invigorated partnership would benefit those communities further.  He noted his thanks to both Gareth Edmundson and Steve Slater and whilst there was lots of work to be done, he felt the review put the partnership in the best position from which to take it forward. 


Steve Slater echoed what had been said by Gareth and the Cabinet Member.  In spite of the challenges posed by Covid, the review was timely and welcome, particularly for him as a newly appointed Interim Chief Executive, as it validated the great work that CBH do, as well as highlighting where they could build upon those strong foundations and take it to the next level.  He looked forward to taking forward the 11 priorities highlighted within the revised business plan and exploring opportunities to work even more closely with CBC to deliver some exciting projects for residents and communities going forward. 


The following responses were given to member questions:


There were large sums of money at CBH’s disposal and a need for new affordable housing, but CBH could be fairly slow in terms of progress in this area, in his opinion.  Would this improve?


There were lots of things that CBH did well in terms of performance monitoring and some of their systems and practices, which CBC could learn from, but likewise CBC could assist CBH in strengthening areas of their business to expedite delivery of some of their priorities.  One key area was housing investment and how best to invest that money to achieve the best outcomes, as well as pushing forward the delivery of housing investment more generally.  The Campbell Tickell recommendations will be reviewed and implemented by shared governance arrangements detailed in the Cabinet report, this will help to make sure there are the right people and skills, as well as learning from each other, to ensure a successful and expedited delivery of priorities. 


Steve Slater assured members that in terms of new supply a lot of work had gone on behind the scenes and there was a strong pipeline of affordable housing and regeneration but acknowledged that there was more work to be done in terms of other streams.  CBC and CBH were awaiting receipt of a report to consider the pros and cons of outright sale and as soon as that was received and digested, they would be looking to press on as quickly as possible with this element of delivery to supplement the ongoing work on affordable delivery, regeneration, and entering the private rented market.  He hoped to reassure members that CBH were looking at all areas of the business to make sure that they were driving innovation and not just supply, but also modern methods of construction.  But in order to have a major impact on all their activities, CBH were looking to tap into their partners across Cheltenham and Gloucester, to ensure that they could drive out as much benefit for communities as possible.  A key driver for him and his Executive Leadership Team was how CBC could use their local on the ground knowledge and align that to partners who had resources they wanted to use to deliver great services in Cheltenham, but didn’t always know where to focus their efforts.


The Cabinet Member Housing assured members that in terms of innovation, everything was being considered, including 3D printing, which hadn’t quite made it over the line, modular housing, about which there had been many conversations and passive and carbon neutral homes, but as well as this, the technologies within those buildings. 


There had been criticism of the NHS Trust for continuing a consultation during the pandemic.  Could Campbell Tickell really have sufficiently explored CBH given the environment and circumstances they were working in?



Gareth Edmundson did not believe the pandemic had resulted in a less robust review by Campbell Tickell.  He assured members that they had been given a considerable amount of information in advance, to be able to identify any areas of interest within scope and they had spoken to a broad range of people at both organisations including officers, members and tenants  


What steps were being taken to address some of the suggestions within the report?


There are area for improvement identified and the review would allow the partnership to evolve. Identified efficiencies did not necessarily mean savings, but rather would provide more choice and opportunities for investment and how resources are spent.  There would also be increased activity in support of key areas such as becoming carbon neutral by 2030, bringing forward new housing supply as quickly as possible and looking at the commercial opportunities, but there were other smaller issues that the partnership could work together on.  He felt that part of recovery was being able to look back in 5-10 years and say that communities were in a stronger and more resilient position, to deal with future challenges and this is an ultimate aim. 


In addition, the Cabinet Member wished to remind members that CBH were lead players in the Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO) world and hugely respected.  He had often said that arms length meant shoulder to shoulder, but he felt CBC and CBH would now be holding hands to build a stronger partnership and to an extent and for him that was an exciting prospect.


Throughout, a number of members had not only welcomed the review and recommendations, but also took the opportunity to praise CBH for the work that they do, with one member suggesting establishing CBH was ‘the best decision CBC ever made’.


The Vice-Chair reminded members that the committee were able to make a recommendation to Cabinet and the paper included two options based on the Campbell Tickell report, option 1 to retain the partnership but work to improve it still further, or, option 2, to take the service back under council control.  He felt that based on what he had heard, members were resoundingly supportive of option 1 and with no members indicating otherwise he moved to a vote on recommending option 1 to Cabinet.  


Upon a vote it was unanimously


RESOLVED that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee recommend that Cabinet approve the recommendation to retain CBH, working to improve the partnership still further.

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