Agenda item

Housing Regulations, Cheltenham Borough Homes Housing Review

Report of the Leader, Councillor Rowena Hay, and Cabinet Member for Housing, Councillor Victoria Atherstone


The Leader introduced her report with the following statement:


I became a councillor over two decades ago because I wanted to make changes to improve things for all our residents.  Following the ravages of the pandemic and more latterly a cost of living crisis that has forced families to make unimaginable choices, I am more committed than ever to taking the right decisions to continue supporting our communities even when those decisions result in change.  But change is something we must embrace in order to keep delivering our priorities.  Back in 2003, it was the right thing to do to establish our ALMO (Arms’ Length Management Organisation).  Indeed, I was part of this council, when the then Labour government were offering financial incentives which we took advantage of to bring our homes up to the decent homes standard.  This funding stopped in 2016 but for twenty years, CBH has worked with CBC to deliver investment in existing stock, new housing, a financially resilient Housing Revenue Account, high tenant and leaseholder satisfaction, all of which we are rightly proud of and give our very sincere thanks to CBH for all they have done.


The reasons we need to look to wind up CBH as a company and bring the housing function back into the heart of CBC as one team are several this government is increasing the accountability on Local Authorities via legislation which we have to respond to in both the private and public sector housing that this council will be responsible for.


CBC has a medium term funding gap of £4m and we must look and re-look at every area of efficiency to protect services and support our communities.  He strengthening partnership work that was undertaken over the last two years has been successful.  However, since then we have seen a significant rise in interest rates now at an all-time 40-year high, a cost of living crisis, huge rises in materials for house building and massive energy cost hikes.


The significant reduction on ALMOs across the country (for a variety of reasons) also shows that it is those authorities who are retaining ALMOs who are increasingly the outliers, however a key priority for us has been and will remain is the tenants’ voice which we must strengthen and grow.


Ultimately, as Leader of the Council and Shareholder, along with my Cabinet colleagues, we have to try and act on behalf of all of our residents and businesses.  The financial pressures this council faces has, for the first time,  forced Cabinet to look at stopping or reducing services.  CBH customers are some of the most in need and vulnerable in our borough and they are more dependent on housing and council services than anyone else.  Our residents in wards like mine have also suffered more than any other group.  In this context, with this decision, I and my Cabinet have chosen to try and protect services, maintain customer satisfaction, and supercharge housing delivery by bringing CBC and CBH together so that we can continue to support our communities in spite of the challenges we face.  On a personal note, I could not justify an argument on the doorstep about cutting back council services from leisure to street cleansing to try and retain an ALMO when we must try and maximise every possible efficiency from joining services first.


Yesterday, at Full Council, I mentioned that in 2016 we took the bold decision to introduce a commercial strategy; that decision and our journey has stood the test of time and, unlike many other councils, we are financially in a much better place than many.  My mantra has been to be risk aware and not risk averse.’


The Cabinet Member for Housing reiterated that the priority is to provide an excellent services and strengthening the voice of tenants, who will continue to be our focus during the transition.  She said the proposed new tenant offer will make sure they influence housing services now and in the future, and is delighted with the commitment to commission an independent tenant organisation to engage and consult with tenants and leaseholder.  She is confident that this bold approach will provide better services for tenants and Cheltenham’s wider communities.


She offered huge and warm thanks to CBH for the fantastic services they have provided for residents for the past 20 years, having first-hand experience of the caring and dedicated teams.  She looked forward to working with and supporting CBH and CBC colleagues through and beyond the transitional stage, focussing on the new integrated offer for tenants.  She said services, like anti-social behaviour, do not discriminate between homes, whether council- or privately owned, and joining as one team with greater capacity and skills there are many areas we can look to enhance the experiences of tenants, leaseholders and our wider communities. 


She finished by saying we must that the growing regulatory environment places greater accountability and responsibility on councils, and as Cabinet Member for Housing, she remains committed to the safety of all tenants.


A Member said that since joining the Cabinet, it has been a pleasure to be closely involved with CBH, which works so diligently on behalf of residents.  Looking at the report, the financial assessment is compelling: like the rest of the country, Cheltenham has faced a decade of austerity and many financial challenges, including the pandemic and cost of living crisis.  With this proposal, we are evolving to meet those challenges.  The key factor is to protect council services, and although it is tough to make structural changes, it is the right thing to do – we have to put residents and tenants at the centre of everything we do.


He said that while revenue and our day-to-day services remain our prime focus, he is looking forward to the future, and feels that CBC’s approach to regeneration and housing delivery will pay dividends.  He welcomed this exciting opportunity. 


A Member added his thanks to CBH management and officers, saying that having previously worked in the sector, he is aware that CBH are the best social, caring and proactive landlords, and was reassured by the Leader’s and Cabinet Member for Housing’s comments that an outstanding level of service will remain at the heart of our future commitment to residents. He said that the financial environment in which councils now find themselves, with government incentives no longer applying, means that the era of ALMOs is drawing to a close across the country; we must be mindful of that and take a balanced opinion on the management of the council’s finances. With the commitment to continue to the level of service in an uninterrupted way, this is the right decision and one which he is extremely happy to support.

In summing up, the Leader reiterated her sincere thanks to all CBH staff, and in particular the senior management team led by Steve Slater as CEO and all the board.  She said change is difficult and challenging, but together we are stronger, and jobs won’t change for the majority of staff.  Together, CBC and CBH can make the transition as smooth as possible, ensuring that tenants stay at the core of service delivery to maintain the very high levels of satisfaction that CBH has always attained.  This decision is very much in the spirit of ‘Team Cheltenham’.



1.    the work and commitment of Cheltenham Borough Homes over the last twenty years in acknowledged by Cabinet;


2.    the new regulatory framework for social landlords and the Council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy is noted;


3.    the options for the future delivery of the Council’s Housing Services are noted, and the Chief Executive, Executive Director for Finance, Assets and Regeneration, the Corporate Director and Monitoring Officer, and the Housing Partnership Manager are authorised to undertake the required review to support the Leader in deciding to wind-up Cheltenham Borough Homes;


4.    the creation of a consultation framework is commissioned in order to develop a Tenant Offer which will provide tenants and leaseholders with the opportunity to provide their view on the proposed change in management, state their priorities in shaping the future housing service provision, ensure their continued involvement, and complement the new consumer standards;


5.    the consultation framework is acknowledged and the recommended tenant offer is subject to review by the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee upon their request;


6.    the Chief Executive is requested in consultation with the Leader and the Cabinet Member for Housing to develop a housing integration action plan;


7.    the Housing Strategy and Partnerships Manager is appointed as the Council’s Health and Safety lead, as detailed in Section 7 of this report. This will be subject to review following the winding up of Cheltenham Borough Homes.


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