In recent months, we've been pretty strident in our criticism of Southwark council's mismanagement of the housing maintenance budget. It's a crucially important issue for people living in social housing in Peckham Rye and we clearly think the Lib Dem/Tory leadership is letting tenants and leaseholders down. That said, it isn't enough for us to simply carp from the sidelines. Southwark's Labour candidates and councillors also have a responsibility to say what we would do differently if Labour were to run Southwark council.
Southwark Labour has been looking at alternatives very closely and the outline of an alternative approach is taking shape. As we get closer to the 2010 local elections, more specific proposals will be put forward, but for now, some general principles are already in place. Southwark Labour's six point plan for improving housing services in the borough looks like this:-
1. Appoint a separate, professional Housing Director. (Amazingly, Southwark doesn't have a senior officer in this role)
2. Prioritise fire safety. (Recent tragic events have shown that fire safety needs to be urgently pushed up the list of the council's priorities)
3. Review the call centre contract and develop alternatives.
4. Strengthen tenant and leaseholder rights by granting increased consultation and involvement powers.
5. Change the basis on which leaseholder's charges are raised to make them reflect the individual costs incurred. (Too often charges have been levied on leaseholders which have little relation to the improvements made)
6. Be transparent about the options facing housing in the borough. (The Lib Dem/Tory executive has sought to hide away the huge funding problems facing housing in Southwark)
Clearly, Southwark's Labour front bench will be putting more flesh on the bones of this plan in the Party's election manifesto. But for now I think this gives a good indication of the new direction that Labour wants to take on housing in Southwark.
More focus from senior officers will help avoid the kind of incompetence we've seen in recent years. A review of the call centre contract will also concentrate minds on what the kind of service that tenants and leaseholders should be receiving from their landlord. An end to leaseholders being charged huge sums of money up front, sometimes for tiny improvements, then followed by the council being forced to refund the money would make sense and would relieve the financial stress that many feel. Watch this space for further updates...