Gorse Hill Labour

A regular blog and updates from Mike Cordingley, Councillor for Gorse Hill Ward in Trafford – Gtr Manchester.

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Weekly Update 30/7/2012 – Tuesday’s Meetings – Confusion at the Community Panel

Tuesday

Meeting to discuss Gorse Hill priorities on the Councils ward profile

Meeting of Urmston’s Community Panel of Trafford Housing Trust. These panels distributed £0.75m across the borough last year and so are probably the biggest and most accessible funders of local community projects.

The Urmston panel covers as far as Partington to the West and stretches into Lostock at Selby Road in the East, so the area covered includes a major part of Gorse Hill Ward.

There’s an intention to make the panels more focussed on achieving aims. Not before time. There’s always been a suspicion that there hasn’t been an approach that was as robust, disciplined and objective as might have been expected. Application papers have been given out on the day with no chance to assess the quality of the application.  As a councillor, and particularly one who was until last year a Board member of the Trust, I’ve opted out of the final fund granting. My focus has been on setting the parameters and priorities.

I had one member of staff saying the grants were funded by the government,

another saying the council was funding it,

and a panel member saying it was a loan from the bank.

I’ve never felt that the panels had sufficient regard for the needs and priorites of the neighbourhoods in which the Trust’s tenants live. It’s been a constant gripe of mine, to such an extent, I have probably bored my fellow panel members to distraction. In my defence, Urmston panel has historically shown itself as loathed to grant funding to projects that it felt were the Trust’s responsibility as landlord. And somewhere along the way, in this disdain, the officers and panel alike have lost sight of where the money comes from.  At Tuesday’s meeting I had one member of staff saying the grants were funded by the government, another saying the council was funding it, and a panel member saying it was a loan from the bank. So we have an unusual situation for any funding organisation whereby there’s no knowledge within it of from where the money comes.

The simple answer to from where the money comes is that it comes from the Trust’s ‘income’ of which over 80% is rent or service charges. Given that most of the other sources of income are ringfenced, it seems remarkable that tenants are rarely acknowledged in this process, rarely acknowledged in terms of targetting the funding and rarely acknowledged in terms of celebrating the good things that are done with the money. I have come across in the past, the extremely arrogant assumption  that a high proportion of tenants had their rents paid via Housing Benefit so it wasn’t really they who were paying, it was the DWP. That view was reprehensible then, it is even more so now, given the cuts in Housing Benefit.

they’ve written the tenant out of the script

I was a board member when we took the difficult decision to increase rents to reach the Government’s Target rent by 2012. So rents have been increasing faster than inflation over the last few years. That should mean that the Trust is morally obliged to have regard to the tenant’s contribution to the Trust’s investment in new housing and the work it does in communities, including the community panel funding. Instead, it seems they’re written out of the script.  I wasn’t impressed.

The day cannot come quick enough for there to be no panel that operates without a majority of tenants on its funding body and no Housing Trust officer connected to that body who cannot give an exact and consistent explanation of where the money comes from.