Coleridge Conservatives campaign to save the City Homes South Area office moved to the Council's Housing Management Board this evening.
The Council's customer services strategy involves moving customer facing services from departments across the Council to the customer service centre at Mandela House, and cutting staff numbers. As a Conservative I would encourage new ways of providing services, particularly where there are service improvements such as longer opening hours.
But for managing the Council's housing stock, I have a number of concerns.
Reserves have been run down to pay for the customer service centre, so there is now significant pressure to achieve the cost savings in the service lines - City Homes have big savings targets, but this may not be possible without significant problems in delivering services on the ground when so many activities must be face to face.
But it also puts the area offices, City Homes North and South at serious risk. The Lib Dems running the Council have said they will keep the area offices open for a year whilst the transition takes place and will 'take the decision then' as to whether to keep area offices. Sounds to me like the decision has already been taken - they are trying to save money and won't be able to operate two systems at the same time for very long.
I think the City Council needs to maintain a public facing physical presence outside the City Centre - if not as dedicated housing offices (where members of the public can already, for example, review planning applications), then as general purpose offices where residents could access a wide range of Council services. It may not save all the money the customer service strategy hopes to, but the Council mustn't become a remote city centre bureaucracy. Concerns were also raised at tonights meeting about how accessible Mandela House is for people needing disabled parking and after several meetings at Mandela House, from me about the woeful lack of cycle parking.
Usually committees at the Council have a majority of Lib Dems, but Housing Management Board has voting tenant representatives. Thanks to this, my proposal that a report is brought back to the January committee to look at all the aspects of City Homes move to the customer service centre, including the future of the area offices was passed, despite the Lib Dems abstaining. Conservatives will be keeping up the pressure to make City Council services more locally accessible.