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Information For Caithness
Archived News 2006
22 November 06
This result means that housing transfer will not go ahead. The Highland Council will now be drawing up detailed plans to deliver the investment that is needed to bring all of its houses up to the Scottish Housing Quality Standard.
The "no" vote also means that:
Councillor Alison Magee, Convener of The Highland Council, said: "We respect the decision our tenants have made and their confidence in our excellent housing service. We will ensure that we continue to deliver the best possible housing service to residents of the Highlands."
Angus Maclean, Chair of Highland Housing Association said: "Everyone involved with Highland Housing Association is disappointed that tenants have not voted in favour of transfer. We all believe that our proposals would have delivered quality services and improved housing standards while ensuring that rents remained affordable, but the majority of tenants have voted to stay with the Council and we obviously respect their decision."
14 November 06
Having made numerous representations to the Housing Department on behalf of constituents over the years, we are acutely aware that Highland Council's financial constraints make it unable to deliver the standard of service which tenants want and deserve. The fact is that new and substantial investment is badly needed to improve our housing stock.
There are few issues more important for your quality of life than housing. It is therefore extremely important that you use your vote in the current stock transfer ballot.
We cannot tell you how to vote in the
ballot - you must reach your own view. In doing so, we would urge you to
read the material which Highland Housing Association and others have sent
you. What we can say, however, is that, in our opinion, the opportunity
for new investment is highly desirable.
30 October 06
The Highland Council is recommending the transfer of housing to Highland Housing Association as the best way to improve homes and housing services while still keeping rents affordable.
Councillor Margaret Davidson, Chairman of the Housing and Social Work Committee, urged as many tenants as possible to vote on this important issue.
She said: "We believe that transfer is the best way of protecting what tenants like about the current housing service - but with lower rents and more investment. However, at the end of the day , transfer will only happen if the majority of tenants voting vote for it."
The Council has said that if the houses stay with the Council, it will have to raise rents sharply to bring housing up to the standards required. This would mean that average rents would rise to over £83 a week within eight years.
A "yes" vote by tenants would mean that the UK Government would cancel the Council's £160 million housing debt. At present 41p in every pound of tenants' rents goes towards paying this off. With transfer more money would be available to pay for improvements to homes and services.
Angus Maclean, Chair of Highland Housing Association said: "We will be able to invest more to bring housing up to modern standards. That will include better heating systems, additional energy efficiency measures, new kitchens and bathrooms where they are needed. We will also be able to improve fences and pathways, which we know are a priority for many tenants. A yes vote will give tenants the security of knowing that their housing and environment will be improved while rent rises will be kept lower."
Bill Fernie, Caithness area chairman of Housing and Social Work said, "This about practicalities and not what is politically correct. I would recommend that tenants look seriously at what is on offer - stable rents, a chance to raise the standards of the existing housing stock and a Housing Association able to move forward with desperately needed new houses for the Highlands. The days of councils building houses ceased a long time ago and we cannot put the clock back even if we wanted to. Use your vote for rent stability, improvements and more houses."
3 October 06
29 September 06
Despite suffering a major flash flood in its third largest estate just 3 months after the transfer, in which 83 properties were made uninhabitable, SBHA has thrived and is doing well, providing innovative and good quality services to its Tenants and involving them at all levels of decision-making and consultation. Consequently, the Association feels it is essential in the interests of fairness and accuracy that the totally false statements in the HAST 2006 website are clarified.
Under Rent Guarantees, it is the case that SBHA has honoured in full its Rent Guarantee given pre-transfer, and which Tenants voted massively in favour of, because of the clear benefits in modernisations and service improvements which it generates. There was no rent freeze prior to transfer. And there was and is no financial crisis in SBHA – the Association has a viable and robust Business Plan which funds delivery of all the pre-Transfer promises.
SBHA’s costs per unit are quoted as being £543. In reality, the Association’s unit costs are £181.99 for Property Maintenance, and £333 per house for Housing Management, efficiency levels which are way better than the majority of Local Authority landlords in Scotland, particularly when the levels of service are taken into account.
Finally, HAST 2006 dares to state that Borders has a history of mismanagement and financial incompetence. SBHA has in fact just been Inspected by its Regulator, Communities Scotland, and the early feedback from this has been that SBHA’s corporate and financial management is of the highest order.
SBHA would be happy to demonstrate to Tenants in the upcoming housing transfers across Scotland a wide range of evidence to show that stock transfer is most definitely a positive move for Tenants.
28 September 06
Letter From HAST Chairman, Donnie
You tried to present HAST as a political 'front.' For your information, and to help clear up your ill informed assumptions, HAST is supported by people of all political persuasions from across the political spectrum, (with the exception of Labour and the Liberal Democrats, but then that is hardly surprising as it is a Lib/Lab Scottish Executive who are attempting to force this faulted HST policy on the Highlands), and by those with none, we also receive support from trade unions and the biggest grouping of our support has been from tenants themselves who are currently assisting in the delivery of our campaign newspaper right across the Highlands.
We also receive support from Highland Council (HC) staff (in their free time of course) and some of your fellow Highland Councillors.
What these various groups of supporters have in common is that they are by and large tenants of HC, which is more than can be said of yourself and your fellow Councillors, when I last checked, it would appear that there were no Councillors who were actually HC tenants.
You also state, regarding HAST, that 'many of their claims have been refuted by council officials and by the Highland Housing Association HHA.' Can you please explain why you have made this false assertion?
As far as I am aware, not a single fact quoted on the HAST2006 website has been refuted by anyone. HC/HHA Officials have blustered and got red in the face, but we have been proved correct. Perhaps you yourself would care to elaborate on your assertion?
I am aware that as a Highland Councillor you voted in favour of stock transfer, but let us not forget that it was the £50m housing finance bribe attached to the ridiculously named COP Community Ownership Programme, that you and your fellow "councillors" voted for, this was made available by the Scottish Executive SE after the HC had rejected a similar HST scheme in 2001 which did not include a housing investment bribe to influence councillors.
I am disappointed that you have allowed your own political opinions to cloud the Caithness.Org website and hope that in future HAST is given the fair hearing that tenants deserve.
I would think that one of the purposes of Caithness.org would be to keep residents in the North informed on both sides of any argument to allow them to reach a balanced and informed decision on whatever the issue is.
It is disappointing to see that this does not appear to be the case, at least in this instance.
14 September 06
First stop on Monday is Somerfield's Car Park in Nairn from 10.00am to 1.00pm, when tenants will be able to see for themselves some of the options for home improvements that would follow a yes vote. From there, the exhibition will be visiting locations the length and breadth of the Highlands. It will be spending two full days at Falcon Square, Inverness on Friday, Saturday 15-16 September and another two days in Fort William High Street on Tuesday, Wednesday 19-20 September.
The Road show arrives in Caithness on Thursday 28th September for three days and will be in Wick and Thurso. Councillor Bill Fernie the Housing and Social Work chairman for Caithness said, "This is another opportunity for our tenants to see what can be done under Stock Transfer by modernising more houses, keeping rents stable and building more houses".
Councillor Sheena Slimon, the Council's housing spokesperson, said: "This is an opportunity for tenants to see for themselves what the improvements will look like", explained.
"People will also be able to find out more about how energy efficiency measures planned can help save on their fuel bills. Who receives what improvements and when will depend on local priorities. However, the overall aim is to ensure that all council housing is brought up to modern standards with modern facilities."
Tenants will shortly be receiving the Stage 1 Notice, a booklet outlining the Council's transfer proposals. Housing staff will also be visiting tenants door to door over the next month to explain the proposals and answer questions.
Councillor Slimon added: "If anyone has any questions or is unsure about the proposals this is a chance to find out the facts."
Under the housing transfer proposals, Highland's 14,500 council houses will transfer to the not-for-profit Highland Housing Association. However, this will only happen if the majority of tenants voting in the ballot vote yes.
The Highland Council is due to consider a report this Thursday (7 September) which, if agreed, would give the green light to the start of the formal consultation process leading up to the ballot.
13 September 06
They will then receive a follow up communication just before they are asked to vote on the proposed transfer via a secret postal ballot, independently run by Electoral Reform Services. The ballot is expected to begin in late October with the result being known around mid November. The housing transfer process will involve transferring the existing council housing stock of 14,500 houses to Highland Housing Association.
The Council is proposing the transfer
because its existing housing debt will be written off by the UK Government
and the new housing association will operate with a much lower debt and
can therefore invest more in housing services and improvements.
Councillor Margaret Davidson, Chairman of the Housing and Social Work Committee, fully endorsed the transfer. She said: "This is a great deal for tenants; a great deal for the Council and a great deal for the Highlands."
Councillors were advised at a council meeting in Inverness that research carried out by independent advisers has indicated that average council house rents in the Highlands will rise to £83.14 a week in 8 years if the proposed transfer of housing does not take place. By contrast, if transfer goes ahead, Highland Housing Association is committed to an average rent of £68.61 a week in 8 years. This would mean that average rents would be £14.53 (21.18%) a week more with the Council than with Highland Housing Association after 8 years.
Housing Association AGM
4 September 06
Angus Maclean, Chair of Highland Housing Association, said: "The fact that tenants are the largest group on the Management Committee reflects our commitment to ensuring that tenants are at the heart of everything we do. I am convinced that Jennifer and Colin will help ensure that we remain tenant focused."
Jennifer Macleod is a tenant in Alness and has been involved in housing and tenant participation issues locally for many years. She currently chairs the Firhill Residents Association and is involved in a number of wider community projects. Jennifer said: "I believe that the most significant benefit to come from a vote in favour of Housing Stock Transfer will be the cancellation of the £160 million Housing debt by the UK Treasury. This will allow us to keep rents affordable and spend more on services and improvements for tenants."
Colin Morrison is a tenant in Dingwall. He is currently vice-chair of Docharty Residents Association and has played an active role in developing this new association over the last 18 months. He is interested in developing tenant representation and wider community involvement.
Colin said: "I feel strongly that the issues facing housing in the Highlands need to be challenged in ways that are not viewed as traditional. What Highland Housing Association is proposing is exactly that and I am wholeheartedly behind its aims and delighted to be part of its ongoing progress."
In addition to the six tenant members there are also five Council representatives and five independent community members
31 August 06
This would mean that average rents would be £14.53 (21.18%) a week more with the Council than with Highland Housing Association after 8 years.
By 2014/15 this would mean tenants paying almost £700 a year more if housing stays with the Council.
Independent advisers, Arneil Johnston, were commissioned by the Council to look into the effects of a no vote by tenants in this October's housing transfer ballot.
The research considers what the Council would need to charge in rent if it is to have enough money to bring housing up to the Scottish Housing Quality Standard. It forms part of a report being presented to Thursday's (September 7th) Council meeting which asks the Council to approve the transfer proposals.
Gordon Fisher, Highland Council's Director of Housing, said: "We know from consulting tenants and research that rent levels are a real concern. If housing stays with the Council, rents will have to rise faster to pay for the work needed to bring housing up to the Scottish Housing Quality Standard."
Highland Housing Association is guaranteeing to peg rent rises to the cost of living for the first five years. For the next five years it is planning to keep rent rises to no more than half a percent above inflation. By contrast, the Council would have to initially raise rents by 3.5% over inflation each year - and then by 3% more than inflation for the next three years. This is based on inflation of 2.5% over this period.
Under the transfer proposals, the Council's current £160 million housing debt will be written off by the UK Government. At present 41p in every pound of tenants' rents goes towards paying off past debt. This will mean that the rents can be used to pay for new investment while keeping rents lower.
The Council is required to explain to tenants what rents would be if council housing transferred - as compared to what they would be if housing stayed with the Council. These will form part of transfer proposals being sent to all tenants during September.
Under the proposals all of The Highland Council's council houses will transfer to the not-for-profit Highland Housing Association ~ but only if the majority of tenants voting in a ballot back the move.
Online For Community Ownership
The website, which went live on the 14 August 2006 was developed by the Highland Housing Association, the new not for profit organisation set up to take over the ownership and management of Highland Council's housing. The new website forms part of the Association's commitment to being open and accountable.
Tenants will be able to use the website to find all the information they need to make an informed choice on housing transfer in the run up to the ballot, later this year. The website also has an online contact form, which will let users give feedback to the Association.
As Highland Housing Association develops so will the importance of the website. It has been designed to incorporate additional features in the future. For example, tenants would be able to report repairs online.
Angus Maclean Chairman of Highland Housing Association believes that the development of the new website is an exciting and important step for Highland Housing Association.
"The development of the new website will allow tenants to have access to a wide range of information about Highland Housing Association . It will allow us to provide tenants with up to date information on the organisation and the proposed transfer. Equally important, it allows tenants to contact us quickly, easily and cheaply" he said.
Although the introduction of the new website provides the Highland Housing Association with a new tool in communicating with tenants it doesn't mean the Association will compromise on more traditional methods. If transfer goes ahead tenants will still be able to contact the Association through 18 local offices and the 37 Council service points.
If there are tenants who would like to use the website but don't have easy access to the Internet, they can obtain free internet access at any Highland Council library.
The website has been designed by Highland company Pelican Design ,the company responsible for the National Trust for Scotland's - Culloden Battlefield Memorial Project website and the Diageo Group's distillery visitor centres website.
18 July 06
The end of the latest stage in the Council's information campaign comes as the Minister for Communities Malcolm Chisholm visits the area to see how tenants could benefit if they vote to transfer their home to HHA later this year.
The Minister's tour of the region includes visits to several affordable housing projects in the Highlands which are being funded through the Community Ownership Programme (COP).
Mr Chisholm said: "Community ownership offers a real opportunity for people and communities in the Highlands.
"The additional £50 million the Executive is providing for the Highland for new affordable housing through the Community Ownership Programme is already delivering significant benefits to the area and is expected to deliver around 1,000 new affordable homes over the next few years' including 100 new affordable houses for rent and low cost ownership in Aviemore.
"By voting to transfer the housing stock, tenants will see even more benefits including significantly improved housing standards, affordable rents, and greater control over their homes".
Since the end of May 14,500 visits to homes have been made by Highland Council staff. This follows on from the Council hosting 47 road shows across the Highlands in March. Information and ideas gathered from both the door knocking consultation and the road shows is being used to finalise the HHA's business plan. A summary version of the Business Plan will be distributed to all tenants in the next few weeks.
The Highland Council's Community Ownership Programme Manager, Tracey Urry said: "The door knocking exercise, which has been funded by a Scottish Executive grant, has been a significant undertaking and staff have been busy answering questions, explaining the ballot proposals and stressing the importance of voting in October. We have found that the vast majority of tenants have welcomed and appreciated the opportunity to speak to a member of staff personally about the transfer proposals on their door-steps. Staff are also encouraging tenants to contact the Independent Tenant Adviser, TPAS, should they have any further questions or concerns about the transfer."
TPAS can be contacted on their Freephone number 0800 269 645.
12 July 06
This invitation by Highland Housing Association, the new not for profit organisation, set up to take over the ownership and management of The Highland Council's housing stock, is the result of the management committee's recent statement committing the organisation to openness and accountability.
The management committee firmly believes that by providing opportunities for tenants, tenants organisations and local community groups to be involved in and to influence decision making will uphold the principles of openness, accountability, equal opportunities and best value.
Nigel Campbell, Vice-Chairperson of the Management Committee is delighted that Highland Housing Association has made this commitment to conduct its affairs openly and make information publicly available.
"This is a really important development for Highland Housing Association and has come from the Association's commitment to allow tenants to be closely involved and influence the decision making especially in the run up to the ballot" he said.
"Housing transfer is a wonderful opportunity for tenants throughout the Highlands and we want people to be able to find out about us, our values and aims and our commitment to securing the best possible future for highland tenants" he added.
Information will be available to everybody who has an interest in Highland Housing Association and housing transfer through the Association's new website, due to be launched later this month, and tenant newsletters and through future meetings and events.
People will be able to access a range of information including Management Committee minutes and policy documents and Highland Housing Association's business plan.
30 May 06
The consultation and communication with tenants will take place between 19 June and 14 July. It is proposed that visits will take place between 9.00am - 8.00pm, Monday to Saturday. No visits will take place on a Sunday. In advance, tenants will get a letter advising them about the purpose of the visits, asking for their cooperation and giving contact details of our staff.
This will be a significant undertaking given the geography of the Highlands, which extends to 10,000 sq miles. However, the Council believes the effort is worthwhile to secure a strong response to the secret postal ballot, which will take place in October.
At the door, Council staff will:-
If tenants are not at home, a note with an information leaflet will be left asking tenants to make contact if they would like to discuss the proposals with a housing officer and/or a further home visit to be made.
The feedback will be used by Highland Housing Association to finalise their Business Plan proposals which will feature in the Stage 1 Formal Offer document to tenants.
The door knocking will be funded by Scottish Executive grant.
27 May 06
26 May 06
18 May 06
7 May 06
A report to The Highland Council meeting on May 4th outlines the business case submission on which the price of the homes being transferred would be based. This price is being calculated on the assumption that there will be no rent increases in real terms for the first five years after transfer. For the next five years rents rises would be limited to ½% over inflation and by 1% over inflation after 10 years.
These proposed rent levels are based on research into what people in the Highlands can afford and recognises the low incomes in many communities.
Highland Housing Association, which would take over responsibility for the homes in the event of transfer, welcomed the report: “Tenants have told us that rent guarantees are one of the most important commitments people want to see from Highland Housing Association”, said its Chairman Angus Maclean. “This report shows that we should be able to offer the guarantees needed to ensure that rents stay affordable”.
The report indicates that some further work is required to confirm the price of the Council’s homes and once this is completed Highland Housing Association will be able to prepare its business plan. This will form the basis of the proposals that tenants will then be asked to vote on later this year.
“We will be looking in detail at the rent guarantees that we can offer in developing our business plan, but at this stage we are confident that Highland Housing Association can offer much greater certainty than the Council when it comes to keeping rents affordable” added Angus Maclean. “In order to match our proposed investment programme the Council would have to raise rents to levels that many tenants will have problems affording.”
11 April 06
5 April 06
The independent report said that the transfer of council housing to not-for-profit associations has brought more investment into housing. It points to the £3.2 billion planned over the next thirty years, significantly higher than before transfer. Investment in Glasgow's housing had doubled.
It also highlighted improved repairs and maintenance and the building of new homes.
"The work by Audit Scotland shows that transfer is the best way of bringing more investment into housing in the Highlands. It also proves that tenants in homes that have transferred have seen lower rent rises", said Angus Maclean, Chairperson of Highland Housing Association.
The report says that tenants in the areas where council housing has transferred have seen rent rises of only 1% in real terms compared to 3% in council housing.
"One of the most encouraging things in the report is that tenants say it has led to more tenant control. This destroys the arguments of those who argue that housing associations are less accountable", added Angus Maclean. "Highland Housing Association will offer tenants involvement as members of the association, clear rent guarantees, and increased investment in homes and services. Tenants will have a real say in how their homes are managed. We hope that when Highland Council tenants receive details of our business plan they will agree that transfer will provide real and lasting benefits for Highland tenants."
In the report over half of tenants
groups surveyed said that transfer had produced a big increase in member
10 March 06
7 March 06
Bill Fernie Caithness area chairman of Housing and Social Work said "All tenants should try to take advantage of the roadshow that will give the chance to get information and ask questions on how a the transfer of housing to an association might affect them and what advantages there will be for the community as whole as well as to the individual
Two separate vehicles will be touring the Highlands beginning simultaneously in Cromarty and Nairn on Monday 13 March and then touring round 47 Highland locations finishing in Dingwall on 30 March.
At the roadshow, tenants will have the chance to find out more about Highland Housing Association, which will take over the Council's housing if tenants vote for transfer. Tenants will have the chance to say what they would like to see from the new Association.
Information and ideas gathered from the roadshow will be used to help draw up the Highland Housing Association's business plan. This will form the basis of the proposal which tenants will then be asked to vote on later in the year.
The roadshow will offer information and advice on housing transfer. Representatives of both The Highland Council and Highland Housing Associations will be on hand to answer questions.
Councillor Margaret Davidson, Chairman of The Highland Council's Housing and Social Work Committee said: "If we transfer the housing to Highland Housing Association, the Highland Council's entire housing debt will be paid off. The Highland Housing Association will have much less debt than the Council. This means that more of the rent paid will be released to help finance new improvements, improve services and keep rents down, and less will be spent paying for past housing debt.
"I am convinced that transfer is the best way of preserving what is best about our housing service. I would encourage all tenants to visit one of the roadshow sessions to find out more."
Angus Maclean, Chairperson of Highland Housing Association said: "I believe that there are very strong arguments why transfer is good news for council tenants in the Highlands. Highland Housing Association will be able to improve homes to a standard that the Council could not afford - while still keeping rents within current Council budgets.
"This is not the only reason I believe that tenants should support transfer. It is just as much about creating a new organisation that listens to tenants and puts tenants first. That is why we are going round the Highlands listening to what tenants' priorities are."Archive Housing News 2003 & 2004