Housing developmentThank you Mr President 

I note that the DOI Minister is only asking for this Court today to “receive the Tolson report” and for this Court to support a consultation on its preferred option…. 

…and that option is to explore the possibility of setting up a “not for profit” standalone “Housing Association”, in order to transfer and manage the Department’s own Housing Stock of around 1,200 Properties only…

However, as I mentioned in the Tynwald Members Presentation recently, I have some serious concerns regarding this report and the motion that is being tabled for consideration, especially in respect of the way that this particular report has been written, and then put into the public domain. 

I am also surprised that no one in the Department has “sense checked” this document before its publication, because one of the options within the paper is for the Department’s own public housing stock to be controlled and managed in the UK.   

The report goes further when it states that “interest in these proposals from the English housing groups would need to be tested, but it is known that at least one English housing group has already shown some interest”.  

Therefore, can I ask the Minister what discussions have actually taken place with English Housing Groups as part of this review, and who was present at those particular meetings?

Can I also ask the Minister if the English Housing Group option formed part of the presentation given to the Council of Ministers in May this year…?

….because I genuinely cannot believe that this Honourable Court would ever accept any motion in which the Department’s own public sector housing stock, which has total rental income exceeding £7.1 million per annum would be controlled and managed from the UK.   

In respect of the finances, as I have already mentioned, the Department’s income from its own public sector housing stock is around £7.1 million, and the housing management costs including salaries are around £382,000. 

We also know that the Department spends around £1.4 million on Housing Maintenance and managing void repairs etc, and again this amount also has an element of salary costs attached.   

Mr President    

It is very clear from the Tynwald Members presentation that the formation of a new Housing Association on the island will simply add an additional layer of administration and infrastructure costs – therefore it could be argued strongly that we will be paying at least double the costs for managing the same portfolio of properties. 

This is due to the fact that the DOI Housing team will have to remain in post, in order to support, advise and regulate the current housing stock being managed by the Local Authorities, along with continuing to manage the Government’s own estate of properties….

We also know that the total surplus from the Department’s Housing Stock is around £4 million per annum, and that these funds are currently used to reduce the overall public sector rental deficiency figure, which is around £6 million each year.  

During the Tynwald Members’ presentation I asked a direct question to the DOI and the Tolson team giving the presentation about the surplus funds raised from DOI’s Housing Stock…

…and the response was also very clear – any surplus amount would remain within the newly formed Housing Association, in order to invest in new public sector housing, and I am grateful to the Department and the Tolson team for that clarity….         

…however, this does raise so many questions.

Although this island hasn’t invested significantly in any new social housing infrastructure over the past 20 years, a number of our local authorities across the island have invested millions in re-placing existing public sector housing stock in recent years and that investment will need to be repaid back over the next 25 years….

Therefore, can I also ask the Minister what discussions have actually taken place with the Treasury Minister and his team, in order to ensure that those Housing Deficiency Payments of around £6 million each year continue to flow through to the local authorities should a new housing association be set up….?

…because we could have a situation in the future especially for tenants living in Douglas and Ramsey where they could face a significant rental increase, in order to repay back those debts should Treasury withdraw its support…

Mr President 

I was very fortunate to be the Chairman of Onchan District Commissioners back in 2013/14 when the last Tolson report was discussed, and I remember very clearly the unbelievable arm twisting and pressure that was put on local authorities to support that Tolson report. 

At the time there was also a clear threat around removing Housing Deficiency Payments to local authorities if they didn’t support the report and its final recommendations…

…so I hope this Court will forgive me for my nervousness when we are having to debate a further report from Tolson relating to public sector housing. 

As an elected Member of this Court I will certainly do my best to ensure that history does not repeat itself, and I am sure that other Members of this Court who were local authority members back in 2013/14 will do the same…

…because if we are change the structure around managing the island’s public sector housing stock in the future, then it has to be based on a solid platform of evidence, and it has to be in the island’s best interest, but more importantly it must have the tenants best interest at heart…   

From reading the report there are some clear benefits for the island to look at setting up a housing association or a similar structure in the future, in order to  align our policies and strategies on homelessness, vulnerable adults and children leaving social care within a single not for profit structure, but I am not entirely sure that this report or the motion on the Order Paper does that.   

Mr President 

In the introduction and background section of this report for consideration, it says that the Chief Minister has requested a high-level options appraisal report for the delivery of a Housing Association on the island….

Is this report before the Court really a high level options appraisal?, I don’t think it is; 

…Option 1 talks about a standalone Housing Association to manage the DOI’s own housing stock. Option 2 talks about the DOI and all Local Authorities being placed in a standalone Housing Association, which comes with significant risk and possible legal challenge around ownership of millions of pounds of public sector housing that actually belongs to the local authorities.  

…Option 3 talks about our public sector housing stock being managed from a parent company based in the UK, and option 4 talks about the DOI housing stock plus others, which know relates to local authority housing – so good luck with those two options Minister…

…and finally we have option 5, which takes us right back to 2013 when the idea of regional public sector housing authorities was last mentioned. 

Therefore, can I ask the Minister where is the high level option to consider simply transferring the DOI’s own public sector housing stock into the management and care of our local authorities? 

This island has over 6,500 public sector housing properties, and many of our larger local authorities already have the staff, infrastructure and the experience of managing public sector housing on island.   

I actually mentioned this idea to both the Department and the previous Minister back in 2013/14 when the Local Authorities were invited to Mount Murray for a presentation on the first Tolson report. 

Transferring the Department’s own housing stock to local authorities would enable the department’s housing team to focus 100% of their attention on legislation, guidelines, standards, appeals and support, in order to help lift the overall standard and quality of public sector housing on the island.  

The department could also drive forward a new policy to support local authorities to invest in building new public sector housing on the island over the next 5 to 15 years, in order to help some of the 830 island residents and families waiting to be homed. 

Mr President 

I am also concerned by the Motion on the order paper, because it talks about a consultation around the preferred option, which we already know is a “not for profit” standalone “Housing Association”, in order to transfer and manage the Department’s own Housing Stock. 

Therefore, can I ask the Minister who the Department is actually looking to engage with on this proposal, because if we take the motion as written…

….it doesn’t affect the local authorities or their public sector housing stock, and I am not sure the general public will be too interested at this stage…

… therefore, the only people the Department should be actually writing to or engaging with at this stage is their own 1,200 tenants, in order to gauge their opinion around who should manage the Department’s Public Housing Stock in the future, and that is a simple question – the Department, a newly formed Housing Association or a Local Authority?   

Hopefully, the Minister can give some clarity on this consultation and the other questions I have raised. 

I will listen to the rest of the debate and the Minister’s response in due course, because at the moment I will not be supporting this Motion on the Order Paper unless the Minister can convince me otherwise.          

Thank you Mr President