After months of complaints by local residents and campaigning by Westminster Labour Councillors the Conservative Council have finally admitted there is a problem with the operation of CityWest Homes, the ‘Arms Length Management Organisation’ that manages the council’s housing. The Council have now announced a Council led review of CityWest’s operation and governance arrangements and that the Chief Executive of CWH will be leaving the organisation at the end of June.
While Labour welcomes the belated recognition by the Council that there is a problem, it is clear the problem is not about individual members of staff- it runs much deeper. Although there have been concerns about CWH performance for many years, particularly about the increasingly high handed way it dealt with local residents representatives, the decision to push through the disastrous ‘Altair Review’ reform package that closed estate offices and created a new, failing call centre was made by Westminster Council Cabinet Members, not CityWest alone. These changes have led to a dramatic reduction in service standards over the last year.
Labour argue that now is the time for the council to take back control of its housing management by scrapping CityWest Homes and bringing the service back in house. Such a move would not only increase democratic accountability but provide opportunities for more efficient collaboration with council officers. However irrespective of structure there must be a narrower focus on the quality of service to residents and leaseholders rather than previous efforts at ‘empire building’ to expand the organisation into new areas. Labour believes that any reformed housing service must:
- Stop the council cuts to housing management budget
- Restore more local housing officers with a clear connection to individual estates and areas
- Reopen local estate offices in our communities to provide a base on the ground for staff and improve customer service
- Overhaul still failing call centre
- Hand more power and responsibility to local residents over the management of their homes
Westminster Labour Group Leader Cllr Adam Hug said “Labour is pleased that the Council is finally reviewing the operation of CityWest Homes but it must not try to pin the blame onto outgoing members of CWH staff. The problems at CityWest are the result of wrongheaded Tory changes and cuts, combined with deeper structural issues.
The Council should bite the bullet use this opportunity to close CityWest and bring the service back in house, while reversing some of its disastrous changes by putting housing officers back on the ground in local communities.”