Moves within the Executive

The Leader of the Council has reshuffled some of the portfolios on the Executive.  Until a couple of weeks ago, my email signature outlined my portfolio as follows:

“Councillor Mark Bowen
Feltham North Councillor and Deputy Leader of Hounslow Council
Lead Member responsibility for Complaints Management, Customer Services, ICT, Housing Strategy, Housing Allocation & Private Sector Housing”

My signature now reads:

“Councillor Mark Bowen
Feltham North Councillor and Deputy Leader of Hounslow Council
Lead Member responsibility for Corporate Services including Complaints Management, Customer Services, ICT, Emergency Planning, Legal Services, Democratic Services & Human Resources”

This is a major change for me.  Obviously, I will miss not having the Housing Responsibilities as Housing casework has formed a large proportion of my ward duties since I became a Councillor in 2002.  This, in part, probably explains why I am so interested in that area.  However, Housing remains in good hands, with an excellent Officer team at the Council and of course all housing matters will now come under my good friend and colleague, Phil Andrews.  He is passionate about Housing and will more than build on his impressive record thus far – he showed real and decisive leadership and vision during the review of Hounslow Homes.  I will continue to be a member of the Tenants and Leaseholder Consultative Committee and the Affordable Housing Panel so I will still play a part in future improvements.

I have had a think about what has been achieved in Housing during the past couple of years, along with what remains to be done.  I would list some of the achievements as follows:

  • Amended the Council’s allocation policy giving existing overcrowded tenants a better chance of family housing (3 bedroom plus) than was previously the case.
  • Major Investments in Council Owned Housing that sit within the General Fund and not the Housing Revenue Account.  I recall Robert Kinghorn, who is sadly no longer with us, having a frustrating time campaigning on this when we were in opposition.
  • We have brought other empty Council-owned dwellings back into use as high quality housing for local families.  Eleven of these are in Isleworth.
  • Good use of housing grants.  I spent one Friday shadowing members of the Private Sector Housing team and I saw for myself the huge difference that these investments made in the lives of some of our residents.  This is quite often a win-win situation because it enables more people to remain in their home.
  • Increase in the profile of Enforcement and Prosecution.  As is the case, with the planning enforcement area, prosecutions are a last resort.  But we have shown that we do mean business when we say we want high standards in housing.  Last year, we made clear what our enforcement policy is.  I have announced a number of prosecutions in the Chamber.
  • Generally, we have given the private sector a higher profile than ever before.  I see the private sector as part of the solution and various reports have demonstrated that.  We launched a Private Sector Strategy.
  • The London Borough of Hounslow is a Council others will be watching in the future in respect of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs).  A report has been approved on applying for additional licensing in five ward, including Feltham North, and we await a decision from the Government.  The issue is much higher up on the political agenda than it was in the past.
  • We had the first Empty Dwelling Management Order (EDMO) in London, which went down very well with residents in Sunningdale Avenue, Hanworth as it removed an eyesore and brought a much needed family dwelling back into use.
  • We have approved a £1 million investment to extend existing Council Housing in order to assist families who are overcrowded but are settled in a particular area.  Implementation will begin later this year and it is big news for twenty families in the Borough and it will make a real difference for them.
    We have made some very good progress in reducing the amount of people living within our Temporary Accommodation portfolio.  The target to reduce this by 50% by 2010 is very challenging but we are working hard towards it.
  • We held a Low-cost Home Ownership event last year which was attended by around 700 households.  It was a moving occasion for me as I met so many decent and aspiration people who want to succeed.  I really wish these people all the best and hope that their dreams become reality.
  • We are in a much stronger postion at a sub-regional (West London) level than we were previously.  We have been at the table making a difference.  We got a much better deal for Hounslow in the allocation of new build housing that is funded in West London by the Housing Corporation.  We do not import as many households from other Borough as we once did.

Section 3 of the recent Annual Report of the Affordable Housing Panel refers to some of the above and makes it clear that there is still much to be done.  I have not included information about every piece of work but wanted to pen down some highlights.

It has not been without difficult decisions e.g. rent increases for those working families living with Temporary Accommodation but big progress has been made in this area.

Certainly my work was not complete in seeing through the work on HMOs or in persuading enough working families within Temporary Accommodation to go into Low Cost Home Ownership but the foundations are laid and the whole area is in very good hands.

This change in portfolio is the right thing to do.  We have gained a lot in having two Lead Members for Housing but now is the time for one person to run with it.

I am now responsible for the new Corporate Services Directorate.  One of the key deliverables of this area is to build, and take to the next level, the work that has been done during the Performance Improvement Programme.  Not in a Generation should there be a need for a programme of this size at the Council again.  We must continue to embed strong business-like processes across the Council that will truly deliver service improvement and value for money.

I continue with Information Technology (IT), Complaints and Customer Services.  IT is crucial to any organisation and we need to get the best of out of technology in the future.  There has been a massive turnaround in Complaints Management and I am confident that we will build on that in the next year.  There is no reason why we cannot end up with the best and most effective Complaints Management record in London in the future.

Other areas are new to me and will be a real challenge, particularly Human Resources, Legal Services and Emergency Planning.  I have a meeting with the latter first thing this morning.

I am really proud to be part of this Executive and about what has been achieved during the past couple of years.

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3 Responses to “Moves within the Executive”

  1. Annette Says:

    You have indeed been busy over the last few years and indeed have accompished much, however, I would be interested to hear more on the IT side of your portfolio and indeed where the council intends to go with it with you as lead member. Perhaps not an immediate area for winning votes with the public but one in the event of collapse could be highly detrimental to the overall business – you thoughts and feelings would be welcome.

  2. Mark Bowen Says:

    Annette,

    Thank you for your comment and apologies for the slow response. I agree with everything you say.

    My view is that the most important thing a business or organisation gets from an IT department is a safe, secure and reliable operation. The second thing are business improvements through the smart deployment of new technology and functionality.

    I will post updates on progress in the future. It is certainly a very high priority for me for the reasons given above but delivery here will make the Council an even better experience for our residents.

  3. Phil Andrews Says:

    Mark

    Thanks for your very kind words concerning my performance during the Hounslow Homes Review.

    As you know this was a very difficult period, more akin to an exorcism than a conventional review of a service provided to and for the local authority, and it preoccupied me for most of my first year as an Executive member, thus setting back some of the other things that I had determined to achieve.

    However all’s well that ends well, we now have a much better working relationship with our ALMO. Yes, there are still differences of course and occasionally frictions, but at least now we have a recognition that Hounslow has a new administration and an acceptance that the organisation’s role is to assist it in delivering its priorities in Housing.

    As regards the remainder of the portfolio, you will be a very hard act indeed to follow so please expect me to be seeking out your advice and expertise.

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