Thursday, 9 December 2010

New ‘rent to mortgage’ plan could give local people first step on housing ladder

A revolutionary plan that would help council tenants on low incomes buy their first home is to be put before Leeds City Council bosses next week.

Leeds City Council’s executive board will next Wednesday consider plans to create a ‘rent to mortgage’ scheme in the Gipton and Seacroft areas of the city that would help people get a foothold on the housing ladder.

Research into the demand for social housing in Leeds highlighted that there are missing ‘rungs’ in the middle of the ‘housing ladder’, with people on low incomes finding it increasingly difficult to purchase their own home or rent privately.

A ‘rent to mortgage’ scheme provides the chance for people to rent a property for a set period at below market rate, giving them time to save for enough of a deposit to then purchase the property either outright or gradually through shared ownership.

Under the plans, ten properties purchased for the scheme at the Oaks in Gipton and Parkside in Seacroft to give people a ‘stepping-stone’ towards home ownership.

Run through East North East Homes Leeds (ENEHL), one of the three Arms Length Management Organisations that manage and maintain council housing in Leeds on behalf of the council, the scheme would be aimed at people who wouldn’t qualify for a council home but who could neither afford to buy a home nor have a large enough deposit for a mortgage, but who would be able to purchase at some time in the future.

Priority will initially be given to people already living and/or working in the EASEL area and people who apply will have to prove that they intend and are likely to be able to buy the house within the set timescale.

Councillor Peter Gruen, Leeds City Council’s executive board member for housing, said:
“This ‘rent to mortgage’ plan isn’t something that we have tried in Leeds before, but we are committed to looking at innovative options to try and help change the way housing in this city works.
“It targets those people who wouldn’t qualify for a council house but who can’t yet afford to buy, giving them a chance to get a safe and secure foot on the housing ladder.
“The scheme covers Gipton and Seacroft, where housing options are currently limited, so hopefully it will give more freedom to people to find a home of their own.”

It is intended as a way to help develop the housing ladder within the East and South East Leeds (EASEL) regeneration area, creating a mix of tenures including council homes, private rent, shared ownership and private ownership.

The model is already used by Registered Social Landlords and, if successful, this form of ‘intermediate’ tenure could be rolled out to areas across the city.

Unlike the old ‘right to buy’ system, these properties have been acquired with a view to letting through this new system so there is no reduction of council housing stock. Also ‘right to buy’ only applies to ‘secure’ council tenants whereas this scheme is aimed at people who wouldn’t be able to access council housing.

At any time during the period, the tenant would be able to buy the property either by way of outright purchase or by taking a shared ownership lease from the council. The shared ownership lease will be granted by the council on payment by the tenant of a premium no less then 25% of the market value of the share of the property they are buying.

Under a shared ownership lease, the tenant would buy a ‘share’ of the property and pay rent on the remaining share, which remains in the ownership of the council. The tenant can buy further shares in the property at the market value and the rent would be reduced proportionately. When they own 100%, they can acquire the freehold in the property for no charge.

Notes to editors:
East Leeds Regeneration is...
• Working with the community and partners to improve neighbourhoods
• Investing now and for the future
• Improving quality of life and choices for local people

Contact the East Regeneration Team on 0113 2143487, easel@leeds.gov.uk or write to Unit 1 Acorn Business Park, Killingbeck Drive, Leeds LS14 6UF.

ENDS
For media enquiries please contact:
Michael Molcher, Leeds City Council (0113) 224 3937
e-mail: michael.molcher@leeds.gov.uk

Leeds sports pitches remain closed

Due to the continuing weather conditions, all Leeds City Council-managed sports pitches will remain unavailable for use this weekend. A decision will be taken as to when the pitches can reopen when the situation improves.

ENDS

For media enquiries please contact:
Roger Boyde, Leisure media relations officer,
Tel 0113 247 5472, email: roger.boyde@leeds.gov.uk

Plan to upgrade older tenant emergency alarm system to go before councillors

An emergency alarm service that keeps older people safe and helps them live independent lives could be updated in a £733,000 overhaul, if council plans are approved.

The Care Ring service provides emergency alarm equipment in more than 3,500 properties within 113 sheltered housing schemes run by Leeds City Council.

By simply pressing a button on a cord around their neck, a vulnerable tenant can quickly and easily raise the alarm if they are in trouble - with calls routed to a dedicated call centre.

However, most of the scheme’s current alarm equipment is now up to 25 years old, making repairs increasingly frequent and costly. And planned national digital upgrades to telephone lines may soon render it obsolete.

Next Wednesday, councillors on Leeds City Council’s executive board will be asked to approve a £733,000 plan to replace the equipment with a new digital version.

The alarm call service allows older, vulnerable tenants to live independently and safely in their own homes with a minimum of council intervention. The service is popular with tenants and provides both them and their families with security and peace of mind.

The upgrade will significantly cut the number of times whole schemes are out of service and will reduce increasingly costly maintenance bills. Also, the new equipment will speed up the dialling time to the response centre and give residents discreet pendants which are easier to operate.

The cost will cover purchase and installation of the new equipment, and the removal and disposal of redundant kit in two phases, the first of which ends in March and the second in December next year.

Councillor Peter Gruen, Leeds City Council’s executive board member for housing, said:
“The safety of our vulnerable tenants in sheltered housing schemes is obviously a top priority for us and the Care Ring system has served the city well.
“However, as it gets older the system is becoming more and more costly to repair, and needs updating.
“Without Care Ring it can cost up to £25,000 a year to put an older person into residential care, so this new system will not only save taxpayers money it will also ensure older people can lead independent lives with a minimum of council interference - but safe in the knowledge that help is only a button click away.
"This is proof of our commitment to the city's older people."

ENDS
For media enquiries please contact:
Michael Molcher, Leeds City Council (0113) 224 3937
e-mail: michael.molcher@leeds.gov.uk

Final few days for Leeds residents to help with city spending priorities

Time is running out for residents of Leeds to help their city council respond to the significant financial challenges facing the authority.

More than a 1000 people have responded to a call for help by completing the council’s ‘spending challenge’ questionnaire.

The consultation – which launched last month – is being carried out to help civic leaders prioritise future spending.

An online questionnaire has been set up, a copy has been printed in each edition of the About Leeds newspaper and a special version for children and young people is available.

Initial responses – which may not reflect the overall findings – suggest many residents want the council to prioritise services for vulnerable people ‘above everything else’.

Many are also in favour of bringing services together and for the council to make better use of buildings ‘even if that meant services had to move elsewhere’.

In the section of the questionnaire which allows respondents to put forward their own ideas, initial suggestions include not providing any free events in future, reducing the frequency of bin collections, cutting the amount of money the council distributes in grants and an end to any service which overlaps with another provider.

Council chiefs are keen that more residents take the opportunity to inform the budget setting process and say they want to encourage as many responses as possible.

As a result of the government’s comprehensive spending review in October, Leeds City Council thinks it will have to save something like £150 million over the coming four years. It expects it will have £90m less to spend next year alone because of the need to make some of the biggest savings early on.

The consultation makes the scale of the challenge perfectly clear.

It says ‘£150m is enough money – although not possible – to pay £200 to every person living in Leeds. Saving this much money, even over four years, means some tough decisions will have to be made’.

Councillor Keith Wakefield, council leader, said:

“I’m delighted with the number of responses so far – but there’s still time to get involved in this consultation.

“As I’ve said before, this is not just a token effort. We want to know how people think services should be prioritised in future.

“I’m also keen to get a better understanding of what the city’s residents think the council could stop doing altogether.

“There are thousands of people who use the services we provide each day and I’d encourage them to take part and have their say.”

ENDS
For media enquiries please contact:
Andy Carter, Leeds City Council (0113) 395 0393
e-mail: andy.carter@leeds.gov.uk


Notes to editors

The council is still waiting for details about precisely how much money it’s getting from the government’s formula grant.

But it has already made it clear that it will be a different authority in future, in terms of size and what services it delivers. It’s expected 2500-3000 jobs will go as a result of the need to save money.

Despite that, the council’s leaders have agreed to do everything they can to protect front-line services, especially those for vulnerable people.

To help residents get a true picture of the issues, the consultation concentrates on four themes: protecting and supporting children and young people, protecting and supporting older and disabled people, making sure the city’s neighbourhoods and communities are clean and safe and making sure Leeds has a prosperous economy and jobs are created.

It also sets out a number of guiding principles:

- The council will do what it can to protect front-line services.

- Leeds City Council and it partners will show strong leadership.

- The council will look carefully at the potential for other organisations, including the private sector, to carry out services on its behalf or in partnership with it.

- The council will stay committed to working with the independent and voluntary sectors, such as community groups and charities.

- It will do what it can to involve residents in the decisions that have to be made.

- The council will review and consider the future of underused or duplicated services, some of which may be reduced, closed or stopped.

- The council will review services or facilities that we have previously provided free of charge and consider whether we might have to charge in future.

As well as being designed to capture views on a range of specific issues, the consultation also asks residents what they think the council should prioritise, what it should do more of, less of and what people think it should stop doing.

More information is available (and a link to the online consultation) by visiting leeds.gov.uk/spendingchallenge

Printed copies, in the About Leeds civic newspaper are being distributed across the city. Copies are also available from one stop centres and libraries.

Library visitors can also ask for help to use the free computers to complete the online version of the questionnaire if they wish.

The city’s citizens’ panel is being consulted as part of this exercise.

The deadline for responses is December 17.

Leeds City Region low carbon bid successful

The Leeds City Region partnership has secured over £300k in funding to support projects that will help achieve a low carbon economy across the city region.

Projects include a trial domestic energy efficiency scheme to deliver insulation and renewable energy to homes in one area of the city region, with the potential to significantly reduce carbon emissions from homes and reduce fuel poverty.

A further project will focus on integrating renewable energy into two of the city region’s urban eco settlements – Leeds Aire Valley and York North West. As well as technical studies, accompanying literature will be produced to inform communities and businesses of the investment opportunities available to them.

The funding has been awarded as part of the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s Local Carbon Framework programme - aimed at empowering local Authorities on the carbon reduction agenda.

Tom Riordan, chief officer for the Leeds City Region Partnership said:

“Councils, working closely with the local community, have a central role to play in delivering the UK’s ambitious targets on carbon reduction. The success of our Local Carbon Framework bid will be critical to the Leeds City Region’s ambition to become a world leading, low carbon economy.”

Climate Change Minister Greg Barker said:

“Local councils can play a vital role in cutting carbon because they have unrivalled local knowledge, experience and influence. We want to tap in to this, so we have awarded just over £2 million to be shared between 30 pioneering councils to work with individuals, businesses and communities to find the best and most effective ways to reduce emissions and stimulate their local economy. The results of the project will decide what works best so other councils across the country can benefit and learn.”

Ends

Notes to editors:


1.The Leeds City Region (LCR) Partnership brings together a group of 11 local authorities (Barnsley, Bradford, Calderdale, Craven, Harrogate, Kirklees, Leeds, Selby, Wakefield and York, along with North Yorkshire County Council) with businesses and partners to support economic growth and a better quality of life for our communities.

2. The Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership area is the largest city region economy and financial centre in the country outside London. With a £51billion economy representing 5% of the overall UK economy, over 100,000 businesses and a 3 million population, the city region will continue to be at the forefront in both driving the economy of the North and accelerating national economic prosperity.

3. The Leeds City Region’s main objectives are: providing sustainable and affordable housing, better connected transport system, skills and training that reflect the needs of city region employers, creating the environment for businesses to innovate and supporting low carbon, sustainable communities.

4. For more information on the Leeds City Region Partnership please visit www.leedscityregion.gov.uk.

Ends
For press/media enquiries please contact:
Sara Hyman, Press and Media Manager
Leeds City Council Press Office Tel: 0113 22 43602

Children’s services overhaul addresses watchdog concerns

Not for publication until 00:01 hrs Thursday 9 December 2010

Leeds City Council has pledged to continue with improvements to the city’s children’s services following the publication of the latest annual performance assessment by Ofsted.

Ofsted’s Annual Performance Rating for 2009/10, published today, Thursday 9 December, rated Leeds City Council’s children’s services as performing poorly. This rating was the highest Leeds could achieve since no unannounced or safeguarding inspections have taken place since November 2009. Ofsted could not take into account all the progress the council has already made, and the ‘poor’ judgement from 2008/9 must stand.

The rating covers the whole of children’s services and whilst Ofsted acknowledged that the effectiveness of the majority of children’s services was good or better, areas for further development are highlighted.

Councillor Judith Blake, executive board member responsible for children’s services said:
“Since the last inspection, we have implemented a full-scale review of children’s services across the city to address all of the concerns raised last year. So it is very disappointing that the fantastic work that our staff and managers have done over the past year could not be taken into account.

“Many services have had very positive inspections over the past year, so it is very possible that, had the two key inspections taken place, we may have be awarded a very different result.”

Nigel Richardson, director of children’s services said:
“Our staff have worked extremely hard over the past year to implement improvements to keep children and young people in Leeds safe from the risk of serious harm. However, we know that it will take time to see the full impact of these improvements and we can still do more to build on this.”

Many services within Leeds children’s services have been inspected by Ofsted this year, with some very positive results, including outstanding ratings for Seacroft children's centre, and St. Anthony’s Catholic primary school in Beeston. Leeds fostering services and eight out of 15 Leeds children’s homes received a ‘good’ rating this year. This annual assessment takes account of all of these, however the two key inspections - an unannounced, and an announced inspection relating to child protection/safeguarding haven't taken place yet, which has limited the overall score available to Leeds.

Since the last Ofsted report into Leeds children’s services was published in January 2010, a major review has been undertaken. Many changes have already been implemented, including significant appointments to strengthen the leadership of children’s services, including a new director. Proposals are currently being finalised for a new structure which will to make it easier for the different teams within children’s services to work together, particularly at a local level, and target support and resources to those young people who are most vulnerable.

To address the key areas for further development identified in the latest report, the council has brought about a number of improvements and continue to make positive progress, including:
• The recruitment of 14 advanced practitioner social workers
• Several successful recruitment drives for new social workers this year
• Improved package of training and support for frontline workers dealing with child protection.
• Improved performance of front line staff.
• Improvements to the electronic recording system social workers use with further improvements to come.
• Best ever GCSE results, reflecting targeted support to schools and groups who can benefit the most.
• Less young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) despite the wider financial climate (8.2% in October 2010 compared to 9.5% in October 2009).

ENDS
For media enquiries, please contact:
Emma Whittell, Leeds City Council press office, on (0113) 2474713
Email: emma.whittell@leeds.gov.uk