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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

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FREE EASTER TV PULLOUT Repairs aim to save cash in the long run

HOMES BILL OVERSPEND HITS £4.5m BY ALEX CAMPBELL

alex.campbell@thesentinel.co.uk

MAJOR repairs on city council houses ordered by costcutting consultants have left the authority £4.5 million out-of-pocket. The cash has been invested in a major scheme to bring council houses up to standard and slash the number of empty properties in the city. It follows warnings from consultant Vanguard that failing to carry out the work now will lead to a huge repair bill in the future. The “proactive repairs” programme has led to additional spending of £4.5 million in the past financial year and finance officers may be forced to use cash reserves to cover the shortfall. The housing repairs budget was supposed to be £16.7 million. Opposition leaders are now questioning why the housing department has overspent, despite complaints of a reduced service. It follows a 6.91 per cent rent increase imposed this week, costing tenants an average of £218-per-year.

Independent councillor Dave Conway, leader of the opposition, pictured below, said: “When Kier came in we were told they were the experts, when Vanguard came in it was supposed to be experts overseeing the experts, so we need to know what has gone wrong. It is a massive amount of money. With the budgets for repairing gates and fences being cut I expected a reduction in costs.” Vanguard Consulting’s work at the Civic Centre will cost more than £600,000 in total, although bosses have pledged to deliver savings of several times that amount as a direct result. The council said the additional spending on housing repairs has cut the number of empty council properties from 430 in July 2011 to 215 in January. It has also enabled the authority to tackle a number of properties which needed major work and had been empty for a long time. The amount of time it takes to re-let empty properties has also been reduced to about 66 days after ballooning to 84 days, helping to ease the 3,000-strong council house waiting list. Jim Gibson, chairman of Chell Heath Residents’ Association and a council tenant, said: “I’ve

noticed a few people have had new central heating systems and new roofing, but I can’t see where the money has gone. Most of the comments from tenants at the moment are about the council not paying for fencing.” A council spokesman said: “Overall this will reduce housing waiting lists by increasing the supply of houses in the city and increase rental income to the city council. If this investment had not taken place, properties would have deteriorated further with increased investment requirements in the future. “Work has included general maintenance of properties that will decrease the requirement to spend on housing repairs in the future. “ This includes prolonging the life of the external fabric of buildings and internal aspects.” Housing finance is set to come under increasing scrutiny this year as the council takes full control of the housing budget. The authority is now responsible for self-funding the maintenance of its houses for the first time, but it will be able to keep the money it raises from rent to cover the costs instead of paying it to the Treasury and receiving a grant.

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SCHOOL meal prices will be frozen for the second year running. Staffordshire County Council has announced its intention not increase the cost for the next two terms. Prices for meals at primary, middle and special schools in Staffordshire will remain at £2.10. And the county’s high school dinner prices will stay at £2.20. The freeze is planned to last until January 2013, but it is hoped to continue until April. However, the council admitted the prices would be reviewed ter m-by-ter m. Councillor Liz Staples, cabinet member for education and skills, said: “This price freeze will help to support families and mean they can continue to enjoy great value for money for good, nutritious meals.” Each meal includes two courses and a drink.

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LUXURY carmaker Bentley will receive a visit today from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. The Liberal Democrat leader will meet with some of the 3,500 staff and apprentices at the company’s Pyms Lane headquarters in Crewe. The visit comes after Bentley received £4.68 million from the Government’s Regional Growth Fund, which it is planning to invest in training and new engine development.

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