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New homes and feeding homeless on the agenda as council seeks partners

New homes and feeding homeless on the agenda as council seeks partners

🕔26.Feb 2016

A fresh emphasis on partnership working is gradually taking shape at Birmingham city council.

Towards the end of last month council leaders joined 20 housing providers to discuss how to deliver quality housing services. A few weeks later, in a separate development, it was announced that the council would support two charities to provide a free hot meals service for homeless people.

Small steps for certain, but part of a concerted effort to address what can at best be described as a mixed record for partnership working.

The council was heavily criticised in the Kerslake Review for a paternalistic “we know best” attitude and a poor record on working with other organisations.

Kerslake’s report, published in December 2014, noted: “Time and again we were told that the fundamental philosophy that underpins BCC’s approach to partnerships is wrong. The overwhelming view of those we have spoken to is that partnership working in Birmingham needs to be fixed, and that failure to form effective partnerships is creating significant problems for both the city and the wider area.

“We were told that BCC do not treat their partners as equals. The council has an attitude of if it’s worth doing, the council should do it. This paternalism alienates partners and means the council is failing to reconfigure services.

“The criticism from the council’s partners is that their concerns and priorities are not listened to. The council develops plans alone without input from their partners and then expects to discuss how others can contribute to what they feel are the council’s predetermined priorities.”

New city council leader John Clancy, who took over from Sir Albert Bore on December 1 2015, has said a commitment to working with partners is even more important now because of the authority’s difficult financial position.

He recognises that house building and the need to improve existing stock cannot be achieved by the council working alone.

Cllr Clancy attended a meeting of the Birmingham Social Housing Partnership to discuss how to strengthen existing partnerships to ensure enough quality homes and support services for Birmingham’s citizens.

Providers committed to support each other to develop a new approach to homes and neighbourhoods and develop a comprehensive housing offer for Birmingham.

Birmingham cabinet member for neighbourhood management and homes, Cllr John Cotton, said:

Birmingham has a proud history of working with housing providers to deliver quality homes and better neighbourhoods but we recognise that we need to do more if we are in with a chance of delivering the quantity of homes needed.

Quite simply, with less money available but more to do, it’s essential that we explore all possible avenues and work creatively to deliver homes and support services.

The conference launched this approach and set up groups of people committed to working out how best to provide housing for people with specialist needs – such as sheltered housing and extra care – and those in need of social housing.

We are also going to work together to increase the provision of affordable, quality homes, whether owner occupier or privately rented and we will meet again next month.

Jonathan Driffill, Executive Director of Partnerships, Care and Communities at Longhurst Group and current Chair of BSHP, said:

As a country we’re only building about half of the homes we need to meet demand. The Government has made a commitment to increase building over the next four years however as the government focusses on increasing the number of homes available to buy there is a risk that some of the essential support services that housing associations provide will start to disappear.

Working collaboratively with local charities and other support organisations we’re in a much better position to continue to provide services that help people find work, stay out of debt, or recover from hardship. That’s the purpose of today’s event – to ask ourselves how we can keep making a difference.

The council has joined forces with two city charities to help improve the lives of hundreds of homeless people.

Midland Langar Seva Society has begun offering a hot meal service from the Digbeth headquarters of SIFA Fireside operating every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Sikh charity MLSS has been providing free hot food every weekday evening in Birmingham City Centre for almost two years.

The current service operates outdoors at the junction of Moor Street Queensway and Albert Street.

Now, with demand increasing, MLSS will operate indoors from SIFA’s Allcock Street premises in Digbeth.

The service is initially a council-funded pilot scheme and once demand is assessed, organisers hope to offer additional services such as housing and crisis support, mental health and substance misuse services.

Cabinet member for health and social care Cllr Paulette Hamilton said:

This is a perfect example of how partners working across the city can come together to improve the lives of vulnerable people in Birmingham.

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