Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Beating the cuts

Liverpool’s largest housing association is filling the gap left by grant cuts with its £700,000 social dividend fund, writes Helen Clifton

Liverpool Council is facing its biggest grant cut for 50 years. The government has reduced its funding for the city by £100 million. This, combined with additional spending pressures means the local authority has to reduce its spending by £141 million over the next two years, it states. Many initiatives that benefit local communities are likely to be hit.

Doom and gloom prevail, but Liverpool’s largest housing association is determined not to give in. Instead, Liverpool Mutual Homes is helping to fill part of the gap left by the cuts by creating the £700,000 social dividend fund, allowing tenants to apply directly for grants to improve their communities.

In September it announced the cash - to be spent during 2010/11 - would be available through three funding pots: a £100,000 neighbourhood plan fund for tenant-led projects, which can focus on any area of community development (not to be confused with neighbourhood plans proposed under the coalition’s Localism Bill which only concerns planning for the built environment); a £250,000 fund for existing and new social enterprises; and a £350,000 community investment fund for larger environmental projects.

‘We wanted to mitigate the effects of the cuts and this was one of the key ways to do that,’ says LMH chief executive Steve Coffey. ‘Corporate organisations pay a dividend to their shareholders. We will be paying it to our tenants [through this funding]. People living in these neighbourhoods have a far better idea of what needs to be done locally than anyone else,’ he adds.

Who gets the money

The housing association’s funding is administered by panels of local councillors together with tenants’ and residents’ associations. Although £5,000 is normally the maximum available at one time from the neighbourhood plan fund, the panels will consider awarding more if those bidding can demonstrate that the money will have a significantly large-scale effect, or will provide a means of job creation.

LMH, which has an annual turnover of £60 million, owns 15,000 homes and has 250 staff, is meeting tenants in every ward in the =city to encourage them to apply for funding.

Projects already funded by the neighbourhood plan include £8,000 given to the Toxteth-based Himilo Enterprise Project, set up last year to help people from African and Caribbean communities access jobs and training.

Funding has also gone towards commissioning an anti-knife crime play by teacher and writer Frank Durfty. Jointly supported by Liverpool Mutual Homes, Liverpool Council and Liverpool Housing Trust, it has been performed in 17 high schools and community centres across the city. Money has also gone towards installing SmartWater technology in several hundred homes across LMH’s estates.

Neighbourhood plan funds have also been put towards further and higher education bursaries for LMH tenants, helping to pay for tuition fees, books and equipment. The housing association is looking at how it can use the money to improve its own apprenticeship scheme, run in conjunction with its contractors. ‘We want to create independent communities and empower people,’ says Mr Coffey.

To receive funding, groups bidding for money must prove their projects ‘have tangible outcomes’. They need to fit in with the housing association’s wider objectives, including the creation of safer and stronger communities, economic development, improving health and well-being or the quality of life of traditionally excluded groups.

Finding the funds

LMH is paying for the funding scheme by installing an ambitious set of efficiencies across its business over the next 12 to 18 months. Back office services will be reduced and neighbourhood offices replaced by a more centralised ‘hub and spoke’ system that could see LMH’s 17 sheltered housing schemes used as offices by tenants’ and residents’ associations and housing association employees.

The housing association says no jobs will be lost as a result of this - instead it hopes to save money by reducing recruitment and staff overtime.

Mr Coffey hopes to see more social landlords following suit by setting up similar funds. ‘If you look at the government’s big society idea and the previous government’s total place agenda [introduced by Labour in March 2010, it represented a new direction for local public services looking at an area as a whole, rather than each service in isolation], they are about facilitating local people and integrating services in the best way possible,’ he states.

The chief executive says he doesn’t just want ‘to replicate the work of the local authority’ and that ‘elected members have got a key role to play’, but landlords can step up and fill a void.

Now Liverpool Mutual Homes has made a further £100,000 available through its neighbourhood plan fund for 2011/12 and there’s still £30,000 left in the 2010/11 pot, which will be rolled over into the coming year.

‘It is about being innovative; you either sit back and say, “oh, the cuts are terrible”, or you deal with challenges in a positive way,’ says Mr Coffey.

Spending it wisely

Liverpool Mutual Homes has given £8,000 of its £100,000 neighbourhood plan fund to the Himilo Enterprise Project. Based in Toxteth in the south of the city, Himilo was set up last year to help members of the African and Caribbean communities into training and employment.

The Princes Park council ward, which includes part of Toxteth and is home to many Somalis, has some of the highest unemployment rates in the UK. Up to 65 per cent of working age adults in the area claim worklessness benefits.

‘Toxteth is very deprived with little employment and not many opportunities for people, especially the Somali community because a lot can’t speak English,’ says Samsam Saleh, Himilo Enterprise Project’s director.

The LMH funding will be used to provide level 2 NVQ courses in health and social care and security work , for which there are local job vacancies. ‘We have more than 20 people on the waiting list for security training, and more than 80 for the health and social care qualifications,’ says Ms Saleh.

Job Centre Plus has teamed up with Himilo to refer clients, while the local Sure Start Centre will provide child care for students. Himilo plans to teach English to help Somalis whose language skills hamper their education and employment chances.

’It is important the community decides its own priorities. We know what our barriers are and what is the best way for us to be successful,’ says Ms Saleh.

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