I WAS wondering if any readers could enlighten me as to the meaning of ‘independent’.
I know what I have always thought it meant, and this corresponds to the meaning in the dictionary. But maybe we are all wrong?
Following a recent television report regarding the county council and Homes for Northumberland (HfN), I attended a ‘Big Debate’ held by HfN near the end of last month.
There appeared to be a lot of confusion around recent actions taken, and changes made.
As the article said, a ‘closed’ meeting of the council was held late December, where they removed some of the board members, and replaced them.
They claim this was necessary due to poor performance issues regarding HfN.
However, the reports made available in November did not appear to have any ‘serious’ issues that would need such urgent and severe action to be taken.
Admittedly there were a small number of areas that had missed targets set – marginally, though these had reasonable explanation and action plans to cover these.
In fact, the survey commissioned by the council, and carried out by Capita (at a cost of £50,000), made references to the good work and performance by HfN, though it did state that ‘the council has not attempted to enforce value for money efficiencies on HfN’.
Also that no targets had been set by the council.
It also states that HfN was ‘open to tenants opinions’, ‘happy to take something on board’, and had ‘high levels of customer satisfaction’.
It also stated that it considers the call centre ‘far superior to the generic council call centre’.
This was the report used as evidence in the case for the council to bring back the housing stock to their own management, therefore saving thousands of pounds to the tenants – money which could be spent on the housing stock itself.
But this has all stopped now because of these ‘housing performance issues’ they claim to have.
Maybe they found something in the audits carried out on HfN, there were enough of them.
In actual fact there were eight audits within a six-month period, at a cost of a further £78,000.
Performance was not so bad that they had any involvement of the Tenant Services Authority, or any regulator.
However, the ‘closed meeting’ that was held, and from this the board changed, and so too did the managing director.
The former interim housing manager for Northumberland County Council took over this latter job and the board was divided ‘equally’ in three parts.
Now made up of three county councillors, three or four tenants, and three ‘independents’, and it is this that I find confusing.
Seemingly this was to ‘strengthen the board’. But for who? These independents are Daljit Lally, corporate director adult services and housing for Northumberland County Council, Steven Mason, corporate director of finance for Northumberland County Council, and Ian North.
Mr North does not live in this area, in fact I believe he resides in the midlands.
Why choose someone who lives so far away?
We were told it was due to his experience. Or could it be due to him having the same position whilst working with the replacement managing director doing the same job at Three Valleys Housing in the midlands?
So, explain to me again the meaning of ‘independent’?
MR M D SWINBURN