Strengthened tenant scrutiny is the key counterpart
of the lighter-than-light touch approach of the new social housing
The government's thinking is that accountability to government
and national regulators should be replaced by stronger
accountability to the actual users of the housing service - tenants
and local communities. And it is difficult to disagree with
this direction of travel - provided landlords everywhere are
willing to work with their tenants to put effective scrutiny
arrangements into place.
This is no small challenge for any social landlord.
Councils with housing face the additional task of making tenant
scrutiny work alongside existing arrangements for councillor
Getting tenant scrutiny to work well is not just about setting
up a scrutiny panel and putting a process into effect.
Culture and commitment are, if anything, more important.
There is no one right way to do scrutiny, but it will only work if
the council and tenants' representatives share a commitment
to make it work.
Formal arrangements for scrutiny are little more than a decade
old in English local government. Many councillors
remember the old committee system where no formal separation
of executive and scrutiny existed , and some may be thinking of
taking up the opportunity provided by the Localism Act to bring
committees back. In the smallest councils, the committee
system never went away. There may still be work to be done in
many councils to embed a full understanding of the role and
importance of scrutiny as a part of effective governance, before it
is possible to win commitment to the principle of independent and
powerful tenant scrutiny.
The key message to get across is that scrutiny and challenge are
not a problem or distraction from the job of running a housing
service, but drivers of improvement. This is as
much true of backbench scrutiny of council decisions as of tenant
scrutiny of landlord performance. Councillor and tenant
scrutiny are not in competition but complementary.
There are undoubtedly examples of councils where tenant scrutiny
is forging ahead and others where progress is much slower.
ARCH needs to consider what it could usefully do to support the
development of this important element of self-improvement and