Nobody will talk about it – not Salix Homes, not the Salford councillors sitting on the Salix board, not even the trade unions...but the Salford Star has it on good authority from five different sources, none of whom will go on the record, that Salford Council is to bring back in-house the homelessness contract controversially handed to Salix Homes less than four months ago.
Back in October 2017, Salford City Mayor Paul Dennett approved the extension of the contract for the homelessness, housing advice, allocations and supported tenancies services for two years at a cost of £1.377million per year.
The contract was controversial because, as the Salford Star pointed out recently, there was a huge conflict of interest. Salix Homes was evicting people from its social housing properties, only to be responsible for re-housing them as 'homeless' (see previous Salford Star article – click here).
Despite this, Salford Council 'considered and rejected' options to "Bring the services in-house in April 2018"; to "Tender these services bringing the current contract to an end in April 2018" or to "Extend the contract for one year while undertaking either of the above actions in 2019".
The Assessment of Risk was stated to be "Low" because "The services are performing well overall...and would provide the services with the consistency and stability needed to develop and embed the new ways of working in response to new Homelessness Reduction Act duties".
The actual report that led to that decision by the Mayor was kept secret. All that was stated in the decision notice to hand Salix the contract was...
1) "The services are providing good quality overall, meeting contract requirements and specifications. There are no performance reasons why the council should not want these services to continue to be delivered by Salix Homes in the near future.
2) During 2017 there will be considerable work for officers and managers in order to prepare for the new duties resulting from the Homelessness Reduction Act and a period of consistency and stability for the services is needed to facilitate this.
3) The new ways of working will require embedding and the services will need consistency and stability while trying to do so.
4) In April 2018 (due to the time frames involved) Salix Homes will be required to review and transfer all staff contracts to Salix terms and conditions. This is a big piece of work to undertake and the cost benefits of doing so for only a one year extension are not evident.
5) There would be insufficient time to develop the new ways of working for the new Homelessness Reduction Act duties and prepare for a full tender process by April 2018."
So what has changed? No-one is saying, except the Salford Star understands that it was the Salix Homes board itself that decided to give up the contract. There are no Salix Homes board minutes made public, and when the Star emailed three of the councillors who sit on the Salix 'Independent Board', ostensibly to hold the company to account, none of them responded. Neither did Salix Homes itself.
This week, Salix Homes has launched its 'Rethink Housing' strategy, which has glossy videos enthusing over the new 'digital age' but states nothing about giving up its homelessness contract...
"The sector hasn't been ambitious enough in what we want to achieve and there's an underlying fear to grasp the bull by the horns and take some measured risks" Salix states in its latest press release "But these rapid technological advances, coupled with Brexit, political uncertainty, welfare reforms and a growing housing crisis, mean we can't just sit back any more.
"With these changes come opportunities – the chance to rethink who we are and how we do things" the company adds "The chance to create a truly digital service for our customers and the chance to develop a stronger, united voice to tackle the housing crisis."
Moving the contract for the homelessness, housing advice, allocations and supported tenancies services back in-house with Salford Council can only be a positive move, and the Homelessness Reduction Act comes with a large chunk of Government money for Salford.
But why the secrecy? Why the U-turn? And why isn't anyone being held to account for controversially outsourcing and extending the £1.377million contract in the first place?