Safe as CBC Homes

This gets interesting – confirmation finally from Colchester Borough Council that Colchester Borough Homes has plans to operate as a separate limited company.

The Chronic initially got a whiff of this story at the start of the summer. We slapped in an FoI, to see what information CBC was prepared to release.

We asked:

“Please can I see a copy of the Trading Strategy document that was submitted by Colchester Borough Homes to the Trading Board at Colchester Borough Council in February 2014.

Please can you confirm if the Trading Board has acknowledged this proposal. If so, I would like to know what the outcome was of the proposal put in by Colchester Borough Homes.”

CBH is the Arms Length Management Organisation that effectively looks after the housing stock on behalf of CBC.

Our interest in submitting the FoI is that if the organisation was to have a change in direction, this would possibly impact upon many council tenants living in Colchester.

And whaddya know – true to form, CBC blocked the FoI:

“If the document you are requesting is Colchester Borough Homes’ Trading Strategy, then this is not shared publicly due to commercial sensitivity.”

Plus:

“You also requested that I confirm whether the Trading Board has acknowledged this proposal and, if so, what the outcome was.

The minutes show that the item in question was confidential, and I therefore cannot confirm the outcome of any proposal that went to the Trading Board under this item of business.”

Bugger.

But wait! What’s this?

CBC has now published the minutes [pdf] of the Trading Board that took place on 5 August.

A little further detail has now been made available to the public:

“Councillor [Paul] Smith attended and, with the consent of the Chairman addressed the Board in response to a question regarding progress on the proposal by Colchester Borough Homes to formulate a separate limited company to operate as a stand-alone business arm.

He explained that the proposals for a stand-alone company were not being pursued at the current time but other options to diversify their service delivery were being considered.”

Given the answer that we received from our original FoI, we’re not entirely sure if the minutes above were meant for the public.

But yeah – CBH has ambitions to break away from CBC and operate as an independent company.

We also note from the minutes of the Trading Board:

“Cllr Kevin Bentley went on to request that further consideration be given to the formatting of reports to the Board which would enable more details of the work of the Board to be made available to the public.

He was of the view that there may be potential to separate out the commercially sensitive content of the reports on the agenda enabling the principles behind the decisions to be available for the public although he was mindful of the need to avoid duplication of information.”

Good.

The Tories at the Town Hall actually have a role of Spokesperson for Open Government, with Cllr Ben Locker currently holding the position.

The LibLabIndie Cabinet with no Mandate would do well to listen.