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Leese: Councils have moral duty to involve homeless in service design

Local authorities have a moral responsibility to ensure homeless people are involved in their statutory duty to provide housing and other services, Sir Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester City Council, told PSE at the launch of the city’s Homelessness Charter.

Leese, who pledged a series of new measures on behalf of the council during his speech at the charter launch on Monday 10 May, was asked by PSE if he backed housing devolution – an idea previously floated by council CEOs in February – as a way to tackle rising homelessness in the city.

He said: “Each local authority is a housing authority. We do have a statutory responsibility to tackle homelessness, but of course, a lot of the people who are homeless are not part of that duty to provide [help for homeless people].

“I think this is a moral responsibility local authorities and other bodies need to take on. Building more homes in itself is simply not enough; we have to provide a whole range of other support for people for them to be able to sustain a home, and that’s part of what the charter is about. It’s making sure we work together to be able to provide that support to people.”

During the charter launch, situated a few steps away from Manchester Town Hall, one of the speakers with lived experience of homelessness joked that the building industry should even train homeless people so they can build their own homes in face of a so-called housing crisis.

This crisis, Leese told us, is one of two major drivers of homelessness growth in the city, alongside hard-hitting government austerity policies – but solutions stretch beyond just building more homes, instead relying on the collaboration ethos embedded in devolution.

“As we heard this afternoon, how people have become homeless can vary for many reasons; it’s not simple or straightforward,” he added. “What we do need in order to solve complex problems are sophisticated solutions.

“What I think we can do – local authorities through the combined authority – is work together with health, with the police, with DWP [Department for Work and Pensions], and with a whole range of voluntary organisations, because voluntary organisations can reach people in a way that we simply can’t.

“Through that, I think we can start to get solutions, particularly if – and that’s something we’ve all pledged to do today – we make sure the voice of people who have experienced homelessness is part of how we decide solutions.”

Asked what he hopes for the city’s homelessness services under its new mayor – set to be elected next year as part of a race Leese has already stepped away from – the council leader said tackling this issue must remain a responsibility of all 10 local councils in the region.

“What I do think, though, is that the 10 local authorities in Greater Manchester can work together more effectively with the whole range of public sector and voluntary sector organisations we need to work with to tackle what is a growing problem – a growing problem that tends to, the visible signs, be focused on the city centre,” he added.

Restructured working model

The groundbreaking charter was launched by the Manchester Homelessness Partnership – which includes representatives from the council, Greater Manchester Police and a range of voluntary and independent organisations – for what some consider the second time: it was first introduced seven months ago.

But those leading the event emphasised that the so-called ‘relaunch’ came after extensive groundwork and consultation with partnering bodies and homeless people, whereas the original charter was mostly based on ideas.

Leese himself argued against the term ‘relaunch’, telling PSE that the charter is “as much a progress update” as anything else.

“This is people who have been working for the last seven months on developing the charter, to develop the partnership and the partnership board,” he added.

The charter pulls together partners from the region’s clinical commissioning groups, fire and rescue services, faith groups, businesses and charities “in a united front” to redesign and strengthen services by putting the voice of the homeless at its core.

It outlines both a series of values that set out how homeless people should be treated and how the city intends to deal with the growing issue practically – including ‘pledges’ made by each body to expand services, strengthen policing, engage the homeless in service design, and work with businesses to raise awareness of skills and employment needs.

It will be initially based on eight priorities (Employability, Emergency Accommodation, Mental Health, B&B/Substandard accommodation, Town hall presentations, Evening offer, Women’s Direct Access Redesign, Big Change), around which there will be partnership action groups chaired by health experts, actively involving those who are or have been homeless.

The partnership board, which will oversee all this collaborative work, will include homeless people as well as senior representatives from the council, the NHS, universities, businesses, social housing providers, and the voluntary and faith sector. It will then be responsible to feed information back to the city’s Health and Wellbeing Board, Strategic Housing Board and Community Safety Board.

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