City housing chief quits over feud

City housing chief quits over feud


 


Tom Gordon


The Herald


16.12.06


   


 


The head of Scotland’s biggest social landlord is to quit his job after a long-running feud with ministers over funding.


 


Michael Lennon is to step down as chief executive of Glasgow Housing Association (GHA) at the end of January, 11 months before his contract expires. His departure leaves the organisation searching for its fourth leader in six years.


 


The decision was announced to members of GHA’s board yesterday, after it was tabled as a last-minute special item. It is understood ministers were told only yesterday afternoon. Mr Lennon’s exit follows months of arguments between GHA and the Scottish Executive.


 


In 2003, GHA took over Glasgow’s 80,000 council houses in the country’s largest housing stock transfer, with promises to invest £4bn over 30 years in run-down communities. At the time, it was hailed by ministers as a role model for other councils to follow. However, one crucial part of the plan quickly ran into trouble.


 


To ensure the transfer did not replace one monolithic landlord with another, the GHA stock was to be broken up and devolved to dozens of tenant-friendly housing units in a process known as second stage transfer (SST). The GHA said it needed up to £500m to achieve SST, but ministers refused to accept there was any funding gap.


 


In recent weeks relations have been increasingly fraught. Communities Minister Malcolm Chisholm criticised Mr Lennon’s £190,000 salary, while his predecessor Margaret Curran attacked the GHA for slow progress on SST. The issue was blamed for tenants in four other council areas rejecting stock transfer.


 


Last week Mr Chisholm finally conceded there was a funding gap over SST, albeit up to £196m. Some inside the GHA believe Mr Lennon’s scalp was the price demanded by ministers to secure the reversal over money.


 


Mr Lennon and his family had also become sick of the constant politicking, and will now return home to Australia.


 


In a statement, GHA said Mr Lennon was leaving at a natural break, after meeting the organisation’s early year targets and before it moved into a new phase. The GHA added its board was ‘conscious of the sustained pressure associated with a high-profile job such as this’.


Mr Lennon, who was born in Ayrshire but emigrated at 16, had been in post since 2003. He leaves with a financial package worth around £130,000.


 


As the GHA is technically ending his contract, he will receive £30,000 in compensation, plus £70,000 towards his pension pot, and a £30,000 pro rata share of his £40,000 bonus for 2006-07.


Mr Lennon said last night: ‘It has been a privilege to work with the GHA and its partners – especially the association’s board, its board, staff and tenants, who have been a tremendous support to me over the past few years.’


 


Sandra Forsythe, tenant chair of the GHA, said Mr Lennon had made a ‘massive contribution’ to the city’s social housing. ‘Michael has been an outstanding chief executive and the board will miss his huge commitment.’


 


Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP Holyrood leader and Glasgow MSP, wished Mr Lennon well, but added: ‘This move raises serious concerns as it happens at a critical juncture of the transfer process of Glasgow’s housing stock.’ An executive spokesman said he was unaware of ministers putting pressure on Mr Lennon to quit.


 


Steven Purcell, leader of Glasgow City Council, said: ‘GHA has played a major role in the regeneration of Glasgow. Michael Lennon has been at the heart of this work and I wish him every success.’


 


The GHA expects to recruit a new chief executive in the spring.