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The Management of our Homes - One Year On
It is now one year since the Council took back day-to-day management of its housing from the TMO. The transfer of responsibility took place on the 1st of March 2018. Have things changed for the better as promised?
At the time the World’s End Residents Association welcomed the transfer, which was long overdue, but also expressed some concern as to whether the Council would actually turn out to be a better steward of its own housing than the TMO. The intention was clearly there but would the Council be able to turn that intention into reality?
Doug Goldring, the Council’s new Director of Housing, has demonstrated a keen understanding of the many issues he inherited from the TMO. However Doug is just one man. And one man alone cannot manage the Council’s housing.
Doug promised a change in the “culture” of housing management. That the Council would not manage its housing in the same way as the TMO. That it would listen to its tenants and leaseholders, be more sympathetic, be more responsive, be more responsible ... to quite simply behave differently and behave better.
To effect that change Doug recruited a significant number of new people whilst also letting a significant number of people go. Some of the new people Doug recruited are very good, some not so much. Some do demonstrate Doug’s new culture and behaviours and some do not. Sadly in a few instances you would be hard pressed to differentiate them from their predecessors at the TMO. Those few are, as one resident put it, “typical housing staff with typical housing staff ways”. Whether they were originally at the TMO or not many members of staff have yet to demonstrate that they are significantly better than what came before. In a few cases they have already demonstrated that they are not.
WERA’s biggest concern in relation to staff remains the fact that there are many teams that have been left untouched by the transfer into the Council. There are many members of staff who are still doing exactly the same jobs managed by exactly the same people as when they were at the TMO. You cannot change the “culture” of anything without actual, physical change. And where there has been little or no actual, physical change the ghost of the TMO remains firmly in place and shows little sign of being exorcised any time soon.
Shortly after the transfer took place the Council announced its intentions to focus its efforts on improving the repairs service provided by Repairs Direct. Repairs Direct was a separate company owned by the TMO. Ownership of the company was transferred to the Council and new people were recruited to lead it. The Council has repeatedly assured everyone that the service has improved noticeably as a result - that the number of outstanding repairs is down, that the time taken to complete repairs is down, that satisfaction with the repairs service is up, and so on. This may well all be true. As the repairs service provided by Repairs Direct is focused on repairs within tenanted properties it is difficult to corroborate the Council’s claims. WERA has had a very small number reports of poor, problematic and/or long standing repairs within tenanted properties brought to its attention, which have been passed onto the Council for resolution, but not enough to be able to come to any conclusions as to the true performance of the service. It is however encouraging that the number of known problems is so small given the massive changes to the repairs service over the last year.
Repairs within and of communal areas have not noticeably improved in the last year. In a few cases they are worse than they were two years ago. Much of this work is carried out by contractors rather than the Council's own staff and we suspect that is probably why.
The performance of many contractors still leaves much to be desired. WERA, like many other RAs across the borough, strongly recommended that all of the contracts the Council had inherited from the TMO be reviewed and that those deemed to be poorly performing terminated as quickly as possible. As the WERA Newsletter of the time stated:
Of all of the challenges facing the Council this may be the most serious – these contractors provide the bulk of the services received by residents, and many have become accustomed to providing those services on their terms and to the detriment of residents, the TMO having failed to ever manage or monitor them properly. The Council must act to ensure that all contractors deliver what they have signed up to do and, should they fail or refuse to do so, end their failing contracts at the earliest opportunity.
Sadly this did not happen. The Council chose to keep most of the TMO’s contractors in place. As a result the contractor who cleans the estate is the same as under the TMO, as is the contractor who maintains and repairs the estate’s communal lighting, as is the contractor who maintains and repairs the estate’s lifts, as is the contractor who maintains and repairs the estate’s communal hot water and heating system, as is the contractor who maintains the estate’s gardens and open spaces, and so on. None of these contractors have changed. And sadly, and as many predicted, neither has their performance.
The Council will no doubt try to claim otherwise but the reality on the ground is quite clear - many residents simply cannot tell the difference between life under the TMO and life under the Council when discussing the estate’s cleanliness, its lighting, its lifts, the heating and hot water, and the condition of the estate’s communal areas and facilities. The number of issues and incidents has not decreased noticeably, and neither has the time it takes contractors to deal with them (assuming they aren’t simply allowed to fester interminably for months on end; sadly such examples are just as common today as a year ago). The contractors are the same and, for the most part, behave in much the same way. Thus leading to an end result that is, unsurprisingly, not much different.
We are told that many of the contracts the Council inherited from the TMO will be coming to an end later this year. Unless things improve WERA will be pushing for significant change to both the contracts, some of which are quite simply not adequate or appropriate to the estate, and the contractors employed, some of which show no signs of improving their performance any time soon.
So, are things better? Yes. And no.
Some things have improved. Some have not. There is still plenty of room for improvement. And if the Council wishes to keep its promise to its residents there is much it still needs to do to make things better.
Doug has recruited some very good people but problematic members of staff are still with us. Some were inherited from the TMO, some are newly recruited (the social/Council housing sector appears to be full of people who, to be polite, should really seek a different career). The Council needs to monitor and manage the behaviour and performance of all of its staff at all levels carefully and effectively. Poor performance and behaviours need to be dealt with quickly and with no quarter given. There really is no room for complacency. One bad apple is perfectly capable of undoing all of the progress the Council, and Doug, have made in gaining the trust of residents and delivering the true, meaningful change in the “culture” of housing management that has been promised. It only takes one cock up for all that has been gained so far to be lost.
The repairs service may well have improved as claimed. It’s too early to tell but initial signs are encouraging.
The performance of many contractors still leaves much to be desired. Hopefully new contracts and new contractors will help there.
The worry is that the Council may have already convinced itself that much of the job is done and that it can move onto other things. That would be a mistake. And a very big one at that. The Council needs to pause and take proper stock of all that has actually happened in the last year. Yes, many things are better. But some are not. And some are actually worse. The Council would no doubt wish it were not so, but it is. And facing up to that reality and admitting that nothing has been truly “completed” or “finished” as yet and that there is much left to do is one more necessary step in ensuring that it keeps the promise it made to its tenants and leaseholders one year ago.
This page is published by the World's End Residents Association.