Report to MDTC Full Council 11th November 2020
from ASHLEY BAXTER, SKDC Councillor for Market & West Deeping.
Continued from previous post
Last week, District Councillors were invited to a secret briefing about a recent auditor’s report into the awful state of the SKDC Housing Department. The report contains a litany of underperformance and compliance failures over more than a decade (Incidentally, the briefing was attended by all three of the Deepings Independent SKDC Councillors but none of the three Deepings Conservative SKDC Councillors)
The failures include the lack of an up-to-date Stock Condition Survey and the lack of up-to-date electrical and fire safety reports.
In June this year, in response to comments from Market Deeping residents, I personally requested details of the Council’s ‘Void Policy’, i.e. the system for ensuring that Council Houses which become vacant are quickly checked for problems; repaired; and made fit for the next occupants in a timely fashion. In June I was promised that a new Senior Officer was working on a new Voids Policy which should be implemented by November 2020. Surprise, surprise, there is not yet any sign of even a draft Voids Policy.
The Council also claims to have a rolling target (and budget) for delivering 500 new homes over 5 years. In reality, the Council built only 60 houses between 2014 and 2017 and ZERO new council houses since then until earlier this year when 14 single-bed modular build dwellings were completed in Grantham.
The SKDC spin-doctors will claim that the Council did build houses via its wholly-owned subsidiary company Gravitas Housing Ltd which was established to ‘disrupt the market place’. In four years, Gravitas has only completed a single project of 25 homes at Wherry’s Lane in Bourne, most of which remain unsold.
In January this year, Cllr Barry Dobson (Con) presented a report to the Companies Committee outlining proposals to find a strategic partner to support the delivery of new homes as part of the Council’s “strategic ambitions for housing growth and delivery in the District”
Two weeks ago, Cllr Dobson returned to the Companies Committee with a report explaining why a housing partnership will not be pursued at this time but might be considered in the future.
Some of the staff responsible for this mess have now left the authority but some of the Conservative Councillors who presided over this clear dereliction of duty are still in office, for example Cllr Dobson held the Portfolio for Housing between May 2019 and January 2020 and is now the Deputy Leader and responsible for the delivery of the famous new Deepings Leisure Centre.
Hats off to the relatively new Chief Executive, Karen Bradford, and the new Cabinet Member for Housing, Cllr Robert Reid (Con) for grasping the nettle and self-referring the Council to Housing Regulator.
For ease of reading, my November report to Market Deeping Town Council is split into three. Here are links to the other parts:
SKDC Planning issues including details of the recent shocking audit report
SKDC Leisure issues including a brief explanation of what’s happening with the Leisure Centre
The Auditors identified the following 16 findings where management actions were agreed:
- For solid fuel, fire safety and legionella, the programme is held on a spreadsheet.
The spreadsheets do not include key information like the last safety check, next safety checks and any notes relating to remedial actions or access to the property; (High)
- For electrical testing, it was noted a testing programme for 2020 has not been implemented. The housing management system and the stock condition database is not reconciled to the housing compliance safety checks/servicing programmes to ensure that every property is accounted for; (High)
- For sheltered accommodation/communal areas, fire alarm testing, extinguisher checks and emergency lighting checks are undertaken. On matching the fire alarm testing, extinguisher checks and emergency lighting checks programmes, eight sheltered accommodations/communal areas were identified where one or more of these checks was not being undertaken; (High)
- For gas, electrical, fire safety and legionella a log of remedial actions (further actions/improvements required) is not maintained and testing at this visit has highlighted that the further actions/improvements required are not always followed up, an audit trail is not always maintained of actions taken if any and monitoring is not undertaken to ensure that the remedial actions identified have been actioned; (High)
- Certificates/servicing records for the housing compliance safety checks undertaken are not maintained in a central location. For example, the electrical certificates may be retained by Repairs or by the Improvement Team within their project files. For a sample of 20, in six cases the electrical certificates were not provided to us and in 12 cases the electrical certificates for works carried out at the property were provided instead of the actual electrical testing certificates; (High)
- An external contractor undertook the fire risk assessments in 2017. Currently there are no arrangements in place (a contract with a fire safety contractor is not in place for this service). The previous management action identified, in our February 2019 audit report, the need for full survey and risk assessments of the fire integrity of sheltered accommodation to be undertaken yet in this audit it has not been undertaken. Council policy requires fire risk assessments to be reviewed annually, however we noted that the fire risk assessments have not been subject to this annual review in 2020; (High)
- Senior Management and the Council are not provided with regular reports (and core KPI data) on the performance of housing compliance safety checks; (High)
- An up to date Housing Asset Management Strategy is not in place. The last Asset Management Strategy was prepared and approved in 2013 and covered the five year period between 2013 and 2018; (Medium)
- Up to date housing compliance safety checks policies and procedures are not in place; (Medium)
- Training/refresher training records for the Improvement Team was not maintained up to date at the time of the audit; fire awareness training was started by three members of staff in July 2019, February 2020 and July 2020 however this has not been completed; monitoring of training is not undertaken to ensure the training matrix/training records is maintained up to date; (Medium)
- Fire safety testing identified that for a sample of five blocks: in 16 cases the fire alarm testing was undertaken between four and 14 days after the last test and in two cases the fire alarm servicing was undertaken at every three months instead of every six months. For fire alarm servicing, fire extinguisher servicing and emergency lighting testing the spreadsheets do not always include the date of the previous visit and test; (Medium)
- For a sample of 20 properties, testing of solid fuel checks identified that in one case access to the property has not been gained since 2018 and in two cases was not gained in 2019. For the two properties with oil fuel the contractor highlighted that the tanks were too close to the fence/house. An escalation process is not in place and it could not be established if any review/action was undertaken; (Medium)
- Internal quality assurance audits are not undertaken on housing compliance safety checks/servicing to assure the works undertaken by the operatives/contractors; (Medium)
- A review of the Asbestos Register identified 1,675 property records where the records are documented as active however no further details are recorded for the properties; (Medium)
- On completion of asbestos surveys, the contractor provides the Council with a PDF of the survey report, however the results of the survey are only uploaded to the Asbestos Register when the spreadsheet is received from the contractor every three months. For repairs, on testing information being provided to operatives and contractors it was noted that asbestos is not flagged on the housing system and as a result for each repairs job the staff are required to check manually for the most up to date asbestos information; (Medium)
- The Council’s web page does not include information on safety in the home regarding legionnaires disease, preventing mould, damp and condensation, annual gas/other fuel servicing, and asbestos. (Low)