Perry opts to keep poor performing Axis for another year

CROYDON IN CRISIS: Despite reports of ‘shocking rudeness and inhumanity’, repairs contractors implicated in a national housing scandal have been given £20m worth of work by the borough’s part-time Mayor.
By STEVEN DOWNES

Jason Perry, the £81,000 per year part-time Mayor of Croydon, is giving Axis – the repairs contractors at the centre of the Regina Road council flats scandal – an additional year of work from the council, likely to cost the borough’s tax-payers at least £20million.

The decision to keep Axis on until July 2023 was confirmed as part of last week’s scrutiny committee process – where the Tory Mayor was absent and so not available to be quizzed on any of his decisions.

Retaining Axis for a further 12 months is to be among the first measures pushed through by the borough’s newly elected Mayor at this Wednesday’s council cabinet meeting, the first of Perry’s administration.

Croydon made headlines for all the wrong reasons in March 2021 when ITV News reported on the “appalling” state of mould-ridden council flats in South Norwood.

Flats across all three council blocks on Regina Road were found to have water running down the walls or dripping by the bucket-load from the ceilings, in family homes which ought to have been rendered uninhabitable because of their poor state of repair.

A report by independent consultants published 12 months ago found that a “relatively routine” water leak in a tower block had been left unrepaired for four years.

National scandal: Axis failed to conduct repairs on this Regina Road flat for four years, according to the findings of an independent report

The consultants also found that Axis had failed “to deliver even basic ‘core’ housing services effectively… potentially symptomatic of poor performance across the council’s housing service”.

Among key findings, the report said that there was “a poor operating culture with a lack of care and respect for tenants”.

That was in 2021.

This year, the council’s housing improvement board has issued a report which was critical of the council, and Axis, for failing to do enough to put right the living conditions of tenants.

The improvement board’s report said, “We have heard from many tenants that they struggle to make the council and Axis take issues seriously, they do not feel respected or taken seriously, and we have heard about some examples of shocking rudeness and inhumanity.”

So when in February 2022, Axis that they were going to bail out from their £21million per year contract – a deal which had been handed to them by Croydon’s Tories in 2014 – most councillors and members of the housing improvement board expected that the countdown clock was ticking on urgent efforts to replace the much-criticised contractors before they quit this August.

Back on the road: the borough’s long-suffering council tenants have to put up with Axis for another year

Now, it turns out, the council’s highly paid executives have effectively been twiddling their thumbs for four months, doing diddly squat to find a replacement, or replacements, for departing Axis.

While Croydon’s politicians were spending weeks on the streets, consumed by the process of getting elected, the borough’s civic servants were meanwhile failing to get any sort of competitive tendering process prepared for the housing repairs service.

The council’s director of housing, Stephen Tate, broke the news last Monday that Axis were being kept on for another year, when addressing a special session for tenants organised by the scrutiny committee’s new chair, Rowenna Davis.

At the meeting, Tate and his colleagues were told by tenants, yet again, that, “The quality of the repairs was often not at the standard expected and additional work was needed to provide a quality check” (according to an official council note of the meeting).

The tenants at the meeting also maintained that Axis were using personnel who were not trained to deal with the repairs required.

In fairness to Perry, this won’t be the first time that an elected representative in Croydon has been handed a steaming turd by the council’s staff due to their slowness or incompetence. The time bought by the additional year of Axis “service”, until July 2023, is to be used to conduct a tendering process which will seek split the repairs service into three, with two contractors dealing with repairs and a third to handle gas servicing.

Nevertheless, after waging an election campaign in which he pledged to “listen” and get things done around the council’s housing service, the one-year emergency extension of Axis’s role with the council’s housing stock is hardly a good look for Perry.

‘Listening’: At some point, part-timer Perry will need to start ‘doing’

“Having listened to our tenants and leaseholders, I want to bring new energy and increased pace to the council’s housing improvement programme,” said Perry, trying to ignore the fact that council officials have done little to find a replacement for Axis in the past four months.

According to the council’s press statement, the Mayor will “consider proposals including bringing the repairs contact centre in-house, so that the council has a more direct relationship with tenants and can respond swiftly to any complaints”. This would appear to be an essential, since the call centre is now operated by Axis themselves, something that was agreed in the cost-cutting outsourcing deal pushed through by a Tory-run council in 2014 when Perry himself was a cabinet member.

Both last year’s independent consultants’ report and the housing improvement board have, separately, concluded that letting Axis run their own calls centre was a fundamental error.

Croydon Council has more than 16,000 social housing properties across the borough. According to Axis, they have been “delivering” 40,000 repairs each year to tenants and leaseholders, arising from “more than 100,000 calls each year”.

Now, the council press department says, “Plans also include splitting the service into more contracts to encourage local businesses to apply and create jobs for local people.

“Tenants,” they say, “would also be involved in selecting the provider and reviewing the contract.” Now that will be interesting…

Perry is, as promised, adopting the Residents’ Charter, something the previous Labour administration inexplicably hummed and harred about for six months but failed to do anything about.

The Residents’ Charter, drafted by the borough’s tenant and leaseholder panel, demands that the council, and its contractors, treat all tenants with respect, respond quickly to their complaints, involve them in decisions and provide them with safe homes they are proud to live in.

“The Residents Charter sets out clear expectations around the kind of service I want our tenants to receive – ultimately to have homes they are proud to live in and to be treated with respect,” Perry said.

“This is an important first step to ensuring tenants and leaseholders receive a proper service from Croydon.

“At the same time, the procurement of a new housing repairs contract is a real opportunity to make this service more responsive and better for everyone that uses it, with robust systems for monitoring performance. I look forward to continuing to work with residents to drive this forward.

“There is much to do and the voices and views of our residents will continue to be so important throughout our improvement drive. I am absolutely committed to listening to them and involving them at every opportunity, as we develop our plans for the future and as we scrutinise and monitor the housing services Croydon provides.”

Read more: Investigation finds systemic failure and incompetence in council
Read more: ‘None of the tenants in Croydon trust anybody in the council’
Read more: Residents’ group pledges to keep up the fight for decent homes
Read more: Croydon shamed over ‘dangerous squalor’ in council flats

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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12 Responses to Perry opts to keep poor performing Axis for another year

  1. May 10, article on here re first actions for new Mayor. I suggested an effective and efficient new provider for housing maintenance – at no cost as funded by HRA. It got 24 likes. Clearly the officers and new Mayor disagree and time will most likely show that the service, from what is now a “zombie” contractor, will reach new depths. Axis and their staff will be treading water with no motivation to improve their service.

  2. moyagordon says:

    I see Axis vans driving around the borough and Axis seem to maintain them to a very high standard and they’re usually brand spanking new.

    Pity they don’t take as much care of the housing stock they’re paid to maintain.

    Pleased to hear tenants are being listened to and hopefully their feedback will be acted upon. Seems crazy that this is only happening now and does show that tenants have not been shown the respect they deserve.

    Organisations that ignore the people they serve fail, go bust and disappear but for some reason councils are allowed to keep failing.

    Everyone working for a council have a responsibility to ensure taxpayers money is used wisely. Council workers should have performance related pay, which would incentivise them to ensure their department achieves the highest standards it can. More accountability and a whistleblower hotline are a must.

    • Kevin Croucher says:

      You are right Axis vans are everywhere, we have a couple parked up in our road every night.

  3. Lancaster says:

    They lack the knowledge, energy and insight to re-tender the work required by a new contractor. They have such a lack of interest or audit to make it almost impossible to ditch low performing suppliers; despite the HR&OD crap they put staff and teams through about so called ‘High Performing Teams’; thanks Grace !

    • Adrian Lee says:

      I suspect that the political and executive leadership of the Council have looked at the picture of what condition Croydon Council is in, what the relevant departments are capable of handling as regards termination of a failing provider and procuring a new one, and they’ve realised that the condition of the Council means that there is an even greater risk of failure if they were to sack Axis, try to put in place an emergency service via some other provider, whilst then going through a proper procurement process for a long term provider with a better procurement framework that could stand a chance of securing a good quality service at reasonable cost (these things genuinely do take time – and skill).

      They’ve probably looked at what has happened to other social housing providers in similar predicaments and realised that the risk is that the temp provider could prove to be just as poor quality and even more expensive (because you always pay premium for an emergency service). And with even more contractual pitfalls. It’s a cleft stick.

      Meanwhile the big headache that will stay with Croydon for some time to come is that there won’t be a capability in-house to do procurement of a major repairs and maintenance service very well, let alone the contract management capability that is needed after completing procurement.

      Even the task of formulating a credible procurement strategy is probably going to be a big struggle for Croydon in its present condition and recent history – and ultimately an expensive task too. (One big contract? A few sizeable contract zones? Join a wider framework contract? Split out services that can be packaged up for smaller local contractors? Due diligence on invited tenderers to ensure big contractors don’t have unpleasant surprises underneath the appearance of capacity and quality and/or that good contractors serving a smaller market don’t bite off too much and fail when offered a bigger, more complex public contract? Etc etc)

      This stuff is not simple and our Council has arrived at (been brought to) a condition that is unlikely to be able to serve well just-like-that, after only a relatively short period of crisis management that is still shaking out, coupled with a complete upheaval of the governance system and political balance after the DEMOC referendum in October 2021 and the recent elections in May.

      Going back to my first point I suspect that all the Councillors regardless of which party they are in and what public pronouncements they make recognise that this is where we are at. Or at least they should be capable of seeing this very clearly.

      • Adrian: despite being given ample cause to “sack” Axis, the contractors themselves announced that they would not be continuing their contract past this August.

        So this extension into 2023 is, indeed, an admission of failure by the council’s executives.

        As for capacity in procurement, it is our understanding that at least two dozen experienced staff working on council procurement activity are among those made redundant in the cull of staff conducted since Katherine Kerswell has been chief executive.

        Kerswell presides over an authority that is unable to perform its fundamental functions. It is uncertain whether Mayor Perry appreciates that, or is willing to admit it.

        • Adrian Lee says:

          I was doing the long form. You’ve done the succinct, short form. That ability to get to the point quickly. I’m not so good at that.

    • Who are “they”? What is lack of “audit” meant to mean? What’s wrong with training people?

      It’s easy to be dismissive and cynical, harder to be constructively critical, harder still to change things for the better. What would you do?

  4. Peter Underwood says:

    “We also need to open up the conversation with local businesses about what they might be capable of delivering and what support they might need. It is worth the council investing in support for local businesses to enable them to take on this work as this will lead to a better quality of service and provide skills and jobs for Croydon residents.” https://insidecroydon.com/2022/02/17/underwood-axis-exit-is-a-big-chance-to-boost-small-business/

  5. Hazel swain says:

    so he should… make them clear the backlog then end their contract ..

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