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.
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.
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.
“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.”
- Click here to read the Housing Improvement Board’s most recent and highly critical report
- Click here to read the Residents’ Charter
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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