Housing board’s report warns of ‘years of hard work’ ahead

Nearly two years since the Regina Road council homes scandal broke, an independent panel appointed to oversee the Town Hall’s housing efforts has noted the beginnings of improvement

Getting Croydon’s housing service to an acceptable standard “will take several years of focus and hard work”, according to a report going to the council cabinet meeting tonight.

Signs of improvement: the housing improvement board’s latest report suggests some signs of change

The comments are made by Martin Wheatley, the chair of the independent Housing Improvement Board, which was established in the aftermath of the Regina Road council flats scandal, when leaks, damp and black mould throughout several council homes were exposed in a series of television news reports.

Before addressing Mayor Jason Perry and the cabinet tonight, Wheatley has submitted a report – the improvement board’s second – in which he outlines considerable improvement in the management of the council’s housing and property maintenance services. The report links the generally more organised approach to the appointment of Susmita Sen as the council’s corporate director for housing.

In a letter to Mayor Perry, Wheatley explains that as recently as September, he and his colleagues on the improvement board remained “very concerned that nearly 18 months had passed since the appalling conditions of some properties in Regina Road, and wider problems with the housing service, had become apparent, yet almost nothing tangible had happened to address its obvious massive shortcomings”.

But Wheatley goes on to say that the board are “very encouraged” that “at long last” there have been signs of real progress.

“It is vitally important that housing improvement is managed as one of the council’s highest corporate priorities, not pigeonholed as a housing service issue alone,” the report to cabinet says.

Welcome improvements: housing panel chair Martin Wheatley

Perhaps mindful of the council’s broader financial problems, the report states, “The experience of tenants and residents on estates is shaped not just by the performance of the housing service, but by environmental services and other parts of the council.

“Systems and cultural issues in the housing service, including the treatment of tenants and residents, poor financial management, lack of good performance data and poor contract management, mirror wider weaknesses in the council as a whole.

“The service’s historic and current poor performance has an enormous impact on tenants and residents, and on the council’s corporate reputation,” the report states.

The report also warns that great care needs to be taken over the winding down of the repairs and maintenance service with suppliers Axis, whose contract is due to end in July 2023. The handover “will need to be managed very carefully to avoid the obvious high risks”, the report says.

Wheatley said, “Getting to a housing service performing in line with sector norms, let alone the higher standard we would all like to see, will take several years of focus and hard work.”

The board also welcomes the Residents’ Charter, which is due to be formally adopted by the council tonight.

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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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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2 Responses to Housing board’s report warns of ‘years of hard work’ ahead

  1. Lewis White says:

    Green shoots of hope?
    Well done, all who are bringing about beneficial change.

    Respect for tenants by council staff is a key component. (and vice versa too).

    It costs nothing.

    Listening is important, but action counts louder than words.

    I have been told that Croydon Housing officers have been handling the management of many more properties per head than in is the case in most other London boroughs. Time is short- problems many.

    It can’t be easy working in understaffed conditions. Fire-fighting, at worst ?

    I am wondering if the Council is also understaffed in terms of building surveyors and building services engineers, the very people needed to investigate and sort out technical problems.

    How are local government salaries and pensions, relative to those for the same roles in the private sector?

    My guess is, markedly less, in salary. at least.

    George Osborne’s austerity reduced local government pay increases to a miserable 1% for years.

    We see hear and read a lot about the pay of NHS and higher profile public services, but we also need to remunerate all the rest — people like housing officers, building surveyors, and M and E engineers, and gardeners, cleaners and caretakers, fairly.

    Pay as well as good management, efficiency and sensible workloads affects morale.

  2. Ian Kierans says:

    There may be issues and those with critique regarding the Residents Charter. That will not detract from the act that when it is incorporated it should lead to a vast improvement from the here and now. Those involved in its development and acceptance should get a big pat on the back and recognition of the work done.

    Ms Sen should also be recognised for the changes made in her short tenure and thanked by the Councillors representing Regina road. I personally would like to thank her for giving some hope for the future to not just Regina road but all those housed by Croydon on behalf of us as residents.

    Peoples hard work though can be lost in full implementation and many may be harbouring (quite rightly) some grievance for past failures but that should not detract from wholehearted support for doing what is right going forward and supporting what can be a change for the better.

    The proof of worth comes in the actions when things go wrong and the fast rectification of the wrong. Mistakes and errors happen. It is a measure of worth as to how quickly they are acknowledged and put right.

    One thing that should be addressed is that yes it will take time to sort out the maintenance of housing but residents should not suffer that detriment whilst this improves to an ”acceptable standard” they should have the acceptable standard in a short timeframe.
    If this requires injections of money then Central Government should be petitioned by all Councillors and the Mayor for this injection and the acceptance that it is ringfenced for exactly that purpose and not subject to ”administrative problems”

    Still overall green shoots may be appearing and for that we should be positive.

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