No tears shed by council or tenants as Axis makes its exit

Without any fanfare, and conspicuously no statement of great achievements by Croydon’s Mayor, the borough’s £21m per year repairs contractor that was mired at the centre of the Regina Road scandal has been quietly replaced

It was perhaps a surprise that there was no bunting strung up by council tenants celebrating around the borough yesterday. For it marked the first day for almost 10 years that they would not have to tolerate the repairs and maintenance service from Axis.

Axis were implicated and blamed for much that was wrong and unacceptable in council flats on Regina Road when the Croydon housing scandal was exposed on national television in 2021.

It was in April 2014, that Croydon, then under control of a Conservative council (which included Jason Perry as a senior decision-maker), first awarded the borough-wide maintenance contract for all council properties to Axis. The initial seven-year deal was worth almost £150million.

In 2020, the then Labour-run council awarded Axis with a four-year contract extension  – announced just months before the failings of the council’s repairs service were exposed on national telly.

But in February last year, Axis opted to jump before they could be pushed, giving the council barely 18 months to find suitable replacements – contractors that our cash-strapped council can afford and companies who are prepared to work for them.

There are about 15,000 council homes in Croydon, and the job of maintaining and repairing them has now been split across three service providers: Mears, who will look after New Addington, Fieldway, Shrublands and Monks Hill; Wates, who get the job of looking after council homes across the rest of the borough; and K&T Heating, who will look after boiler repairs across the whole of Croydon.

Soft launch: the council has gone for the discreet approach over the maintenance contract handover

Letters were sent out to council tenants in the last couple of weeks, advising them of the handover and, significantly, of the repairs call centre being taken in-house – importantly giving the council a better degree of oversight of the conduct of repairs and maintenance work by contractors.

But this looks like a “soft launch”, to see how things settle in.

The propaganda department in the bunker at Fisher’s Folly organised a snapper to take the obligatory team photograph in the council offices yesterday. But there’s been no press release, no pompous, self-regarding quotes from Piss-poor Perry, Croydon’s powerless Mayor, and no grand announcement on the council website.

Instead, all there’s been is a single modest tweet (which not even all councillors will have seen): “The transformation of Croydon’s housing service has reached a significant milestone today with the launch of the new in-house repairs contact centre and three new contractors – Wates, Mears and K&T Heating – providing responsive repairs and heating services across the borough.”

And that was it…

According to Katharine Street sources, the new contractors had already started doing some jobs around the council’s estate. “Residents have been very happy to see them,” they said.

“It was tight but council officers did brilliantly in setting out a plan and delivering to it in spite of glitches.”

And demonstrating that they are fully conversant with councilspeak, the source described the coming weeks of the changeover as “challenging”.

Signs posted: Repairs contractors Axis were among those who earned the anger of Regina Road residents

Robert Ward, the Tory councillor who has been given responsibility for overseeing council procurement, tweeted yesterday that there had been “on-time delivery” of the handover from Axis “in spite of bumps in the road along the way”.

Ward wrote: “There will be teething problems, so apologies, but we will get there.”

Many long-suffering council tenants will feel that any change will be an improvement on what they’ve endured over the past decade.

Axis were mired in a national scandal when the damp, mould and disrepair of Croydon council flats in Regina Road caused a public outcry after being featured on TV news bulletins.

Independent consultants were hugely critical of the council’s housing department and their repairs contractors. In a damning report they said that the council and its contractors failed “to deliver even basic ‘core’ housing services effectively… potentially symptomatic of poor performance across the council’s housing service”.

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

Under the original arrangements negotiated by the Tory-controlled council, Axis was guaranteed £21.4million-worth of business from Croydon each year, almost regardless of the number of repairs they had to perform, or the quality of the delivery.

Axis fan: Alison Butler

According to Town Hall statistics that were used to justify the contract extension in 2020, the council claimed that Axis had been exceeding all their performance targets.

Given the context of what was discovered at Regina Road and elsewhere in the council’s housing stock, such figures clearly had little basis in reality.

A possible explanation for the council’s self-satisfied approach to Axis was to be found in other figures, which showed that just 1-in-10 of the maintenance jobs undertaken by the contractors was ever monitored or checked.

The council cabinet member in 2020 who recommended the multi-million-pound contract extension for Axis was Alison Butler.

Butler, the loyal deputy to the discredited council leader Tony Newman, was also the driving force behind the disastrous, loss-making Brick by Brick housing company. Guesstimates suggest Brick by Brick will have cost the Council Tax-payers of Croydon at least £100million by the time the company is formally wound-up next year.

Butler did not seek re-selection to stand in the council elections in 2022.

As recently as February 2020, Butler was reporting to the council’s scrutiny committee that everything was absolutely hunky-dory with Axis and the repairs service. “Customer satisfaction with the repairs service had improved,” Butler claimed. The scrutiny committee, had until recently been chaired by another Newman Numpty, Sean Fitzsimons, who had never raised any concerns over Axis’s poor performance.

Reverse gear: these Axis vans will be seen even less on the streets of Croydon now

Our sources in Fisher’s Folly confirmed that in the end, Axis jumped before they could be pushed, exiting in 2023, rather than seeing out their contract to 2025.

To prepare tender documents for a re-defined service, split over three service providers, and deliver it all within 18 months, either side of a council administration handover, appeared to be a big ask.

“It could all be very risky, even for a better-run local council than Croydon’s,” a Katharine Street source conceded soon after Axis sprinted towards the exit door.

So for the council to have started its new arrangements with K&T Heating, Mears and Wates, and got its in-house call centre up and operational for the start of this month, may represent a minor miracle.

Inside Croydon will be keen to hear from council tenants about their experiences of the new system, from calls to the service centre to the delivery of repairs and upgrades. All correspondence will be treated confidentially, of course…

Read more: Investigation finds systemic failure and incompetence in council
Read more: A year after housing scandal, council to raise rents by 4.1%
Read more: ‘Shoddy’ botched repairs as council housing scandal deepens

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6 Responses to No tears shed by council or tenants as Axis makes its exit

  1. Diana Pinnell says:

    My concern is that the Council is bankrupt, and may be unable to cough up for the volume of call-outs for which Wates, Mears and K&T will be submitting invoices.

    In my own experience (concerning payment for care for my late mother) invoices were never checked and needed challenging almost every month as the agency often charged for care which was not provided.

    Let’s see what happens next, and just what the repair costs will be. I do hope that tenants will be able to get essential work done without having to battle with Council staff, that work will be performed promptly to a good standard by the contractors and checked by the Housing dept, and that invoices will be paid promptly.

    However I don’t live in Cloud Cuckoo Lane, but in Croydon.

  2. Jim Bush says:

    Wates ought to know how to repair blocks like the ones in Regina Road, South Norwood, and the similar blocks scattered around the borough, because Wates built them originally. They also built a large proportion of housing in Croydon (not just council housing), including Park Hill, Forestdale, Coulsdon Woods, etc.

  3. Gavin Palmer says:

    Well done all, sounds sensible and the Landlord tips and approaches I told all mayoral candidates in a hustings would and should save everyone a considerable amount of money, heart ache, health and happiness.
    Good things came from those debates- so may I personally thank you all for giving me the opportunity after the Mayoral referendum Croydon to speak out publicly for the betterment of Croydons citizens on a public platform.

    • Ian Kierans says:

      Gavin – Perhaps you were enlightened as to how the Croydons conservatives do not operate as a meritocracy?

      Should one note that the one in ten checks of maintenance is one more than planning do on Landlords stating they have discharged all the planning conditions.

  4. Lewis White says:

    This sounds promising– let’s hope it delivers too.

    The failure of having all the eggs in one ‘mega’ contract basket is not surprising.
    The new contracts will still be huge, but at least the non-boiler work work will be split 2 ways.

    Regarding inspections, 1 in 10 sounds does not sound too low, but some repairs are bigger and more complicated than others, and hidden — and less likely to be immediately detected by tenants if things go wrong.

    The salary of a building works inspector would be saved many times over if the contractor knows that a greater number of complex jobs will be inspected.

    Good on those who have decided to ditch the single provider concept.

  5. It’s about time Axis bid farewell! After years of subpar service, the exit of this repairs contractor is a welcome change. The lack of celebration from tenants and council is telling – Axis’s legacy is one of neglect and dissatisfaction. Kudos to the council for making this change happen, despite the challenges. Here’s hoping the new contractors step up and deliver the maintenance and repairs that the tenants rightfully deserve.

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