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Harlow Council’s housing repairs record scrutinised by committee

Politics / Mon 11th Dec 2023 at 10:19am

AT the Scrutiny Committee meeting held on 5 December 2023, Agenda Item 8 took up a considerable amount of time (45 minutes of the 2 hour meeting). The comprehensive report was rigorously challenged by the committee members.

Green Party leader, Yasmin Gregory went along. This is her report.

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The report presented highlighted significant improvements in the business process within the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) Business Plan, leading to positive outcomes for residents and property maintenance services. The figures provided showcased an impressive reduction in the backlog of responsive repairs and roofing projects, indicating a better service delivery for residents with a 90% satisfaction rate from surveys conducted.

The recent revisions to the HRA Business Plan, approved in February 2023, have played a pivotal role in driving the positive changes witnessed in property maintenance services.

The overall financial and governance implications of these improvements have been carefully accounted for within the approved HRA Business Plan and financial plans.  £3.4m was approved in February with £1.4m having been spent at the end of September.  The Council were confident that the backlog of 1231 outstanding matters will be cleared by using the remainder of this allocated budget.  

One of the key focus areas was the roofing referral processes.  The Committee heard from the Interim Head of Housing (ex-Lambeth Council Housing Officer) that with dedicated efforts to address the backlog of street property roofing projects which included a commitment to identifying, scoping, and delivering improvements in roofing and major repairs projects which has resulted in a remarkable 73% reduction in the overall backlog of works. 

According to the Council there are currently 3952 open jobs on the system which has been reduced from 4250 (as at end June 2023). 

The Committee requested clarification on the figures submitted as, in their opinion, there was a discrepancy on baseline figures with 5,500 jobs identified as Work In Progress (WIP) which is a monthly rolling programme.  

The Council were asked what was the longest outstanding job on the ‘books’ and were residents informed that the backlog is being cleared?  Due to unknown variables, it was confirmed that only when the Council are able to book jobs in (within a two week window) does the resident get informed of the impending work.  It is also at this juncture that the resident will inform the council that the work is no longer required (perhaps because they have fixed the problem themselves or it is no longer relevant to the tenant) and the resources can be reallocated accordingly.

Whilst the report highlighted significant improvements and positive outcomes, there are several points that need to be addressed:

  1. Budget Constraints:
    The report mentions the steady increase in Work in Progress (WIP) in roofing since 2018, aligned with a significant increase in material supply and labour costs. This points towards potential budgetary constraints and financial challenges in managing roofing and major repair projects. It indicates that rising costs have contributed to the backlog of roofing works, which may pose financial challenges in the future.
  1. Skilled Operatives Shortage:
    The reduction in skilled operatives is noted as a contributing factor to the increasing WIP in roofing. This highlights a shortage of skilled labour, indicating potential challenges in carrying out timely roofing repairs and major works. The shortage of skilled operatives may lead to delays and impact the overall efficiency of the repair and maintenance processes.
  1. Prioritisation Challenges:
    While the report mentions a 73% reduction in the overall backlog of works, it does not provide sufficient insight into the criteria used for prioritising roofing projects. The lack of clarity on the prioritisation process may raise concerns regarding whether the most critical projects are being addressed first and whether the criteria align with the needs of all residents.
  1. Guttering Works:
    The report acknowledges a significant volume of guttering works within the roofing workstream. While a budget has been committed to addressing these issues, the need for a separate allocation for “quick wins” in addressing guttering issues indicates an additional workload and potential challenges in managing guttering repairs alongside roofing projects.
  1. Risk of Collapse: Properties deemed as “dangerous” or “at risk of collapse” are highlighted as part of the criteria for roofing referrals. The existence of such properties raises concerns about the safety and structural integrity of certain housing units, pointing towards potential risks posed to residents and the need for urgent intervention in addressing these properties.
  1. Technical Nature Assessment: The report mentions the assessment of the technical nature and risk of the roof’s performance for preventing rainwater ingress. However, the need for a more responsive approach for tenants requiring urgent repairs indicates potential challenges in promptly addressing the diverse needs of residents and their respective housing units.
  1. Climate Change Consideration: While roofing works include upgrading insulation to comply with current standards, the report does not provide detailed information on the broader climate change considerations and sustainability measures incorporated into the property maintenance and roofing projects.

These points indicate potential challenges and areas that require further attention and resources to ensure comprehensive and effective property maintenance services. It is crucial for the council and HTS to address these concerns and work towards a holistic approach that balances the positive outcomes with the challenges identified in the report.

A member of the Committee stressed that whilst good progress has been made, there must be clarity and precision in figures.  “This isn’t just a technical report for us [The Scrutiny Committee], it is a public document which should be able to be read without a technical aid.” 

The Scrutiny Committee supports the work of the Cabinet and the Council as a whole. Whilst The Scrutiny Committee has no decision-making powers and cannot scrutinise individual regulatory or quasi-judicial issues it does hold the Council and Cabinet to account.  Its function is to raise issues for consideration, to examine and scrutinise matters of community interest, and to represent the interests and views of the public. 

The next meeting for the Scrutiny Committee is on Tuesday 6 February at 7.30pm and is open to members of the public.  The public can also submit written questions to the Committee in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 10

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16 Comments for Harlow Council’s housing repairs record scrutinised by committee:

Cp
2023-12-11 10:42:45

You say about some of the angry comments etc... and then you go and put a image of newbuild homes in Arkwrights that have not even been built yet. That is not Arkwrights,put a true real pic up. Its as if the original areas that are Harlow New Town do not exist. Your Harlow i do have to wonder if you try to aggravate us. The article is about housing repairs,so why not put a image of one of these houses that needs a roof repaired or whatever the repair is.

Cp
2023-12-11 11:06:49

Thankyou Your Harlow. A very well done to you.👍

Dan Swords
2023-12-11 11:31:50

There are so many inaccuracies within this. I would be happy to set each one straight accordingly.

Bruce Downey
2023-12-11 11:49:34

Scrutiny committee asleep at the wheel.. why didn’t they try to stop the car park in Potter St⁉️when plans were not sent to residents in tower blocks❓as repeatedly told on Your Harlow.😡

Nicholas Taylor
2023-12-11 15:57:15

Dan, perhaps you will do so in these pages. The matter of outstanding repairs has been one that the Harlow Alliance Party has taken up before and how the Council's main contractor has made a so called profit. I suspect what has happened in the past is that the easy and or most profitable jobs have been cherry picked, leaving a back log of the more difficult, less profitable jobs. In response to a question at the last Full Council meeting, it was revealed that 536 jobs had ben cancelled because the work had already been done or work requested had been duplicated. So not quite the rosy picture the Conservative would have you believe.

Crazyhorse 74
2023-12-11 16:45:51

Harlow council soon want your rent but not so keen to do the repairs!!

Alex
2023-12-11 17:18:39

It's now 4 years since I reported a leaky roof which has caused damp on a ceiling bedroom. 5 months ago I had a call from harlow council saying,,for some reason, the job hadn't been given a work number but had now been rectified. A couple of weeks later a man from HTSknocked and said they would be erecting scaffolding and fix the roof. Haven't heard anything since. I'm in my 70s and this is not helping with my health issues .

Kim Oconnor
2023-12-11 18:53:18

Dan swords, those inaccuracies you talk about, perhaps you can point them out on hear. ??? Oh by the way I put in a new toilet system in that should of been done by you lot, because you only manged to put new ball cock in, and said job is done....when infact this system has not been changed since this house was built 70 years a go. Should get a week free rent for doing that,, glad i could help you out...

Reg
2023-12-11 22:54:53

The only inaccuracies I keep seeing on YourHarlow are in Kim's spelling.

Kim Oconnor
2023-12-12 10:14:47

REG, do you have nothing better to do.

J. M. Gamble
2023-12-12 11:08:56

The Council is throwing money at the issues they themselves are responsible for. Budget reductions have led less trained operatives. HTS has only one fully skilled roofer as far as I know. In 2006, prior to outsourcing to Kier there was a whole department dedicated to roofing with it's own supervisor. The priority of both Kier and HTS has changed from proactive to reactive. We all know roofing materials have a shelf life but nothing is done to replace roofs at the end of this. The council are now faced with a large proportion of properties with crumbling roofs as a great deal of them were built in the 50s and 60s. The councils policy is to Bury it's head in the sand and hope it all goes away.

Keighley Hosford
2023-12-12 11:33:09

A number of roof repairs/roof leaks are the result of nonexistent routine maintenence/cleaning to gutters. Mercers for instance, parts of the roof have been leaking into people's properties for several years. The council have decided that it is time to replace the whole roof & the gutters at a cost to the leaseholders. The gutters should be cleaned 1st as they are totally fully of moss & debris, during this cost of living crisis this plan of action would be the more financially viable option. Gutters should be cleaned periodically yet the council do not do this, they allow them to fall into disrepair then give the replacement bill to leaseholders.

Keighley
2023-12-12 11:36:28

HTS is a council owned business, they outsource alot of roof repairs. Work is not checked or signed off, the bills are just paid

Trevor PYLE
2023-12-12 12:30:15

How long does it take for one person to replace one light bulb in a communal area of a block of flats? I day? One week? Er...no. HTS informed me the council says it can be up to 20 working days. In other words...4 weeks! As we head towards the 20th day, I've had to chase them again.

Terence White
2023-12-12 13:14:50

In June 2021 I had a call from HTS,telling Me that they were coming to put a new roof on my garage in Joyners Field which was leaking inspite of me telling them they had the wrong garage and I had not reported any leak they still came and took the roof off plus the roof of the garage next to mine,bearing in mind this was asbestos two Eastern Europeans turned up to do the work with no protective clothing at all,they replaced the roof on my garage but not the one next door which was vacant at the time also no guttering was replaced,which has resulted in my garage now getting wet from the leakage from the garage with no roof.which also they are unable to rent out ,lost count of the times I have rung them about this matter,

Nicholas Taylor
2023-12-12 22:16:45

Following on from my earlier post, the Harlow Alliance Party asked another question at Full Council, that is, how many jobs that are completed are inspected by staff to check they have been done properly. Just 10% are post inspected. A new initiative was started in the summer when tenants are telephoned and asked if they are happy with the job done. Not sure how a tenant is supposed to know if the work is done ok on for instance gutters, chimney stacks or in a loft, no-one would know until something went wrong again. Ps Readers will note that Cllr Swords has not responded to the request for more information.

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