All Cllrs of Canterbury, Dover, Folkestone & Hythe & Thanet District Councils ought to bring a motion before their respective full councils regarding the lack of management oversight of East Kent Housing (EKH), declaring their Chief Executive’s resign immediately over the Gas Safety Certificate fiasco and non-compliance issues with Fire Safety, breaching their legal responsibility as the landlords. It is clear that they too may be criminally negligent, not just the senior management of East Kent Housing. Hence we call for their heads.
The calls to close down EKH by Simon Cook, the former leader of Canterbury City Council and the threat of removal from office of the Chief Executive of Canterbury City Council Colin Carmichael are welcome news to the Shepwayvox Team ears. However, Councillors at the other three councils ought to be calling for the heads of their respective chief execs – Nadeem Aziz (DDC) Dr Susan Priest (F&HDC) and Madaline Homer (TDC) (all pictured below). In our humble opinion their Councils and them have each been negligent as they have a duty to others (tenants), They have breached that duty through an act or culpable omission (no legally required Gas Safety Certificates provided to tenants), as a result of that act or omission, the tenants suffered an injury, even if it be nervous shock, the injury to the tenant was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the Councils and Chief Executives acts or omissions.
Will the Councillors of their respective Councils have the courage to call for Heads of their Chief Executive, as they are no longer fit for purpose. We believe not. This means we’ll limp on with weak and ineffective leaders of the four Councils and ineffective leadership to act and their failure to act, will continue to place tenants lives at significant risks over gas and fire safety.
All the Chief Exec’s can give to their respective Cllrs across the four chambers is reassurance that everything is tickety boo, rather than assurance based on solid reliable evidenced data. We say this because we know that EKH’s data and record management capability is very limited and that’s putting it mildly.
We understand a legal case is to be brought against all four councils and paperwork is being drawn up to begin the first steps in the process.
Moving on, we have looked at the mechanism that would be necessary to close EKH, but before we do so it would be wise and prudent to understand how this fiasco, regarding Gas Safety Certificates, occurred.
By their own admission, the four councils who own 25% of EKH admit that constraints on inflationary increases in the management fee paid to EKH has caused significant issues.
In 2016/17 Housemark benchmarking data shows that East Kent Housing provided their services at a lower cost than all others in their peer group. This is because they have been pared to the bone due to the management fee being able to do less each year because of price increases made by suppliers, for example.
In 2018/19 the EKH management fee, across all four districts was £8.425m and is broken down in the chart below.
This means on average Folkestone & Hythe District Council spent £11.35 on each dwelling per week across the year.
In 2019/20 East Kent Housing have received an additional £729,000 on top of the £8.425m to deal with the significant issues identified in the East Kent Housing Improvement Plan.
If the four Councils decide to consider terminating the current shared arrangement with EKH and take the service back in house or into another local authority trading company there is a formal process which needs to be followed to terminate the agreement. However, before this process could be started the Councils would need to consider the full implications and costs of the alternative options and a detailed timeline for the processes. This analysis would take time and resource to complete and once an approach was agreed additional time and resource would be required to undertake as much of the process as possible prior to handing in the formal withdrawal notice.
With regards to the formal process the Councils CCC, DDC, F&HDC and TDC would have to give each other not less than 28 days’ written notice of their intention to end the agreement.
Thereafter the Councils could serve a notice of withdrawal from membership of EKH pursuant to Article 16 of the Articles (the Withdrawal Notice). If the Councils served a Withdrawal Notice such notice would take effect three months following the date on which it is deemed to have been received under Article 94.
Following serving the Withdrawal Notice, the formal process would start and this would include any TUPE provisions including Local Government Pension Scheme (if applicable) and ensuring that the team is able to provide the services the Council’s require considering that these would only be around 1⁄4 of officers dealing with each Council’s service requirements in comparison to EKH as a whole. Furthermore all four Councils would have to continue to honour its existing obligations (whether under the Owners Agreement or a Management Agreement) so as to ensure that the other Councils and EKH can honour their obligations to third parties.
The in-house option would require a dedicated Housing Management team which would change the shape of all 4 councils, significantly increasing the size of their workforce and the full suite of support services: HR, payroll, ICT, procurement, management, health and safety, administration. From a legal perspective, in order to consider the local authority trading company, the company would need to meet the ‘control’ test for Regulation 12 of the Public
Contracts Regulations 2015, in order to exclude the need to follow a regulated procurement process before a contract can be awarded (the Teckal Exemption).
So if each respective Council wishes to close down EKH it would take anywhere between six to nine months to do so.
Meanwhile the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) are investigating issues relating to the Gas Safety Certificates, Asbestos and Electrical legionella and fire safety issues. A spokesperson for HSE said: “HSE has been made aware of concerns regarding East Kent Housing and are currently investigating the issues you have mentioned. We cannot comment further at this time.“
It is known three weeks ago Mark Chandler-Bird acting Director of Property Services at EKH was looking for compliance software to manage risk around Gas Safety Certificate compliance, according to his linked in page. What does that say?
Now in the House of Commons Rosie Duffield MP (Lab) raised the number of Landlord Gas Safety Requirements (Gas Safety Certificates) stating it was five hundred and forty four (544).
However, the number Rosie initially raised was revised upwards in her letter to James Brokenshire MP, Minster for Housing, Communties & Local Government (MHCLG) to nine hundred and twenty four (924). We believe the figures were actually higher than that and at one time were closer to one thousand seven hundred (1,700) evidence suggests.
Now there is something ironic going on. Our Public face asked for the number of LGSR’s (Gas Safety Certificates) and the number of boilers replaced since April 1st 2018, via an FoI to all 4 Councils. Each Council said they did not hold the figures requested and that he contact East Kent Housing.
Now we find their individual responses rather odd. Each LGSR undertaken by P & R (the company responsible for overcharging and much of this mess) would have been charged to the Councils and the Councils would have paid the invoice. So are the Councils saying they are paying for work and do not know the number of boilers or LGSR’s they are paying for? If so that would be negligent of them, as who pays for anything not knowing what they are paying for? Nobody in their right mind. But as we said earlier the Chief Execs are not fit for purpose.
Finally, we want to make it very clear, the staff at East Kent Housing lower down the food chain do a fantastic job with the resources they have. They are NOT responsible for the mess East Kent Housing finds itself in presently. The people responsible are the Chief Exec Deborah Upton (pictured), who has failed to manage contracts properly not once, but twice and given this fiasco, for a third time. The saying is: Once Is an Accident. Twice is a Coincidence. Three Times is a Habit. Hence our call for Mrs Upton to go. As we have informed you, the former employee Mark Anderson has gone and Director of Customer Service Matt Gough has failed to deal with tenants issues safely and massaged the Key Performance Indicators EKH produce, we honestly believe. Obviously the Board of East Kent Housing needs to be culled with immediate effect as do the four chief executives of the four councils who own EKH. It probably won’t happen because nobody has the stomach for it, let alone the backbone.
The Shepwayvox Team
The Velvet Voices of Dissent