Part 1: Is the Chief Executive of East Kent Housing, Deborah Upton, fit for purpose? You decide.
Deborah Josephine Upton (pictured) has a long history of contracts going pear-shaped on her watch. This has happened while she worked for Medway Council, Circle Housing and East Kent Housing. In the last twelve years, issues with gas contracts, scaffolding contracts, disrepair, poor maintenance standards, overcharging and fraud have repeatedly surfaced wherever she has worked.
What emerges when one looks at her time at Medway Council, Circle Housing and now East Kent Housing, is clear evidence of continuing failure of governance and oversight.
In 2008 it was brought to Mrs Upton’s attention that there were significant issues with the gas repair contract, scaffolding contract and overcharging. Instead of listening to the whistleblowers she decided to chase them out of the organisation, as the employment tribunal papers make clear. They were called the Erinancious Three. They took Medway Council to an Employment Tribunal and won. At the time Mrs Upton was
We understand that Matt Gough, (pictured) East Kent Housing’s current Director of Customer Service, worked with Deborah at Medway Council. We note that Rand Associates were the company who were asked to investigate the overcharging. It is known overcharging was discovered.
In Jan 2012 Mrs Upton moved on to Circle Housing.
Between – Independent auditors were hired to investigate fraud allegations at Circle Housing Merton Priory. In Dec 2014, The Sutton & Croydon Guardian stated:
A whistleblower claimed contractors were repeatedly overcharging for repairs as part of a £220m contract.
Which Mrs Upton described as “teething problems“. At this time Mark Anderson (pictured) was also working for Circle as Director of Property Services (South), meaning he and Mrs Upton had knowledge and contact with each other.
In Jan 2015, Stephen Hammond MP accuses housing association (Circle) of delaying publication of the Sept 2014 fraud investigation
In implementing its plan to rationalise suppliers and create fewer, larger contracts for responsive repairs and planned maintenance, Circle has failed to control delivery of a core service and respond effectively to serious underperformance. This is consistent with a systemic problem in the organisation’s risk management and internal controls.
For example, in relation to Circle 33’s 8,000 homes, over a period of three months Circle reported that less than 20% of urgent and emergency repairs were completed on time and elsewhere less than 50%. By way of further example, referrals received by the regulator, including information about a significant number of outstanding statutory notices relating to disrepair, provided evidence that for over a year tenants, including vulnerable tenants, had experienced significant difficulties in getting essential repairs done, either on time or at all.
the Regulator of Social Housing.
Then in April 2015, Circle Housing Merton Priory finally admitted contractors overcharged for repairs and launched a wider investigation. This is when Mark Anderson, Director of Property Services (South) for Circle Housing left the building. Mrs Upton was responsible for Governance of the contracts. Who appointed Mark Anderson at East Kent Housing?
On the 10th August 2015, the Wimbledon Times ran the following headline:
Fraud inquiry: Circle Housing Merton Priory overcharged £170,000 by Keepmoat for repairs to Merton homes
Two days later the MP, Stephen Hammond slammed Circle Housing over ‘frightening’ scale of overcharging within Merton’s repairs service. (If £170,000 is “frightening” what is up to £1.5 million overcharging by P & R to all four East Kent Councils?)
Then on the 14th August 2015, a staff member of Circle Housing who worked on the frontline claimed the fraud investigation at Circle Housing Merton Priory was fudged
The Investigation into the Fraud was undertaken by Rand Associates. The Report into the fraud was NEVER released to Merton Council or its Councillors. This may imply it was so damning, releasing it would only harm Circle Housing and admit there had been significant failings of contract governance.
An Inside Housing Investigation into the disrepair, lack of maintenance and bad gas servicing states:
Kier Gas, a subsidiary of Kier, continued to provide boiler repairs. Property consultancy Savills was also appointed at the cost of several million pounds to help implement the improvements… The performance data coming through to the regulator was positive. But on the ground, the reality was different.
Now if one compares this to the East Kent Housing 12 March 2018 Board Minutes Item 5.1.2 at page seven which states:
Responding to a concern raised by a Board Member that performance around satisfaction with heating repairs and gas servicing, as reflected in the report, did not correlate with feedback received about what was happening in reality, the Director of Property Services (Mark Anderson) confirmed that this was a concern shared by management and indicated where attention had been drawn to this in the report.
There is a remarkable similarity between the statements.
In Feb 2016, Mrs Upton leaves Circle Housing where issues of overcharging, fraud, gas safety and disrepair were substantiated. She was responsible for the governance of these contracts. In late Feb 2016 she arrives at East Kent Housing. In less than eighteen months, the same issues which occurred at Medway Council and Circle began happening at East Kent Housing. It cannot be a coincidence. Once is a mistake, twice is a pattern, three times is a habit. Again we ask who appointed Mark Anderson in July 2016 at East Kent Housing? Who appointed Matt Gough?
In just two years into Mrs Upton’s tenure as Chief Exec of East Kent Housing, March 2018, disrepair, gas safety certificates, overcharging and the possibility of fraud by P & R have been highlighted. It is known in March/April 2018 a qualified Chartered Surveyor was hired to investigate the allegations of overcharging. It did not take long for these allegations to be substantiated. Nothing it would appear was done, so allowing P & R to continue billing the public purse to provide central heating, gas and hot water repairs to over 17,000 homes across Canterbury, Dover, Shepway and Thanet, while tenants suffered.
The Chief Executive of East Kent Housing, Deborah Upton, has surrounded herself with former colleagues from Medway and Circle Housing. Neither of her colleagues, in our honest opinion, are fit for purpose. The same issues have occured and re-occured wherever Deborah has gone. This is why we believe it’s time for Deborah Jospehine Upton to step down from East Kent Housing with immediate effect. Do you think it would be advisable?
See Part 2 here
The Shepwayvox Team
The Velvet Voices of Dissent
There is clearly an MO here. She has past her prime and now ought to take a back seat. She is clearly not up to doing the top job. Or could her lack of ability be down to the Peter Principle?
Deborah is a lovely person to work for, of that there is no doubt. However, as you say, she really doesn’t seem capable of managing private repair company contracts. Perhaps asking her to move on after the repeated failures on her watch is the kindest thing to do.
How is it possible that when her own staff employed to actively monitor the contract for the purposes of governance, highlight potential fraud, she has allowed the contractor to investigate itself and with hold the findings?
Is that not turning a blind eye ???
For a qualified Solicitor Deborah Upton has a remarkably accident prone track record. It also begs the question of what background checks were carried out on her by her present and former employers. Her performance is clearly below standard. The previous post referencing the Peter Principle is very apposite in her case.
Readers of this site (and Deborah Upton if she is not already job hunting) may also wish to acquaint themselves with the provisions of the Fraud Act 2006 (link below).
In respect of medway council it’s probably safe to assume that the chief exec (her husband) had a hand any background checks that might have been done ?
The problem is the Social Housing world is a small place and most people know most people. Hence she’ll leave and potentially get another job elsewhere. If not, I’m sure her husband Neil Davies, Chief Exec of Medway Council, will welcome her back with open arms.
At Circle Housing when Deborah Upton worked there, the sum overcharged was many times the £173,000 reported in the press. Those close to the investigation in 2015 say it was as high as £4 million. So £1.5 million on Upton’s watch doesn’t surprise me.
If you have not already done so this story/never ending saga could be of interest to Private Eye – Rotten Boroughs section.
If her husband did have a hand in her appointment when she was employed by Medway Council then I hope (for his sake) that he made a full and timely declaration to Councillors of his relationship with Deborah Upton at the time. This is because he clearly had a potential conflict of interest.
He would have been unable to declare his alleged relationship with DU as at that time as he was too busy sanctioning her harassment of the erinaceous three not to mention trying to keep it from being released into the public domain, bearing in mind she had been promoted to chief legal officer,head of housing and monitoring officer all at the same time !!!!
I’ve got unfinished repairs from 2 years ago, asbestos in my ceiling’s you can’t even get a response from them, absolutely useless in every aspect of estate management