Appendix 3: Audit report for East Kent Housing (EKH) – tenant health and safety is a restricted document, as such it will not be available for the public to see, nor EKH tenants. This document impacts on real lives, Mums, Dads, Brothers, Sisters, and Grandparents. Appendix 3 forms part of Report Number OS-19-03 which will be discussed by the Overview & Scrutiny Committee tonight, in the Council Chamber.
Deborah Upton, Chief Executive of EKH (pictured) since Apr 2016 will be in attendance to address questions and points of interest raised by members. Deborah earns in excess of £110,000.
As this is unplanned expenditure, Deborah and her team will cause Council Tax to rise, maybe pennies, maybe pounds, meaning all residents in the district will pay for Deborah’s historic failings.
Testing undertaken in early to mid 2019 concluded there has been “major failings by EKH in relation to the internal control of health and safety, and a number of the necessary systems of control surrounding,gas safety, fire safety, electrical safety, lifts , legionella and asbestos were absent.”
East Kent Housing responded by preparing a detailed action plan, providing updates on the proposed action or action taken, alongside proposed completion dates. The report and the restricted Appendix 3 findings are up to August 2019.
It has been an open secret prior to June 2017 that East Kent Housing have had an historic lack of programme planning, management and timely procurement. That there have also been considerable delays to the procurement of major cross cutting programmes (door, electrical, roof, thermal insulation and window) which is being address through the work of the joint commissioning and delivery working group. Since prior to June 2017 to now, Sept 2019, little has changed regarding management and Deborah has been rewarded handsomely for these failings.
She has had three and a half years at the helm of EKH and not transformed it. For these failures, she has been rewarded with an annual salary of £110,000.
Two years on since the open admission of these failings, overcharging on two contracts we know of, and a pattern of charging that appears to be a systemic fraud may well have happened on the P & R Contract.
The warning signs were there, yet no Folkestone & Hythe District representative on the Board said a word. Not former Cllr David Owen (Con), not former Cabinet Member for Housing, Alan Ewart James, not present F&HDC Housing Strategy Manager, Adrian Hammond or former Tenant Representative Nigel Lawes. It’s not just these guys though, it’s the other representatives from the other Councils as well. They all kept quiet and allowed this car crash to happen. A clear case of wilful blindness perhaps?
It is known within ten weeks of P & R starting the gas servicing and maintenance contract (March 31st 5pm, 2017), there were significant warning signs that the contract was not being managed properly. In the Director Of Property Services Report, given to East Kent Housing Board on the 5th June 2017 it highlights issues with P & R and states:
The contract started on 1 April 2017 and P&R performed well at the outset. Unfortunately, this performance has deteriorated particularly in relation to; appointments, customer care, servicing programme and provision of timely information.
A series of contract meetings have been held with P&R and an improvement plan has been implemented. Early indications of improvement are being evidenced and the Compliance & Servicing Manager is meeting with P&R senior management fortnightly.
Gas Inspections and LGSRs
Mark Anderson (former Director of Property Services at EKH) updated on the performance of the new gas contractors P & R. The contract has been running for just over year and their performance was noted as deteriorating leading up to Christmas and into the new year (2017/18) . Call outs were not being responded to as they should have been. MA advised that there have been a number of meetings since then and there have been short periods of improvement, but it has started to deteriorate again. MA confirmed that there is an improvement plan in place and he has recently met with the executive director of the parent group to voice concerns. Verbal assurances have been given and evidence is awaited. There are some penalty clauses within the contract, but nothing meaningful. The obvious and ultimate penalty would be to determine the contract on the grounds of breach, but this is not currently being considered. A default notice has been issued to P & R just over a week ago, which is in relation to the provision within the contract to have 4 administrators and 4 RLOs – there is currently only 1 administrator.
More meetings, more improvement plans agreed because the penalty clauses inside the P & R contract were not “meaningful“. Whoever wrote up the contract, it would appear they forgot to give it any legally enforceable clout, if needed. How many other Council contracts fail to have any real legally enforceable clout if needed?
In Jan 2019 an East Kent Housing Improvement Plan was put in place and agreed by EKH and all four Councils – we ask why so late when we knew their were significant issues prior to June 2017 – due to to concerns about areas of weakness that EKH have been unable to resolve.
The key areas of concern with EKH were and remain:
Procurement of key contracts for the delivery of the council’s planned maintenance and capital improvement programmes.
Contract management of a number of key contracts.
Rent collection, particularly in relation to tenants in receipt of Universal Credit.
Single System implementation. [2 years nine months behind schedule and £1.1 million plus over budget]
Organisational health and sustainability
In April 2019, P & R gave notice to terminate the contract which ended on the 3rd July. However, before the contract was terminated continuing issues arose including poor customer service, LGSRs, overcharging and a pattern of charging that appears to be a systemic fraud.
So tonight at the Overview & Scrutiny Committee, Report Number OS/19/03 sets out an update on the performance of East Kent Housing (EKH) during the first quarter of 2019/20. Appendix 3: Audit report for East Kent Housing – tenant health and safety is not for public consumption. Dover District Council did not restrict their similar report.
The Head of Paid Service of F&HDC, Dr Susan Priest (pictured) willingness to withhold information, which is clearly in the public interest, demonstrates the Council’s failed commitment to openness and transparency as set out in F&HDC’s Local Code of Corporate Governance.
Appendix 3 – the withheld document relates to people lives – Grandparents, Mums, Dads, Sisters,Brothers, it relates to their health and safety, and the environment they live in. The public have a right to know how much Deborah and her team let down the tenants who occupy the 3,300 plus properties in our district. So do the other 14,000 tenants across Canterbury, Dover and Thanet districts.
The failings by her and the EKH team will create substantial unplanned expenditure as acknowledged by Dr Susan Priest. This expenditure may well have a knock on effect to Council Tax rates across all districts. As such we all end up paying, not just Deborah’s £110,000 annual salary, but for her continuing failings through Council Tax increases. She must go. Preferably without any compensation package.
The Shepwayvox Team
Journalism for the People NOT the Powerful