This is a guest post written by East Kent Housing staff and Council Officers from all four councils who own EKH
In May 2018, Dame Judith Hackitt presented her report Building_a_Safer_Future, a Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety. Within this report you will see a word a number of times “Gaming” this has a specific meaning and includes bending the rules, rigging, abusing, cheating the system, and can be defined as using the rules and procedures meant to protect a system to instead, manipulate the system for a desired outcome. Something Local Authorities their employees, some consultants and health and safety businesses are very well versed in and are more than willing to use to either save or make money.
Various surveys from different companies and people have found a lot of the problems wrong with East Kent Housing’s (EKH) housing stock and most of the problems are due to the councils (Canterbury, Dover, Folkestone & Hythe & Thanet) wanting to do everything on the cheap. As such NOT being cost effective. Then there is the lack of statutory duty of care, disrepair, lack of statutory maintenance, testing and inspections to their tenants and leaseholders properties, all of which are mentioned in the Pennington Report, a Compliance Investigation into East Kent Housing, released in Nov 2019.
Well you will not be surprised to hear that the big cover up is already under way and has been ongoing for a few months now.
EKH was not the main problem, it was the management team and specifically the middle management, many of whom will be absorbed into the four councils when they take back responsibility for their housing stock on 1st Oct 2020. To make things worse the team was made up of seasoned and experienced Local Authority “professionals“.
One of the leads of EKH compliance team was a woman whose self‐proclaimed claim to fame is the woman that the councils call on or, go to, to get results and things done. It did not take long to realise that by that, she meant that she would cover up almost anything to save the councils spending money on non‐essentials like the health and safety of their tenants and lease holders. She has made her reputation at the cost of tenants safety and made leaseholders pay for works that were the councils statutory duty and more significantly, their moral obligations to ensure that the residents including the elderly, vulnerable young families and their children had safe and secure places to live and sleep.
After her years of degrading EKH, she lost her lead position and the writing was on the wall for EKH. More and more of the team were being put under pressure, becoming disillusioned and unlike her, some still had some morals or, grievances and started to speak out (Blow the whistle). At this point she realised that her position was becoming untenable and decided to take early retirement.
By this time, she and another member of the team who was an interim project manager had done so much damage to the reputation of EKH that it was in tatters and to try and salvage what was left of EKH’s reputation, a new team was brought in.
A new compliance team was set up under the leadership of a new compliance manager for everythingexcept fire safety. They uncovered significant issues with e.g., the gas, electricity, lifts, and day to day maintenance as the Shepway Vox Team reported for on for eighteen months. The fire safety was not part of their remit and was still being run by an interim project manager with no fire safety qualifications and with the sole intention of protecting his easily won position in charge of the fire compliance team and the budget that was going to be worth millions over the years and prolonging his temporary position for as long as he possibly could.
The new compliance team was made up of a highly seasoned, skilled and experienced team that appeared to have been working together, in some cases for several years and they were used to all the problems that were present with EKH at that time. Unfortunately, they were brought in too late, and there was no salvaging EKH. This is more the pity as they would have turned it around and delivered what could have been possibly one of the best compliance systems in the UK.
Several months ago, the recently retired lead of the all‐but defunct EKH compliance team decided or, was invited to come out of retirement and took up a position with one of the EKH partners based in Dover. We as officers of EKH and the four local councils can report she has already engaged Fire Risk Assessors/consultants and given them explicit instruction to revisit all of the previous EKH fire risk assessors buildings and find a way to mark them down from their current higher risk rating, as the last risk assessments were considered to be too harsh.
It has also been made known that structures in the Folkestone & Hythe and Dover areas, the risk assessors have been instructed to justify having fire alarm systems removed. Even though the risk assessors who marked them up too harshly, were just finding the same problems that an independent consultancy had found before them but, they had marked significant compartmentation breaches down as lower risk items. These are the same problems that have been there now since they were first found and raised when EKH inherited the stock nearly 10 years ago.
The same consultancy extremely adept at gaming the system, that were willing to fudge Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to hide significant findings from the potential right to buy tenants and their legal representatives.
The same consultancy that frequently missed glaringly obvious serious significant findings whilst carrying out fire risk assessments, in not only General Needs accommodation but gave sheltered accommodation RA’s with serious compartmentation issues lowered risk ratings.
During her time as one of the head of the fire team and working in conjunction with the interim project manager and by then fire compliance team manager, these people instructed risk assessors to carry out desktop reviews to save time revisiting sites. The current record of risk assessment reviews in one day, by one person was 49.
The same people who paid contractors for essential fire safety works that were not carried out or, carried out badly. The post works instruction was to inspect a small percentage of the works and if they were ok, then just sign off all the rest. Low and behold the first sample was woefully inadequate or had not even been done.
These people sanctioned further degrading of 40, 50, & 60‐year‐old doors to have passive fire resistance retrospectively fitted to them. Even though they were advised that this would not achieve the required FD30S certification standards required for these doors. Their action in fact, breached any certification that may have been in place. Further upgrades were made to hundreds of doors by putting auto‐closures on them.
These people know thousands of doors were installed throughout the housing stock that failed fire tests and that doors they know may be faulty and some that are definitely faulty and will only last about 20 minutes and not the minimum of 30 minutes, following official government led testing.
After her departure, the interim project manager/fire compliance manager – with no fire qualifications – started to take the fire risk compliance team even lower. The frightening thing is she is back, being paid to further degrade tenants and leaseholders’ properties placing their health, safety, and wellbeing at risk under the banner of the council this time and not EKH.
The interim project/fire compliance team manager just keeps on taking his weekly/monthly fee knowing that he is placing tenants/leaseholders at risk in a job he is not qualified to do. But hopefully, not for much longer.
Following the Building a Safer Future Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, by Dame Judith Hackitt, the councils will be held to account, tenants and leaseholders will have a say and be involved supposedly…
Dame Judith’s final report opens with:
“The interim report identified that the current system of building regulations and fire safety is not fit for purpose and that a culture change is required to support the delivery of buildings that are safe, both now and in the future. The system failure identified in the interim report has allowed a culture of indifference to perpetuate.”
In Dame Judith’s statement in her final report she goes onto state:
“ The above issues have helped to create a cultural issue across the sector, which can be described as a ‘race to the bottom’ caused either through ignorance, indifference, or because the system does not facilitate good practice. There is insufficient focus on delivering the best quality building possible, in order to ensure that residents are safe, and feel safe. ”
One of the points she was referring to in her final report states:
“Indifference – the primary motivation is to do things as quickly and cheaply as possible rather than to deliver quality homes which are safe for people to live in. When concerns are raised, by others involved in building work or by residents, they are often ignored. Some of those undertaking building work fail to prioritise safety, using the ambiguity of regulations and guidance to game the system.”
She was not wrong, with regards to EKH and the four councils who own it. Inappropriate people were and still are placed in positions where they were way out of their depth, failings were hidden, Gaming was rife, contractors carrying out works that they were not competent enough to undertake, manipulation of records to show actions were taken when in fact the action was just to kick the can down the road but, it made a large amount of significant findings look like they had been addressed, when in fact they had not.
Fire Safety and Compliance on the 1st Oct 2020 will not change, as the council will have absorbed those people previously responsible into their councils; and the same old practices will continue to place council tenant and lease holders lives at significant risk.
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