The contractor at the centre of an investigation in to how council tenants were allowed to live in terrible living conditions had its contract extended just weeks before the scandal broke.
Croydon Council faced a national outcry after terrible scenes of tenants living in dangerous squalor in Regina Road, South Norwood were shown on ITV news.
Now concerns have been raised about the ‘data’ used as part of the contracts process which awarded the council’s housing repairs contractor Axis Europe, a four-year extension.
At last week’s full council meeting, recently appointed Cabinet Finance Lead councillor Callton Young (pictured left) said: “If you look at the contract which came to cabinet you will see that on every single indicator for Axis performance that they perform above the average benchmark.
“In fact it is really, really good so in my role and as part of the investigation which is underway I want to understand how those benchmarking figures are carried out and what is the quality of the assessments that are being made to ensure that we as cabinet members and the council as a whole has the right data before it in order to reach decisions in the future.
“Just looking back and seeing what we have seen I am quite worried.”
Axis were appointed by the council in April 2014 as part of a 15 year contract which included a break clause at seven years in March 2021 with the option to terminate or extend the contract.
According to council documents the decision to extend the Axis contract followed an ‘extensive review’ of its performance and relationship with key stakeholders including council staff and tenants.
In February last year the council’s scrutiny committee for Streets, Environment and Homes was asked to review the Axis Responsive Repairs Contract.
The committee heard from Lorraine Smout who was head of repairs and maintenance. She said there was an average of 65,000 repairs a year for the council’s 16,000 property portfolio and that the council monitored 10 per cent of those repairs.
However, an appendix (shown) within the report showed that in 2014/15 63,000 repair jobs were completed but in 2019/20 this had considerably reduced to 38,914. Complaints during that period had also increased from 0.34 per cent to 0.41 per cent.
The discrepancy was picked up by councillor Cllr Vidhi Mohan (pictured bottom left) who recently announced he was standing down from the council but the officer’s response was confusing as she said: “..the number of jobs completed fluctuated seasonally and the end of year report did not reflect this.”
However, if you read the appendix above it appears to show the annual numbers of finished repair jobs and for 2019/20 it was just under 40,000 and not 65,000.
She added that the increase in complaints was ‘slight’ and related to gas repairs which had been reviewed and rectified.
The report also highlights that customer satisfaction had improved in the current year, that the repairs completion time for emergencies was ‘very good’ in the ‘upper quartile’ and that keeping appointments and completion times were also good with all comparing favourably with other boroughs.
This contrasts the experiences of tenants living in Regina Road who had been complaining since 2019 about persistent water leaks flooding properties and black mould coating the walls.
The council probe in to the housing conditions in the tower block will explore the role of both staff and contractors that led to conditions in the flats deteriorating and highlight likely failings and where possible make recommendations for the oversight of repairs work and related tenancy functions.
The officer said that the council monitored 10 per cent of the repair jobs completed although this was before Covid.
In 2019/20 that the responsive repairs budget was set at £12.281m of which £9.221m was allocated to Axis.
Cllr Young said at last week’s full council meeting that Axis had overspent on its budget every financial year since 2015. This year the council’s repairs budget is £11.5million and Axis budget allocation £10.9million though it is expected to come in higher, he said.
Cllr Young also revealed that almost half of the council’s procurement contracts – 200 of 460 – are due for renewal over the year ahead partly built up either due to Covid-19 or the pressure of work.
He told last week’s full council meeting that Croydon spends an average of £395million commissioning procurement each year excluding property and employment contracts.
He added: “Good governance including securing best value from this level of public spending is a priority for me in my new role.”
The immediate inquiry in to the housing scandal is being overseen by Sarah Hayward, the council’s interim Executive Director of Place, however it will be transferred to an external, independent investigator
The council will also be reviewing the conditions in all of their high-rise blocks as a matter of urgency.
The initial investigation should report within weeks and may make recommendations for any immediate action and areas where further work is required to address performance or conduct
The ITV report focused on the plight of Fransoy Hewitt who lived on the ground floor with her two young sons and her upstairs neighbour Leroy McNally.
Fransoy (pictured left), who has subsequently been rehoused, first reported a leak in 2019 which worsened in December 2020 causing black mould to take over the flat and make her kitchen too dangerous to live in – the family were forced to live squashed into just one unaffected small bedroom.
Buckets in Leroy’s sodden flat upstairs filled up every six hours, he said.
And like his neighbour his carpets were soaked and walls thick with black mould.
In a statement responding to the programme the council said: “It appears that the situation which is being caused by a leak in a property above has deteriorated rapidly since our contractor carried out repairs in February. We have since moved these residents out while we carry out further investigations and repair their properties.
“We are very sorry that these residents have not had the proper level of care and the standards at these homes are not what we would want or expect for any of our tenants. We are carrying out an investigation into how this has happened as a matter of urgency.”
Pictures taken in the Regina Road tower block credit ITV News