Council home repairs and refurbishments should be brought back in-house once the city council’s contract with Mears ends and other building projects split into smaller contracts, a report published today recommends.
Brighton and Hove City Council’s ten year contract with Mears plc ends in April 2020, but a decision on how these services are delivered in future needs to be made next month.
Mears has been responsible for services and works to the council’s 11,550 tenanted homes and 2,900 leasehold properties, as well as homes owned by Brighton & Hove Seaside Community Homes and others leased as temporary accommodation.
Mears is understood to have paid the council at least £513,000 to resolve a dispute over systematic overcharging by a plastering sub-contractor.
A report to next week’s housing committee recommends that the services are split into customer service, responsive repairs and refurbishments, maintenance and improvement programmes, and major capital projects.
It says that since the contract with Mears started, all the council’s homes had reached the government’s Decent Homes Standard, significant investment in stock has been made and savings delivered.
But the report argues that bringing part of the service back in-house will deliver better value for money, better service and will be able to better support the community through apprenticeships and other initiatives.
Councillor Anne Meadows, Chair of the Housing & New Homes Committee, said: “We’ve listened to what our residents want and our priority is to deliver a high-quality, responsive and value for money repairs, maintenance and improvement service. It is one of the most important services we deliver to our tenants and leaseholders, and we’ve done a lot of work investigating all the options to make sure we provide the best service we can.
“Our current contract has delivered a good value repairs service and allowed us to achieve 100% Decent Homes across our housing, as well as many other improvements to our residents’ homes.
“It is important that the design of the new service allows us to maintain the high standards our residents have come to expect in the quality of their repairs and improve the areas where satisfaction has been lower.”
Statement from Mears Housing: Discussions around the repairs contract in Brighton.
A spokesperson from Mears commented: “We note the discussions taking place around the future of the repairs contract in Brighton.
“We are pleased to see the positive commentary about what has been achieved in the partnership between Mears and Brighton so far, including fundamental improvements to the quality of housing across the City. We see many opportunities to continue our relationship with Brighton in the future in support of Brighton’s significant investment ambition.
“We also note that the alternative approach to the response repairs part of the contract, may in fact be much more expensive than the service delivered by Mears (as much as over £6m more over the next 10 years) and am sure this will be taken into consideration during discussions at the housing meeting, given the wider pressures on the public purse.”
The report recommends bringing customer service and responsive repairs back in house, with the intention of directly employing Mears staff should they be happy to transfer under their current working conditions.
Meanwhile, both planned maintenance and improvements and major capital projects should be carried out by multiple contractors.
It estimates that creating a new contact centre would cost £246,000. An in-house responsive repairs team would employ 58 workers and 38 admin and managerial staff and cost about £7.86 million a year to run.
It says that Mears is already sharing estimates of staff that might transfer along with their salaries and other costs.
The report says there is a significant risk that Mears managers might not transfer even if that meant they faced redundancy, which would mean the council would have to recruit. It adds this would be difficult with the salaries the council currently offers.
The proposals have been drawn up after several months of meetings with councillors, officers, consultants and drawing on feedback from tenants, leaseholders and unions.