A councillor is concerned that a report into the cost of bringing the housing repairs service “in house” is being “kicked into the long grass”.
Conservative councillor Anne Meadows wants to know the final cost of setting up the in-house service after Brighton and Hove City Council’s contract with Mears ended in 2020.
She asked the council’s Housing Committee to back a report on the cost of setting up the in-house responsive repairs and empty property refurbishment service. She wants the cost to be compared with the estimates presented to councillors in 2018.
At Hove Town Hall yesterday (Wednesday 22 June), Green and Labour councillors amended the request so that a report will be presented to a “future” meeting.
Councillor Meadows said that this would be “kicking it into the long grass”, adding: “I know there have been huge additional costs involved so I would like to know what that figure is.
“That includes the costs of all the subcontractors that have been to deal with any backlog of work as well.
“I know tenants would be pleased to know how much was taken from the HRA (Housing Revenue Account) to set up what is probably going to be a costly political exercise.
“It would also be helpful to understand any improvements that have been made in the service.”
She said that the extra budget in 2018 to move everything over from Mears was expected to be £10 million in all.
Councillor Meadows was the Labour chair of the committee when the move was proposed and said that the priority had been to “deliver a high-quality, responsive and value for money repairs, maintenance and improvement service”.
But two years on, she said that customer satisfaction was down.
Green councillor Martin Osborne said that the report needed to reflect that repair and maintenance work was carried out to a good standard and had improved in the past year.
He said: “The difficulty is that comparisons may take some time and we want to make sure it is done properly.”
Labour councillor Gill Williams said: “We were facing what was creeping inflation. We are now facing raging inflation so we have to factor that in.
“We need time to see the effects of that and the comparison from pre-covid and the covid era. It’s all going to be quite fractious and different.”
Green councillor David Gibson, the co-chair of the Housing Committee, said that the report was essential but complex and could not be done by October.
He said: “I think it’s really important we do review this important change of bringing (the service) in house.
“We need to do it properly, look at the workforce, the benefits for them and the service and the cost, quite rightly.”
Green and Labour councillors voted to receive the report at a “future meeting”, with the two Conservatives voting against.
Green and Labour councillors backed bringing the service in-house at a special Housing and New Homes Committee meeting in September 2018.
The switch was rubber-stamped the next month by the council’s Policy, Resources and Growth Committee.
Conservatives opposed the plans, with Tory councillor Joe Miller concerned that the estimated cost was £8 million more than predicted.
The service moved in-house during the first coronavirus lockdown in 2020 – but, by May this year, the repairs backlog stood at 9,608 jobs.
The backlog was blamed on the pandemic when workers carried out emergency repairs only. The council also said that fewer staff than predicted had transferred from Mears to the council.
An extra £1.5 million is being spent to tackle the backlog, using money saved from not carrying out work during the pandemic.
And the council is taking on new contractors next month to help clear the backlog while trying bring staffing up to required levels.
Currently, workers were carrying out more than 2,000 responsive repairs a month, which Councillor Gibson said was like turning the Titanic.
The contracts for private firms to help clear the repairs backlog is worth £16 million over four years.
Last year, the council’s repairs and maintenance spend was £11.5 million, with £7.5 million spent on in-house services and £4 million on sub-contractors.
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