I chaired my second Places Committee yesterday (Thursday 14th September) where we experimented with a new format.
It's my opinion that the committee brief is too large. We have to cover everything from housing, parks, and roads through to investment, art and leisure. We consist of just 12 Councillors and there is no way that we can be experts on every topic.
This means that the scrutiny risks being poor. People may not know what the report is talking about and it makes it difficult to hold anyone to account when you don't know the subject itself.
Letting Residents Speak
The council's rules allow me, as Chairman, to give time to residents to speak, though they cannot ask questions themselves or engage in the general discussion.
So, I did exactly that. I reached out to the Friends of Raphael's and Lodge Farm Park, as well as other local groups. These groups know more about parks than any of us Councillors ever will. Some submitted written statements and I was pleased that a representative of the Friends group was able to join us.
The format needs a little tidying up, in that I need to be clear on what the role of the resident is etc. However, I found it useful and the general feedback is that we can really make this work.
Democracy isn't just about having elected officials speaking. We need the experts in the room and I intend to achieve exactly that with this committee.
In this report, I focus on the housing repairs part of proceedings.
Officers provided an update on Havering Council's repair programme and a vision for what they are trying to achieve. They highlighted that the council carries out around 30,000 repairs annually.
The team are closing in on their targets. Emergency jobs are carried out within 2 hours in 99.79% of cases. To a target of 100%. Urgent jobs, aimed to be done in 3 days, get that 96.28% of the time (vs a target of 97%) and routine jobs, aimed to be done in 28 days, are ahead of target at 97.53% (target of 95%).
This is good news for our residents and it means that there are improvements. Customer (resident) satisfaction remains significantly below target at 83% (vs a target of 95%).
Where the team appear to struggle is when residents leave a property. This is known as a 'void'. Havering aims to have these back in use within 11 days but are currently at over 2 weeks. Much of this is down to the properties being left in a poor state when vacated.
Officers have outlined that they are looking at ways of discouraging this, such as by informing residents that they can be charged if this occurs.
There isn't a week go by that I don't hear something about Mears, but the numbers are looking good when it comes to them answering calls.
Thanks to a combined call-centre at CEME, Mears are answering calls in an average of 28 seconds
Responding to a repair when it's flagged is only going to get Havering so far and, much like in healthcare, it's better to tackle the problem before it occurs.
Havering are achieving this by implementing property MOTs and Mould MOTS. They are checklists of jobs that can easily done there and then by an 'inspector'. Things like fixing a door handle or a door closer. By keeping on top of these things, it means they don't cumulate into a bigger problem. It also prevents the need for an expensive call out for a simple job, hopefully saving Havering some much needed cash.
The Mould MOTs are similar and residents are receiving advice on how to avoid damp and mould.
Schemes such as insulation and boiler replacement will go some way to preventing damp and mould as well as ensuring that the energy bills remain low.
One of the most contentious points of the presentation was around replacing and repairing broken boilers. Cllrs raised concerns that the repairs were taking too long. It was also flagged that the payment residents receive when their boiler breaks, to help them fund a fan heater, was too low (at just £3 a day).
Readers may remember that, last year, I tabled a motion that Havering Council establish a Resident Repair Board. The idea of this was to form a group of residents who could directly raise their concerns with council officers and senior councillors. I want residents to be heard.
This idea was rejected but, shortly after, the council formed a Leaseholder Forum (this existed in the past but was poorly attended).
Havering's first new Leaseholder forum was limited to just 100 places and this filled fast. It was a bit of an experiment but deemed enough of a success to continue.
Councillors flagged that the forums should be more localised, perhaps by combining a few wards. This will keep issues more localised.
The committee requested actions from the Officers;
1) Updated data on the number of voids
2) A report on the 'social value' work being carried out
3) A revision of the 'good will payment' when a boiler breaks.
4) A report on the impact of inflation on contract costs
5) Leaseholder Forums to be localised