Inquiry into Local Authority Governance Scrutiny etc

Dear Islington Leaseholders,
Overview and scrutiny in local government inquiry

Dr Potter has asked me to forward this onto you all and has kindly suggested that everybody should reply to this by sending in a written submission….. A.S.A.P…. Deadline = Friday, 10 March 2017

Please click on the link below in BLUE to submit your written submissions.

Dr B.S. Potter Chairman (ILA)

http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/communities-and-local-government-committee/inquiries/parliament-2015/inquiry6/

MPs launch inquiry into overview and scrutiny in local government

Tuesday, 24 January 2017 14:58

The Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee has launched a “long-overdue” inquiry into overview and scrutiny in local government.

The committee said it would “consider whether overview and scrutiny arrangements in England are working effectively and whether local communities are able to contribute to and monitor the work of their councils”.

Written evidence is invited on:

Whether scrutiny committees in local authorities in England are effective in holding decision-makers to account

The extent to which scrutiny committees operate with political impartiality and independence from executives

Whether scrutiny officers are independent of and separate from those being scrutinised

How chairs and members are selected

Whether powers to summon witnesses are adequate

The potential for local authority scrutiny to act as a voice for local service users

How topics for scrutiny are selected

The support given to the scrutiny function by political leaders and senior officers, including the resources allocated (for example whether there is a designated officer team)

What use is made of specialist external advisers

The effectiveness and importance of local authority scrutiny of external organisations

The role of scrutiny in devolution deals and the scrutiny models used in combined authorities

Examples where scrutiny has worked well and not so well

The deadline for written submissions is Friday 10 March 2017.

Clive Betts MP, chair of the committee, said: “This inquiry is long overdue. Local authority executives have more powers than ever before but there has not been any review about how effectively the current overview and scrutiny arrangements are working since they were introduced in 2000.

“Local authorities have a considerable degree of discretion when it comes to overview and scrutiny. We will examine these arrangements and consider what changes may be needed to ensure decision-makers in councils and local services are better held to account.”

Overview and scrutiny arrangements were introduced by the Local Government Act in 2000 as a counterweight to increasing decision-making powers of Leaders and Cabinets or directly elected mayors.

The committee said that shortcomings had been exposed, however, following a number of high profile cases, including child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, poor care and high mortality rates at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust and governance failings in Tower Hamlets.

Pity that Islington’s Councillors aren’t as concerned about their leaseholders

Please read this letter…

Basically, in a very few words, it outlines many of the problems, and aspirations, associated with being a council leaseholder in the borough of Camden.

In my opinion its content could/should be common to all council leaseholders, regardless of which borough they live in since it forcefully stresses the plight of a deliberately ignored proportion of the electorate…until, of course, the council present us with their grossly inflated charges for substandard work…

I just wish I had written it…

Dr Potter

Chairman: – Islington Leaseholders Association (ILA)

 

 

Report of the Camden Leaseholder Recharges Scrutiny Panel

Cllr Meric Apak (Chair) writes:

I cannot help but speculate whether, before my time as a Councillor, my predecessors have been in this same position, aspiring to resolve leasehold related issues in council housing.

My personal aim through this scrutiny process has been to shine a torch on our failings as shown by the evidence we have collected, learn from this, and make recommendations to unravel this complex tangled mess which we seem to have allowed to fester.

Alas, for too long now we seem to have turned a blind eye to a culture which treats our leaseholders as second class residents – at least that’s the impression I get from my postbag. We need to accept that leasehold tenure in council housing is here to stay and that our leaseholders make a positive contribution to Camden.

Leaseholders are neither an irritating adjunct to council housing nor an ATM machine, and we need to differentiate the ordinary vast majority, from the minority who used the Right-to-Buy scheme for property speculation purposes.

We need to tap into Leaseholders’ knowledge and expertise to help Camden drive costs down, particularly in supervision and management. Services need, particularly in today’s straightened times, to provide value for money and to be comparable with those procured elsewhere in the marketplace, whilst complying with health and safety requirements. Not driving costs down can only result in unjustified charges to leaseholders which will not be recovered, which in turn can only be met by the Housing Revenue Account – thus pushing rents higher. So when we say leaseholders are “subsidised by tenants”, are we not highlighting our own failure?

We need to come up with ingenious methods to successfully engage with and meaningfully involve leaseholders (together with tenants) during the consultation process and convince them from the outset that this process will deliver a high quality service and value for money.

For this to work, there needs to be ‘buy-in’ from leaseholders that the survey and estimated cost of works to be done is worth the paper it’s written on. We then need to execute the agreed work, on time and to the agreed budget. This is obviously a simplification of what is needed – perhaps even a fanciful aspiration some might say.

Our success will be measured by how much culture change we can bring about throughout the officer ranks of the Council. We have a real opportunity to expand the ‘Right First Time’ philosophy, and to instill ‘buy-in’ for this concept right from the very junior member of staff to the most senior manager, and through to external providers and partners involved in delivering services to our leaseholders and tenants.

I would like to extend my thanks to the panel members for assisting me in this process. I would also like to say a special thanks to our Assistant Director Stuart Dilley, who agrees that there does need to be a culture change within the Council. Special thanks also to our committee clerk Vinothan Sangarapillai who has been instrumental in capturing the evidence through his diligent note taking.

But most of all, I am truly grateful to the many leaseholders for the large number of case studies that they have submitted to the Panel and took the time to describe the many harrowing experiences they have endured under the unsatisfactory historic arrangements – thank you.

Meric Apak

 

Context   http://wp.me/PY9zq-Ly

ILA Meet Wed 12.10.16

Islington Leaseholders Association Meeting

On

Wednesday 12th October 2016

In

Islington Town Hall

At

7pm – 9pm

Hosting the meeting: Dr Brian Potter Chairman (ILA)

Guest Speaker: To be advised

Website www.ila.org.uk

Twitter @ilaorguk

Face Book www.facebook.com/IslingtonLeaseholdersAssociation

Volunteers wanted

The ILA are looking for a ‘secretary’ to take minutes and distribute them regularly to all the directors and asks for a volunteer to undertake this essential part of the work, to assist with the smooth running of the organisation.  If you are interested please log intohttp://www.ila.org.uk/faqs/contact-form.

If you wish to join or renew your membership please contact our websiteww.ila.org.uk where you can obtain the appropriate membership forms.

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‘Raid on ringfenced housing cash is one of country’s worst,’ say Islington leaseholders

‘Raid on ringfenced housing cash is one of country’s worst,’ say Islington leaseholders

Interview with Dr Brian Potter Chairman (ILA) from “Islington Tribune” 15 July 2016

Dr_Potter_proxy?

Brian Potter: ‘Breaks the ringfencing’        Published:15 July, 2016  by JOE COOPER

COUNCIL chiefs have been accused of using money ringfenced for housing on back office spending across other departments.

The housing revenue account (HRA) cash is taken from rents and service charges paid by tenants and is supposed to be ringfenced for investment in homes.

But Islington Council, along with many other local authorities across the country, is able to use a loophole to divert this cash to prop up general funds – by spending the money on finance and legal services used across all council departments.

Chairman of Islington Leaseholders’ Associa­tion Brian Potter said it was akin to “laundering money”, adding: “This breaks the ringfencing and is ripping off the HRA.”

Asked whether he thought cuts imposed by central government on local authorities justified the move, Mr Potter said: “Two wrongs don’t make a right. Islington is one of the worst in the country for this.”

Ken Lee, chairman of the housing panel at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, said: “As social tenants tend to be the poorest and are a minority in society, is it right that they should be supporting the majority in the community?

“We should be looking at strengthening [the HRA] ringfence and bringing it up to date.”

A council spokesman said: “The HRA represents 31 per cent of the council’s gross spend, and council housing represents 37 per cent of the total households in Islington.

“We have since our change of administration in 2010 brought our arms-length management organisation [Homes for Islington] and our housing repairs service in-house. These changes are reflected in the increased proportion of the CDC [corporate and democratic core services] paid for from the HRA.

“All of this is contained in our annual, democratic, budget-setting process and reporting. As a general point, it may be unhelpful to compare councils’ CDC data, as there are likely to be inconsistencies in how different councils classify CDC costs.”

Councils step up raids on housing budgets

Councils step up raids on housing budgets

4 July 2016 7:30 am | By Keith Cooper ( Inside Housing)

Cash-strapped councils are increasingly drawing cash from their housing budgets to plug gaps in back-office costs, an exclusive Inside Housing investigation reveals.

This significant raid on their Housing Revenue Accounts (HRAs) has been revealed by an analysis of financial figures from 100 council accounts.

HRA cash is derived from rents and service charges paid by tenants and is supposed to be ringfenced for investment in homes.

But town halls are able to use a loophole to use this cash to prop up general funds – by billing HRAs for ‘corporate and democratic core services’, back-office services such as finance and legal which are used by all council departments.

According to our analysis, the 100 councils’ cut the overall budget for these services by almost £90m between 2011/12 and 2014/15. But over the same period they hiked the HRAs’ contribution to this cost by £1.7m.

Just under a quarter of council landlords billed their HRAs for more than 15% of the cost of back-office services in 2014/15. The average contribution across all 100 authorities was 8%.

In extreme cases, councils billed their HRAs for close to half their ‘corporate and democratic core services’ costs.

Reading Council charged its HRA for 54% last year. Islington boosted its housing budget’s share from 38% of its total cost in 2011/12 to 44% in 2014/15. The average contribution in London boroughs was 7%.

While the Chartered Insitute of Housing and Local Government Association declined to comment on these findings, a public finance expert said they raised questions about the fairness of charges.

Ken Lee, chair of the housing panel at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, said: “As social tenants tend to be the poorest and are a minority in society, is it right that they should be supporting the majority in the community?” he asked. “We should be looking at strengthening [the HRA] ringfence and bring it up to date.”

Checks on the patency of the ‘ringfence’ intended to legally protect housing resources, had been weakened since the abolition of the Audit Commission, Mr Lee added. “District auditors were keen on checking this kind of thing when the Audit Commission was around,” he said. “This role has now gone to private auditors.”

Islington said council housing represented 37% of total households in the borough. Reading declined to comment.

ILA Meet Wed 9th March 2016

Islington Leaseholders Association Meeting

On

 Wednesday 9th March 2016

 In

Islington Town Hall

At

7pm – 9pm

Hosting the meeting: Dr Brian Potter Chairman (ILA)

Guest Speakers: TBA

Website www.ila.org.uk

Twitter @ilaorguk

Face Book www.facebook.com/IslingtonLeaseholdersAssociation

Volunteers wanted

The ILA are looking for a ‘secretary’ to take minutes and distribute them regularly to all the directors and asks for a volunteer to undertake this essential part of the work, to assist with the smooth running of the organisation.  If you are interested please leave a message here.

 If you wish to join or renew your membership here

ILA Meet Wed 10th Feb 2016

Islington Leaseholders Association Meeting

On

 Wednesday 10th February 2016

 In

Islington Town Hall

At

7pm – 9pm

Hosting the meeting: Dr Brian Potter Chairman (ILA)

Guest Speakers: TBA

Website www.ila.org.uk

Twitter @ilaorguk

Face Book www.facebook.com/IslingtonLeaseholdersAssociation

Volunteers wanted

The ILA are looking for a ‘secretary’ to take minutes and distribute them regularly to all the directors and asks for a volunteer to undertake this essential part of the work, to assist with the smooth running of the organisation.  If you are interested please leave a message here.

 If you wish to join or renew your membership here

Charge to leaseholders has nothing to do with the cost of the service -Tribune letter 01.16

Charge to leaseholders has nothing to do with the cost of the service we get

8 January, 2016

• ISLINGTON Council residential leaseholders are generally unaware that their service charge has not been calculated or apportioned according to the terms of their leases.

Council leases state that the service charge shall be apportioned by area, but the council has never properly measured the area of all its flats, so instead it decided to use what it calls bedroom weighting.

The High Court has decided that bedroom weighting is wrong, and that area should be used. The council is now claiming this High Court decision does not apply in most cases. I disagree.

The reality is that the service charge is just a pre-decided figure that the council wishes to recover from leaseholders, and has nothing to do with what the service provided actually costs.

For more information

ILA Crowdfunding bid to challenge hidden housing repair costs

Reposted from Islington Tribune

LETTERS: Crowdfunding bid to challenge hidden housing repair costs

Published: 27 November, 2015

• IT’S great to see the Tribune has started to report on Islington’s housing problems once again.

What was not reported in this article was that during the scrutiny committee meeting I asked Partners representatives how many surveyors it employed to service the properties it manages on behalf of the council; its answer was approximately 12. Since Islington Council employs another 60 surveyors to service the rest of its housing stock the total number of surveyors paid for by residents is more than 70, and according to the council, the majority of its surveyors are not even Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors qualified.

 Since leaseholders’ bills for cyclic work show that all contracts are inclusive of 11 per cent for “professional fees” to the council, surely we are entitled to expect that the council employs only fullyRICS-qualified staff?

If the council is using potentially unqualified staff (not chartered surveyors) to assess the condition of our homes, how do we know that the costs and quality of the work, for which we are grossly overcharged, actually represents true “value for money”?

The answer is simple. We need to be able to freely inspect the schedule of rates appertaining to the contracts which have been agreed between the council and its contractors. Since we pay the bill we should be able to see just what the council signs us up to.

Curiously, the council not only refuses to allow us to view this document, but has recently attended a court hearing in order to make certain it can reserve the right to restrict legislative compliance to a degree which suits its purpose – basically, to stop residents seeing the cost of their repairs.

In order to challenge this position those concerned need to be able to pursue their case without fear of financial pressures.

Therefore, we are currently examining the possibility of following a course of crowdfunding to finance a challenge. If you are prepared to assist financially please email us on Islington.Leaseholders@hotmail.co.uk.

Remember, if the council does not have to show how your money is spent, it’s you who will have to pay the hidden costs.

DR BS POTTER
Chairman, Islington Leaseholders Association

Invitation to Partners to address next ILA meeting

Sharon Pearce, Partners

Dear Ms Pearce…
This is the follow up email which I promised to send you at Monday nights meeting of the Islington Housing Scutiny Committee.
The directors and membership of the Islington Leaseholders Association would like to invite you, and as many members of your team as you may require, to address them at our next open meeting…
This will be taking place on the second Wednesday of December, in Upper Street Town Hall, starting at 7pm (sharp).
There will not be a pre-agenda…so all question will be taken directly from the audiance…
It would be of assistance if you can provide hard copies of all/any proposals/points which you would like to explain/expand upon…
We look foreward to an informative evening…
Regards…
Dr Potter
Chairman ILA

Islington leaseholders – Housing Scrutiny Committee Panel Meeting Mon 16th Nov 2015 – Including report from Islington Leaseholders Association recommendations for consideration.‏

Dr Brian Potter Chairman (ILA) has asked me to forward this information onto you all regarding the Housing Scrutiny Committee Panel Meeting which takes place this Monday 16th November  2015, at Islington Town Hall, in committee room 4, at 7pm.
Dr Potter would like as many as possible leaseholders to turn up at this meeting.
Please see below Islington Housing Scrutiny Committee: Capital Programming Minutes and click on the attachment Report from Islington Leaseholders Association where you can viewILA’s Recommendations for consideration.
 
Kind Regards Dr B.S. Potter Chairman (ILA)
 

Islington Housing Scrutiny Committee: Capital Programming

Recommendations for consideration 

·  Promotion and facilitation of Tenants & Residents Associations prior to consideration of works in order to facilitate and enhance subsequent involvement of ‘tenants’ in consultation.

·  The size of each project and therefore each contract should be smaller.

·  Cyclical maintenance to be undertaken block by block with the occasional aggregation of two or more blocks into single projects but never such as to risk infringing the EU procurement thresholds.1

·  Projects to be undertaken with the pre-project scoping consultation as now intended as universal practice well before and in addition to statutorily required ‘Section 20’ 

Consultation 

·  Irrespective of the size of contract a clause should be written to the effect that there is to be no sub-contractor without the prior approval of the Council’s contract. 

Administrator 

·  The practice of allowing contractors a specific clause prohibiting the photo-copying or otherwise making generally available of the Schedule of Rates to be terminated.

·  The Schedule of Rates used for major works projects and responsive repairs to be made available to the public on the internet in the interest of transparency and to pre-empt time absorbing enquiries.

·  Contracts to be JCT Contracts of the current edition and as appropriate for the size and nature of each project.2

·  Contracts once signed should be made available to the public on the internet.  Personal names and signatures should be redacted.

·  Frequent and adequate inspection and supervision of the works during construction, incorporating, where possible, involvement of ‘tenant inspectors’.

NB ‘Tenants’ includes both tenants with long leases and those with periodic tenancies.

Islington Leaseholders’ Association 

Islington Housing Scrutiny Committee: Capital Programming 

1. Contention 

Leaseholders contend that the procurement process as currently operated by the London Borough of Islington works against the interests of Leaseholders and by implication against the interest of secure tenants and the electorate of Islington.

The choice of contractor is limited to those that are big enough to tender for the work through the EU procurement process.

The contractors who actually do the work on site are typically not the contractors that have been selected but their sub-contractors.

Once the work on site is embarked upon leaseholders are faced with what amounts to a campaign of attrition and exercise of forensics if they are to ascertain from their bills whether they have been charged correctly against the scale of charges that the contractors have agreed with the Borough and it may be that the degree of secrecy that is being applied by the contractors is being applied following prior collaboration between the contractors in what amounts to a cartel arrangement.

2. Evidence 

Attendees to the meeting on 2015 September 07 heard repeated the allegation that the JCT Contracts are “adversarial”. The allegation that the construction industry had become to adversarial has been made repeatedly since the early 1990s and the recommendations of the Latham3 and Egan4 Reports were directed at eliminating the adversarial aspects and the excessive amount of litigation being experienced by promoting ‘partnership’ as an alternative to contractual relationships.

However now that we have the benefit of hindsight we can see that the changes that have been wrought have not delivered us to the promised land. We may not have the litigation that we had previously but this is only because we do not have the benefit of robust contracts under which to seek redress and cannot contemplate the expense of needing to go through the performance of going out to tender again.

What we manifestly do experience is a lack of performance resulting in the need for works of reparation that the client has to pay for without recourse to the contractors who, for their part have been denied the incentive to produce quality work.

“It must never be forgotten that architects who cause their clients to suffer loss through ignorance in administering a contract may be liable for professional negligence.” Should the fashion for partnership provide a defence?

So are the JCT contracts essentially adversarial and were they to blame for the litigation that used to be experienced? 

It is the very essence of the JCT contracts that they were devised, and revised over the years, such that it could not be argued in the courts that their terms were unfair or prejudicial to any one of the various parties to any construction project.

To this end The Joint Contracts Tribunal, to give it the name from which ‘JCT’ emanates, following recommendations in the 1994 Latham Report, currently the operational structure comprises 7 members who approve and authorise publications. They were listed by the JCT in 2014 as the British Property Federation, the Contractors Legal Grp Limited, the Local Government Association, the National Specialist Contractors Council, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Scottish Building Contract

Islington Leaseholders’ Association 

Islington Housing Scrutiny Committee: Capital Programming

Committee. In 1998 the JCT became a limited company. Thus all aspects of the construction industry have agreed the terms of the contracts and any contractor would have they work cut out if they were to attempt to argue that the contract is unfair.

We should ask whether the degree of litigation prevalent at the end of the last century had more to do with the economies that were being through reduction in the degree to which work was laboriously specified and inspected during construction.

EU Procurement:

In parallel with the move away from robust contracts we have, perhaps out of some misguided impression that an economy of scale will necessarily be beneficial, been uccoured into undertaking projects of work of such size that EU procurement rules require advertising work in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU).

However we see time and time again that whilst those that tender for the work are large companies those that actually do the work on site are comparatively small sub-contractors the choice of which is out of the clients direct control.

It seems that a sub-contractor can be considered large enough to do the work despite not being large enough to tackle the EU procurement process.

The net result is a lack of control for the client who can find themselves with work being carried out by sub-contractors that they would not have chosen to employ and subcontractors who are actually doing the work can not be guaranteed to be rewarded for their efforts by being considered again. Someone is paying the cost of expensive EU tendering for all the projects that the contractors do not win and someone is paying for the administrative cost inherent in the multi-layered nature of the contractor and this can only be the client.

Further as to the sizes of the contract, it should be noted that aggregating works into larger contracts can in some circumstances be readily demonstrated to have been detrimental to the treatment of the buildings. This was the case with the Merryweather Court and Brennand Court, Tremlett Grove contract that was subsequently the subject of a Leasehold Valuation Tribunal. It was upheld that all the roofs were treated the same despite the fact that they had not all been inspected and that some having been protected with insulation and concrete slabs had almost certainly not required replacement.

Transparency:

We are given to understand that the London Borough of Islington has received legal advice to the effect that it does not have to release information on the costing of housing projects.  The exact nature of that advice is not known. It is not know what question was asked nor do we know what answer was given.

Was the loaded question asked as to whether it would prove in time that the Borough had to release the information and was the answer given that leaseholders would be unlikely to win a case against the Borough or was some other question asked?

It is recommended that no further contracts be entered into with the clause prohibiting disclosure of the full schedule of rates. It is to be anticipated that the council will be told that the inclusion of such a clause is standard practice. For this reason the Council may have to work with other councils to counter a practice for which there can be no justification once contracts have been signed. What do we call contractors who are conspiring together and how could this fit with the concept of free competition?

Islington Leaseholders’ Association 

References: 

EC Procurement Thresholds 

http://www.ojec.com/threshholds.aspx

The Joint Contracts Tribunal 

http://www.jctltd.co.uk/ 

3 Latham Report (1994 July): 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latham_Report

4 Egan Report (1998) 

http://constructingexcellence.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/rethinking_construction_report.pdf

“Latham’s report: Did it change us?” By Joey Gardiner, Building Product Search (2014 June 27th) 

http://www.building.co.uk/lathams-report-did-it-change-us?/5069333.article

Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 (1996 Chapter 53): 

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1996/53/pdfs/ukpga_19960053_en.pdf

Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009: 

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2009/20/pdfs/ukpga_20090020_en.pdf