The board of East Kent Housing, which manages local authority properties in east Kent, has been dismissed.
Thanet, Dover, Canterbury and Folkestone & Hythe councils took action today following a damning report into why problems with health and safety arose at properties managed by EKH.
The action comes on the heels of revelations earlier this year that hundreds of council property tenants across east Kent had been awaiting gas safety certificates due to overdue Landlord Gas Safety Register assessments.
It then emerged that there were also grave concerns over potential further issues with electrical certification, lifts, fire safety and legionella testing.
The issue of electrical safety certification was first raised by former Thanet councillor Suzanne Brimm some three years ago.
In addition there was the possibility of a criminal case being brought due to contractor P&R overpayments to which could ‘constitute fraud.
P&R terminated its contract with EKH and work is currently being undertaken by Swale Heating.’
The detailed report by independent housing experts Pennington Choices was commissioned by Canterbury City Council, Dover District Council, Folkestone & Hythe Council and Thanet District Council.
Because of the report’s conclusions, the four councils today (December 12) dismissed the board at EKH and took direct control of the organisation.
In a statement, the Chief Executives of the four councils said: “After reading the conclusions reached by the independent experts into what went wrong at EKH, we had no choice but to take swift and decisive action to take direct control of the organisation, along with its hard-working and committed staff, to ensure any outstanding health and safety checks are completed and any faults found are tackled as a matter of urgency.
“While significant progress has been made on tackling health and safety issues and gas safety checks are now up to date, the new board will be better placed to direct resources to tackle the issues raised.”
The board is now comprised of the four chief executives, Canterbury’s Colin Carmichael, Dover’s Nadeem Aziz, Folkestone and Hythe’s Dr Susan Priest and Thanet’s Madeline Homer.
The Regulator of Social Housing has been kept informed of developments.
The new board is committed to working with tenants, leaseholders and EKH staff in the months ahead to continue the progress that has already been made.
The statement adds: “We are sorry for any distress this situation has caused to our tenants and leaseholders.
“We paid independent experts to investigate and we are taking their findings incredibly seriously because we have to recognise where we are before we can move on and rebuild the trust with the tenants and leaseholders who rely on us.
“Putting tenants and leaseholders’ needs first is at the heart of this process and we are working on ways we can have an effective two-way conversation so we always take their views into account when making decisions that affect their day-to-day lives.”
The report by Pennington Choices into what went wrong at EKH says a number of factors lead to the failure around health and safety compliance including:
- The role of the board, appointed to set the strategic direction of EKH and oversee its day-to-day running, was not understood by either side effectively making it redundant
- A lack of leadership at EKH combined with a lack of challenge and holding to account by the four councils
- The perception of staff at EKH that saving money was a key priority
- The poor quality of the data being used by EKH and a lack of IT capability
- A collective failure between EKH and the councils to award contracts and engage suppliers in a timely manner
- The difficulty encountered by EKH working for four different councils with different political, strategic and operational priorities leading to a dysfunctional relationship
The statement by the Chief Executives continues: “We are in the process of asking tenants and leaseholders for their views and they will be reported to councillors in each authority for them to make a final decision in the new year.”
A resident consultation over plans to axe arrangements with East Kent Housing is now underway. In October Cabinet members approved moves to get views on plans to bring council properties back in-house.
The consultation closes on December 20 and the outcome will be reported to Cabinet early in the new year.
East Kent Housing (EKH) was launched on 1 April 2011 to look after the housing stock for Canterbury City Council, Dover District Council, Folkestone and Hythe District Council and Thanet District Council, amounting to some 17,000 properties.