Published: 05 August 2011
by PETER GRUNER
A STUDY of Islington’s housing accounts has shown that the borough spent almost three times as much on “supervision and management” as on repairs.
Local activist Meg Howarth has estimated that £74million was spent on management of the housing stock compared with £24million on repairs and maintenance, according to figures in last year’s Housing Revenue Account.
Ms Howarth suggests that the problems are often exacerbated because there are effectively four layers of housing management.
They are in descending order: Islington Council, housing agency Homes for Islington, maintenance arm Partners for the Improvement of Islington and contractors United House.
She said: “With the council at the apex of this top-heavy management structure each of the bodies beneath receives a monthly sum from the one above: council to HfI, HfI to Partners, Partners to UHL, each taking its financial cut on the way, of course.”
But she also warns that returning housing to council control – called for by a current local campaign and petition – will not in itself ensure better services for residents.
Ms Howarth points out the situation is worsened because Islington is also saddled with having to pay off two hugely expensive PFI private finance initiative schemes relating to housing over the next 20 years. They have a combined cost of £627million.
She added: “It is ridiculous having four layers of management which contribute to costs. More people will be outraged that they are spending more on supervision and management.
“But I’m not saying that a council controlled in-house scheme will be any better. Anyone who remembers housing when it was controlled by the council will know how it was full of problems.”
Executive member for finance Labour councillor Richard Greening, who is a member of the HfI board, said that management and supervision would include a lot of different jobs including staff costs and wouldn’t have been a lot different whatever was running housing.
“I agree PFI is not ideal ,” he added.” But it was the only option for a number of major schemes including retaining street properties under the ownership of the council. I also agree that, while the majority of its work is fine, HfI is not always sufficiently in control of its contractors. It means that some of the work is not good enough. But the problem with changing the structure of an organisation is that you take your eyes off the ball.”
• Homes for Islington manages the council’s 21,500 homes and 8,000 leasehold properties. It employs over 900 staff and is responsible for day-to-day running and maintenance of council housing – caretaking, management of estates, repairs, major works and rent collection.
• Partners For Improvement in Islington manage 4,500 tenanted homes and 2,000 leasehold properties. This includes day-to-day repairs, major improvement works, and tenancy & leasehold management. Set up specially to operate the PFI projects in Islington.