Posted: 25.04.21 at 20:14 by The Editor
THE plight of many residents in damp, mouldy and cold Thurrock homes which has been highlighted in a number of Thurrock Nub News stories in recent months, is now getting further media attention.
In recent days the Metro newspaper and other media sources have focused in on the state of many borough homes where damp and mould is rife - and they feature a heartbreaking Thurrock family's story - previously featured on Thurrock Nub News.
Georgia Easter's flat was the scene of a video used in this report in December.
Sadly, Georgia and many other tenants continue to be let down by a council that appears to have stopped caring about its tenants and the stories of similar problems are many-fold.
Nub News has passed on a significant number of complaints received in the wake of our stories, to the council.
Last month we published this hard-hitting report in a bid to continue to highlight the continuing problem. We questioned the role, management and due diligence employed by the council in its relationship with contractor Mears, which wins most of the repairs contracts.
In its wake on Monday, 5 April, Thurrock Nub News editor Neil Speight personally wrote to all 49 borough councillors highlighting the problems and calling on them to demand action.
Sadly, just five councillors responded. Independent Cllr Chris Baker was the first to respond, saying: "All what you have stated in my view is correct. All in all it sickens me."
Conservative Cllr Angela Lawrence said: "I can only speak for myself but during my time of being a councillor, I have been asked for help and not only from my ward of Belhus. I have stepped in and spoken to Mears and it seems to me it is run on a shoe string with workers being sent out to do tasks they are not trained for.
“Mears are on a budget with many council properties that have been neglected for years and the workers are not paid on a scale the same as normal contractors.
“It is our job as ward councillors to scrutinise and make known to officers the problems and to see changes are made for the better and not to be a sheep and use smoke screens like some.
“Belhus ward has a large number of flats that suffer from damp and mould. I have been told that residents not opening windows causes this and not the fact that it is substandard building and putting families and children them and overcrowding which escalates the problem.
“It is on record that I have refused applications for more flats stating we need houses for families. I have also asked officers who wanted to approve flats to ensure these buildings have laundry facilities. How are families supposed to wash and dry clothes in a flat? The humidity causes damp and mould.”
Labour’s Cllr Jane Pothecary said: “There are clearly some real issues going on in Thurrock’s repair service and the service tenants are receiving is not good enough.
“Councillors from across the political spectrum have raised their concerns, particularly about the low prioritisation of heating and hot water, especially for vulnerable tenants and families with young children.
“I have requested a detailed briefing for all elected members on each point your email raises and a review of the prioritisation of heating and hot water repairs. In my opinion, the portfolio holder (Cllr Barry Johnson) is not holding his officers to account and making change happen. The chair of housing overview & scrutiny (currently Luke Spillman) needs to pick this up as soon as local elections are over and provide proper challenge to the administration.
“It remains to be seen whether that will happen.”
A second Labour councillor, Mike Fletcher, said: “Thanks for running with this. This is not about the people at Mears being evil or unhelpful. I have dealt with cases and Jane at Mears’ office (in Manchester, go figure...) was polite and as helpful as she could be, but she couldn’t help me because the service agreement doesn’t treat lack of hot water as a priority.
“This is the problem I think - obviously the council wants to save money (except when it comes to new town halls and ‘consultancy fees’ on the A13 fiasco) but this is not the way to do it.
“As for the mould problem I am getting more and more calls from Ockendon residents - it is quite clearly an issue in council properties within my ward, but there is a ridiculous tendency to blame the tenant. I believe the underlying issue is that once they accept the scale of the problem they are going to have to undertake some pretty major remedial work and there just isn’t the political will to spend that kind of money.
“Again, I have dealt with some great individuals within the Housing team but hands are tied as we just don’t have enough social housing. So we continue the cycle of 1. Push it back to the tenant; 2. If the councillor persists, send somebody round with a dehumidifier; 3. If that doesn’t work, confine the family to half the property while you try and deal with the mould problem in the rest, because you have nowhere else to put them; 4. Repeat.”
And independent group leader Cllr Gary Byrne said: “After the last housing scrutiny meeting I sent an email to the Chair as I noticed he laughed at the Thurrock Independent councillor who raised a question on the state of housing repairs. Our councillor and other councillors say this is not unusual and it stops the less confident councillor asking questions with fear of being ridiculed. Cllr Spillman did not answer my email.
“Over the last two years have sent a number of emails to the monitoring officer. I have not had one reply, Thurrock Council and the current administration continue to work together under a veil of secrecy
“We saw last year Labour councillors removed from their scrutiny chairs and replaced by Tory councillors. How can there be true scrutiny when the chairs are under threat of losing their position if they do not follow the party line .
“Recently when I complained several times of shoddy workmanship and extremely poor project management for a major Thurrock wide refurbishment project the answer I received was we did everything right with the tenders and choose the cheapest tender. That sums it up perfectly why things are getting worse.
“When I was in business when a customer said ‘I want this done cheap’ my reply was always the same ‘we never do cheap.’ We however do guarantee ‘value for money.’
The council fails miserably on project management and due diligence does not come into their thinking, however when it comes to getting it right with sound project management the £10 million vanity office build seems to be going swimmingly strangely enough.”
Mr Speight said: "I found it extremely disheartening that just five out of 49 councillors bothered to direct respond on the record on this important subject, though I did discuss it informally with a couple of others when talking about the wider issue.
"With that level of apathy across the wider council members to this problem, no wonder the officer cohort get away with their shoddy efforts and lack of diligence. If no one is watching them, it's no surprise they aren't watching the contractors.
"I have been proud to take the lead on this issue with Thurrock Nub News but I recognise we are just one voice in a relative wilderness but now other news media are recognising there is a genuine and significant problem in Thurrock, maybe something will get done."
Thurrock Council did respond, denying the scale of the problem. An unattributed statement said: "“Thurrock Council takes its responsibilities as a landlord and housing provider extremely seriously and the wellbeing of all its tenants remains a continued high priority.
“Independent surveys are carried out on the councils’ repairs service which inspects individual jobs upon completion to make sure it has been done to the highest possible standard. The council also carries out independent tenant satisfaction surveys with a statistically relevant proportion of tenants who have had a repair completed.
“Between April 2020 and February 2021, 91.9% of tenants surveyed were satisfied with the overall repairs service they received. In addition to this 89.2% of tenants were satisfied their repair was completed right first time, 94.1% of tenants were satisfied with the quality of the repair and 91.7% of tenants were satisfied they were kept informed of the progress of their repair.
“Feedback from inspections and tenant surveys are regularly analysed and reviewed to highlight potential service improvements and any lessons learnt.
“Where errors are identified they are rectified in timescales agreed with residents. Complaints received about repairs are taken seriously, fully investigated and if issues are identified the council will apologise to the resident and ensure that errors are put right.
“All repairs are undertaken as part of a contract which was awarded through the council’s strict and transparent procurement process.
“Thurrock Council has invested over £70 million pound in the Transforming Homes scheme since 2013, bringing improvements to more than 9,000 council homes.”
This is the personal message Nub News editor Neil Speight sent to all 49 Thurrock councillors and the council.