Concerns remain about council’s repair service

An east London council’s repair service which was recently investigated and cleared by the Regulator for Social Housing (RSH) is to have two separate reviews after several concerns were raised by the overview and scrutiny committee last week.

Barking & Dagenham Management Service (BDMS) is responsible for the repairs and maintenance of 16,407 social rent homes along with the freeholds of 3,925 leasehold properties and 1,742 ‘affordable’ homes across the borough.

BDMS is part of Barking & Dagenham Traded Partnership (BDTP), a wholly owned company that is contracted to carry out repairs on behalf of Barking and Dagenham Council.

In May 2023, a council report revealed that BDMS had hit an ‘all-time low’ with repairs and had a customer satisfaction rate of just 26per cent during the month of February 2023.

Following this, the RSH launched an investigation into whether the council had breached its homes standards by failing to provide a fit-for-purpose repairs service for residents.

By December, RSH closed its investigation as it was happy that the council was ‘in control’ of its repairs service and that an improvement plan was in place.

Last week the latest report for BDMS and its performance on repairs was presented to the overview and scrutiny committee, which included how January 2024 saw a customer satisfaction rate of 76 per cent.

Deputy leader of the council, Saima Ashraf said that while BDMS has made some improvements, councillors are still receiving ‘high levels’ of complaints from residents.

Cllr Ashraf said: “While there are pockets of improvements, as members and ward councillors, we are still receiving high levels of complaints from residents.

“They are not getting the repair service that they would like and deserve, and this is not a good enough service at the moment.”

Cllr Ashraf said the council has been using a lot of subcontractors in the last year to help with repairs, but admitted it’s been expensive for the council and is unsustainable.

Despite the issues raised, the council is looking to extend its contract with BDMS for two more years.

Leona Menville, strategic director of MyPlace at the council said: “I think if we’re honest we’re in a much better territory in terms of the actual repairs that we’ve delivered; but I think we need to really consider at what cost we’ve reached this juncture.

“We obviously had to pay a lot of money last year to bring us to this position and as Cllr Ashraf said we started on a really low base.”

She added: “… we’ve had sign-off from [RSH] following the last [overview and scrutiny] report… and in December [RSH] confirmed that they were satisfied that we are able to control our repairs.

“[However] that doesn’t tell us that we are in a great position, it tells us that we’re just meeting regulatory compliance with it.”

The discussion then moved on to questions from the committee, with Cllr Andrew Achilleos asking where exactly improvement has been made to the service.

Cllr Achilleos said: “There’s been talk of things being improved but in September 2022 there were 5,800 outstanding [repair] jobs. I had a look and in the report and there isn’t a clear definitive number.

“There’s quite a few numbers and when you add them all up there’s 6,500 outstanding jobs now.”

Cllr Mukhtar Yusuf said BDMS was a cash loss for the council and argued it was actually a burden on the council’s finances.

He said: “… you mentioned that the contract is going to be extended for a further two years, are we likely to recoup some of these costs bearing in mind when this organisation was set up it was meant to generate £2.2million divident per year to the council?

“From what I can see, you are actually a burden to the council to put it bluntly, and at the moment the council’s finances are very constrained and we can’t afford it.”

In response, CEO of BDTP, Darren Tranter said: “…we are in active conversation with all financial colleagues at the council about how we can look to forecast in the long term on repayments of all of our varied positions.

“There is a variety of different types of dialogue going on in terms of our debts, our loan provision, our financial mechanics [but] that’s going to take a little while to clarify, it’s quite a complex picture from our perspective.”

After discussing the report for well over an hour, chair of the committee, Glenda Paddle said the council wants there to be two further reviews into BDMS.
The first review will look into the efficiency of BDMS and will be presented to the committee next month in April.

Cllr Paddle said an independent review will also be carried out to look at the ‘bigger picture’ of BDMS and how it’s working, which she said will be presented early into the new municipal year.

She thanked the Ms Menville and Mr Tranter and the rest of the panel for coming to the meeting, and said: “…there has been an improvement, but unfortunately the improvement needs to be bigger and we need to do a lot more and a lot quicker to get it right.”

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Ruby Gregory

Local Democracy Reporter