Questions raised over Havering housing repairs contract

The decision to award a £58million contract for repairs in Havering Council homes to Mears has raised questions among opposition councillors.

Mears won the 10-year contract in December but on Wednesday evening, six members of the council’s overview & scrutiny committee “called-in” the decision.

The existing £35m contract with Breyer, which is due to expire, has been subject to “numerous complaints” from tenants about its service.

But concerned councillors criticised the lack of transparency around how Mears was chosen, the exact terms of the contract and why it had taken so long to agree.

Appearing virtually, cabinet member for housing Joshua Chapman said the new deal with Mears could be “the best contract in London” due to the ten-year partnership, “better IT” and use of local labour.

Cllr Chapman admitted the Breyer’s tech was sometimes “clunky,” causing a failure in communication with residents who were expecting a visit from repair workers.

Havering’s assistant director of housing property services Garry Knight told the committee the delay was caused by a “potential conflict of interest” between a consultant hired by the council and “one of the bidders”.

He added: “In order to ensure the matter was dealt with and to treat the matter properly, the procurement exercise was suspended, which caused the delay.”

Residents Group leader Ray Morgon said it was “not wholly satisfactory” that the responsible cabinet member Cllr Chapman had not read the new contract, adding: “He doesn’t even know the detail of it”.

But Knight said Cllr Chapman “understands the big picture items” and doesn’t need to know hundreds of pages of “minutiae”.

Regarding the lack of detail about the contract, Knight said: “The specification documents cover several hundred pages, they are detailed and cover all relevant areas – because of the size of them, they were not included in the cabinet report.”

He explained the contract sets out the standards Mears must meet and sanctions if it fails, as well an agreement that the company will be charged £20 for any missed appointments. 

The bid to force the decision to be reconsidered was narrowly rejected by 8-7, with Conservative committee chair Darren Wise using his second vote to tip the balance.

A final vote approving the new contract will go before cabinet in the near future.

Following the meeting, Cllr Morgon said: “My sense is that this £58million contract – over the next ten years – has been agreed on the flimsiest of details.

“It just goes on for nine pages, another report agreed by cabinet on resident engagement goes on for 68 pages.

“This shows actually that this is a council that never seems to be on top of the detail.”

Group executive director Lucas Critchley, who attended the Town Hall in person, told the committee Mears’ in-house contract management system is “seen as one of the best in the sector”.

He said Mears Group is committed to “clearly communicating about when we’re coming to people’s homes” and promised the company will use subcontractors for no more than 10% of the work.

Critchley added: “Quality is really important, we aim to complete jobs on the first visit, generally 80 per cent of repairs are completed first time.

“It’s 20 per cent of repairs which can’t be completed easily and will require follow-on works which can and do happen. Managing those jobs is when that can cause dissatisfaction.”

The executive also said Mears is committed to training a local workforce.

According to its website, Mears provides and manages 17,000 homes for local and central government, and is responsible for keeping 750,000 homes in the UK.

Critchley said it has housing management or repairs contracts with about 50 local authorities.

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter