‘SERIOUS failings’ into the handling of its housing contracts and contract management have been highlighted in a report by Redditch Borough Council.
The failings, described as a “range of historic issues” were discovered in late 2016/early 2017 under the previous Labour administration following an internal audit.
The report, revealed at a press conference at Redditch town Hall, says these were identified by officers at “every level of the service, where a disregard for compliance with the legal frameworks and council policies appears to have been endemic”.
The failings, first highlighted in the Redditch Standard last year, were found to be so severe that an immediate stop was put on all external housing contract work other than essential, health and safety.
In addition eight officers employed by the council – senior managers and operational officers – were suspended from duty and subject to disciplinary investigations.
Although the authority’s report into the issue says ‘no evidence of criminal activity’ was uncovered, all eight staff members are no long employed by the authority.
In the fallout the council ran up a £953,000 debt in its Housing Revenue Account as it covered for the suspended staff and dealt with the issue.
Councillor Craig Warhurst, who took over the housing portfolio in May this year said issues with procurement had been identified, including invoices not matching and incidents of overcharging.
In some cases work was done on the basis of one quote instead of a selection to achieve best value.
As a result of both of these the authority has produced a two year action plan to reform its housing department, which will include ‘a significant investment in IT’ to speed up the turn around of void properties after it was discovered the council was relying on a 1996 system last updated in 2006.
This will include:
* Revised leadership arrangements supported by enhanced performance management.
* Staffing and service reviews and planned improvements across a range of operational services across the Council
* Empty Properties Voids – reviewing arrangements to improve the turnaround time for empty properties in the Borough
* Review of policies and procedures including how properties are allocated.
* Reviewing the maintenance and capital programme arrangements.
* Performance monitoring.
Coun Warhurst, who also praised council officers Judith Willis, Sue Hanley and Guy Revans for helping to turn the service around, said: “We are now in a position to move onwards and upwards to deliver the best service for our tenants and communities.
“Our commitment is that we want to be able to look back on housing and say what a wonderful job we do.
“I believe our tenants have a right to a decent, safe property and to be able to live in a great environment.”