Councillors and residents ‘scorn’ Partners for Improvement boss at tense Town Hall meeting

Tom Irvine (L), Partners’ CEO. Photograph: Ed Sheridan.

Claims of good performance by the CEO of a company responsible for managing Islington council homes met with “scorn” from councillors and residents at a fractious Town Hall meeting.

Tom Irvine, CEO of Partners For Improvement, manages over 6,000 properties for the Town Hall through a private finance initiative (PFI) scheme set up by the former Lib Dem administration.

Security were called to the meeting to keep order as residents catalogued a litany of Partners’ failures, including dry rot, serious mould and damp, rotting metalwork, flood damage, odours and leaking sewage, asbestos, and unaddressed antisocial behaviour on the part of both residents and subcontractors.

Irvine was met with general laughter and heckles of ‘No-one believes you’ when he tried and eventually gave up presenting a spreadsheet of key performance indicators for Partners, almost universally in the green, including a 99.4 per cent success rate of repairs completed on time.

Cllr Gary Heather (Lab, Finsbury Park), said: “Until Partners actually start measuring things that matter and start taking an honest look at what their actual performance is, you will never put it right.

“I suggest that you go away and by the next time you come back tell me that you have initiated a process where you’re honestly looking at where your failures are and how you can correct them, because otherwise you will be constantly met here with the laughs and giggles that you met earlier, and with us scorning you coming up with stats that mean nothing.

“It’s not honest, it doesn’t add up. If we see 99.4 per cent customer satisfaction, we don’t believe it, because it can’t be true.

“I’ve got no doubt it’s great when you’re in the internal meetings and you look at those stats, and you go, ‘Whoopee, look how well we’re doing.’ But this doesn’t help, because it means you don’t address what your fundamental flaws are.”

Heather added that by Partners’ own admission, 2,000 repair jobs could not be carried out due to a failure of access, and questioned the definition of ‘repairs carried out on time.’

Cllr Sue Lukes (Lab, Highbury East), characterised the problems as a failure of of outsourcing policy on the part of the council, added: “I think we need to work on the contract. There’s clearly an issue as to how everything is being measured because of the lived experience of everybody.

“The stories are just dreadful.”

One resident sobbed as she detailed her experience, describing how her mentally-ill brother was forced to wade through sewage after his Victorian-era property fell into disrepair.

The woman, who did not state her name, addressed Irvine directly saying: “All I have to say to you Tom, is that in October 2006, the London Borough of Islington handed over to you the care of our street properties and of the tenants and leaseholders who lived in them.

“What I’d like to say to you now, in February 2019, is when do you intend to start?”

Another described how Partners’ subcontractors left her kitchen floor crudely nailed down after unneccessarily tearing it up, while another was left with “five floors of dry rot”.

Partners for Islington CEO Tom Irvine said: “I regret that there is so little trust in the performance figures. I’ve been asked to come and present past performance that we are contractually obliged to report and measure.

“I have done that in good faith today, so I would ask that you don’t suggest there is dishonesty there.

“A lot of my team, believe it or not, work very hard to deliver good performance. I accept that we get a lot wrong, but we also get some things right.

“I think it is unfortunate that I can’t see a way that I can come here and convince you that the performance that is being reported reflects the reality, because what you tell me is that you don’t believe me.

“That’s difficult for me, because I don’t know how to address that.”