Work continues on housing handover from Partners for Improvement to council

Islington Town Hall. Photograph: Islington Council

Preparations continue for the handover of 2,800 tenanted and 1,700 leasehold properties to Islington Council with the contract with Partners for Improvement due to end in April 2022.

The Town Hall administration decided to take the housing service back in-house in July following a public consultation with Partners residents in which 92 per cent stated their preference for the council to manage the properties going forward.

Partners have long been the subject of residents’ ire at crowded housing scrutiny meetings at the council, with councillors pouring scorn at figures presented showing resident satisfaction in the high 90s, despite multiple anecdotal reports through complex pieces of casework suggesting some repairs left undone.

Housing lead Cllr Diarmaid Ward said: “I have been telling the chief exec of Partners for many a year now that this thing of 98 and 99 per cent, there was no point coming to scrutiny and giving those figures, as they are meaningless figures on a page. What you should be doing is giving much more qualitative information through your presentations.

“We all get an awful lot of complex casework around Partners, and when we get figures like 98 per cent, it’s meaningless because it bears no relation to the casework we get. One of the big reasons we are starting this PFI integration so early is to weed out those complex cases and to make sure Partners do their job and do those repairs.

“When it does come back inhouse in May 2022, I have much more faith in our own inhouse service, both in doing the repair and in communicating with residents.”

Officers told councillors at a recent housing scrutiny meeting that they are now ensuring that risks to the council through the transfer are “managed and mitigated,” with Cllr Gary Heather stressing the importance of qualitative approach to repairs made by the council whereby the work “bears more relationship to the consciousness of residents than some mythical figures that we get when we have Partners come in.”

It is understood council officers are undertaking surveys of the properties’ condition now in order to give Partners the opportunity to improve their condition ahead of the Town Hall taking back control in 2022.

Cllr Theresa Debono said: “I don’t think much of Partners, and I don’t hide behind that. Is there anything in a contract when housing is returned from Partners to the council, is there any clause that housing should be in a good state of repair when it is returned to the council?

“My residents keep on and on and on that repairs are not always done as well as they should be, or not even done at all. Is there a condition, and if not, would they be penalised in any way?”

Council officers told those at the meeting that the contract with Partners is “very clear” on the condition the properties should be in when passed back to the Town Hall.

Housing needs director Karen Lucas pledged that the borough would use the remaining time on the contract to “put pressure” on Partners to bring them up to scratch if the survey found their condition wanting, while promising to listen to residents as the process continued as the “experts through experience.

Work is also said to be ongoing to ascertain the liability of any continuing litigation between Partners and residents when the contract is taken over by the council, with councillors also calling for a communications plan for residents for when they become council tenants, rather than Partners tenants.

Partners has looked after over 6,000 properties for the council since a private finance initiative scheme set up by the former Lib Dem administration.

Resident observer Rose-Marie McDonald, who is a Partners tenant, said: “What has the council planned to deal with the actual PFI tenants and leaseholders that are coming back into the council in terms of getting their views on what the issues are?

“That will guide you as to the quality of the stock and of the repairs. At meetings all I hear is not very good feedback. We need to get those people on board.”