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The housing repairs and maintenance service provided by Bolton MBC is good and has excellent prospects for improvem...
The housing repairs and maintenance service provided by Bolton MBC is good and has excellent prospects for improvement, according to an independent report released today by the Audit Commission.

The Audit Commission Housing Inspectorate gave the service two stars* because customer care is a top priority and staff, councillors and tenants are clearly committed to making further improvements to the service.

Mike Maunder, lead housing inspector (North), said:

'The council has a track record of service improvement, and has already made rapid progress with its improvement plan. The council works closely with tenants to develop the service, and their views are reflected in the plan. The council is also responding positively to inspectors' comments during the inspection, and particular weaknesses, such as problems with non-urgent repairs, are now being addressed.'

The inspection report highlights a number of key strengths:

- Tenants are involved in monitoring and designing the service and the service responds positively to their views and suggestions. Examples of customer-focused initiatives include appointments and flexible working hours.

- The council's emergency repairs performance matches the top councils in the country, and the response to some other types of repairs is also good.

- The estate-based mobile repairs service provides a fast, effective, 'local' repairs response which is highly regarded by tenants.

- The quality of completed repairs enjoys high levels of customer satisfaction.

However, inspectors also found weaknesses:

- There is a significant backlog of non-urgent repairs which has resulted in a considerable number of tenants waiting longer than the already lengthy target time of six months.

- Tenants are not given enough information about the service and say they would like to know more about policies and procedures.

To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations, including:

- In consultation with tenants, develop a plan to deal with the backlog of non-urgent repairs. The plan should clearly identify where the staff and money will come from, and should include targets and a system to measure progress.

- Actively promote the service to tenants and improve the way information about the service is communicated to them. Ensure tenants know how the service works and what standards they can expect.

- Extend the appointments system to cover all types of repairs as soon as possible, and increase the number of multi-skilled repair staff to provide a faster and more efficient service.

The council owns 21,938 properties, the great majority of which are of traditional construction. It's estimated that£150m is needed over the next seven years to deal with the repairs backlog. The council is currently considering various options to address this problem. The Housing Direct Labour Organisation (HDLO) is the main contractor for the repairsand maintenance service. A workforce of 385 operatives and charge hands, supported by 70 technical and managerial staff deliver the service which costs£11.26m a year.

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