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GWYNEDD'S HOUSING MAINTENANCE SERVICE IS 'POOR' - COUNCIL CHALLENGES REPORT

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Gwynedd Council's housing maintenance service is described as a 'poor service that has uncertain prospects for impr...
Gwynedd Council's housing maintenance service is described as a 'poor service that has uncertain prospects for improvement' in an independent report published today by the Audit Commission in Wales.

Independent inspectors from the Audit Commission inspection team gave the service a 'no star' rating because of the large number of weaknesses in the quality of current service provision.

Roy Irwin, chief housing inspector for Wales and England, said:

'The housing maintenance service provided by Gwynedd Council should be a cause of significant concern to the authority. Our inspectors identified some encouraging signs, but the overall quality of the service currently provided is poor.

'The council should now address the significant issues raised by our report as a matter of urgency.'

The inspection report identifies a number of positive features of the service:

- The council has a programme to install carbon monoxide detectors in all homes with gas appliances

- There is evidence of moves towards more tenant involvement in the service

- The council has attracted significant additional funding through the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme

However, inspectors also identified a large number of weaknesses, including:

- There has been a lack of information available to tenants on how to report repairs

- There has been no routine maintenance of solid fuel heating systems

- Responsive maintenance is expensive and the budget has been consistently overspent in recent years

- The council has operated as three separate areas with different practices and procedures

- The council cannot identify the extent of its repairs backlog

Inspectors felt that there were many barriers to improvement in the service, including:

- The council's best value review looked too narrowly at organisational issues rather than service delivery issues

- There had not been meaningful consultation with tenants on how the service could be improved

However, there has been recent action to deal with many of the weaknesses identified by inspectors, including:

- Performance against targets is being measured monthly

- The council has adopted a new improvement plan which incorporates inspectors' recommendations, and performance against that plan is being regularly monitored

- Work has already been done on many actions contained in the new improvement plan

Recommendations made by inspectors to help the service improve included:

- Extending the availability of the free phone repairs reporting service

- Ensuring that health and safety issues are given the highest priority

- Ensure the responsive repairs budget is not overspent

- Set performance targets which are monitored consistently

- Update data on housing stock condition which will allow a long term strategy to be developed

Gwynedd housing maintenance service covers day to day responsive repairs, planned maintenance, major improvements and adaptations for people with disabilities. It is estimated that the service will cost£7.6m for 2001/02. The council has a housing stock of 7,293 dwellings.

A press release from the local authority follows:

A RESPONSE TO THE BEST VALUE STATEMENT - HOUSING MAINTENANCE

Gwynedd Council is challenging best value inspectors' views on the council's housing maintenance service, and it is disappointed that the inspectors do not acknowledge the fundamental changes that the council had already resolved to introduce.

The council had acknowledged weaknesses and has taken action to transform the service, establishing one opeartional unit to be responsible for all matters relating to the maintenance of council houses and improvements. This unit was established on the 1 October 2001, a week after the inspectors visited the council.

The main objectives of the new unit include:

- To abolish the compulsory competitive tendering division while retaining the main strength, namely the focus on performance and adding focus on quality, responding to customers and flexibility

- Establishing a system that provides best value service that meets the standards and policies of the council

- Establishing a system that aims towards continious improvement in accordance with the principles of best value

- Improving efficiency by eliminating duplication

The council is confident that the new system will provide a better service for the tenants.

Linda Ann Wyn Jones, lead councillor for housing on the council board said:

'We have acknowledeg weaknesses in this service and undertaken fundamenta, extensive changes to the way we deliver the service. But the inspectors have not seen the new system in operation - they have formed an opinion on the basis of the historical situation rather than on the new system. I am very disappointed that they do not acknowledge the reforms that have been undertaken.

'As the service leader, I am confident that our new system offers better management that will lead to improvements. But it seems that the inspectors do not support our actions to improve and seem to be undermining our efforts.

'I would question the validity of a review that was undertaken a week before we introduced the most fundamental change ever in the history of our housing maintenance service.

'The review was undertaken under the 'best value' methodology - which has been recognised by the national assembly as flawed and is to be replaced by the Wales Improvement Programme.'

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