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The repairs and maintenance service provided by Sandwell MBC is fair and has uncertain prospects for improvement, a...
The repairs and maintenance service provided by Sandwell MBC is fair and has uncertain prospects for improvement, according to an independent report released today by the Audit Commission.

The housing inspection team gave the service one star.

Martin Palmer, Lead Housing Inspector for Central Region, said:

'The inspection team found staff working with tenants representatives on developing improvements to services, however further difficult decisions will need to be made to demonstrate value for money and improve service delivery.'

The inspection report highlights a number of key strengths:

-- Repairs can be reported by telephone, or in person at any of the 25 neighbourhood offices and three estate offices, or in writing.

-- There is a well-developed and inclusive tenant involvement culture within the organisation.

-- Tenants receive regular performance information at meetings, in newsletters and in area offices' 'Quality Corners'.

-- Rapid response team members are popular with tenants and provide a speedy service for emergency and urgent repairs.

However, inspectors also found weaknesses:

-- There is inconsistency in service delivery across the six towns.

-- There are a number of homes without an up-to-date gas safety certificate.

-- The council carries out a high percentage of emergency and urgent repairs which does not offer value for money.

-- Service standards are not displayed in every office.

' Relet times for void properties are poor, although this has improved over the last year.

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

-- Address inconsistencies in service across the authority whilst still being sensitive to the differing nature of the individual towns.

-- Review the appointment system in consultation with tenants in order to ensure its meets everyone's needs.

-- Reduce the level of emergency repairs in order to provide greater value for money.

-- Ensure robust procedures are in place to ensure full compliance with gas safety regulations.

Sandwell is the seventh most deprived area in the country, with 25 per cent of the borough's residents on income support. Sandwell has a reducing population as people move out to the leafier shire districts. The council is experiencing a falling demand for its social housing and estimates it will need to reduce its stock by 10 -15,000 homes over the next ten years.

The council owns around 37,000 homes, which accounts for 32 per cent of all properties in the borough. The HRA budget for the service for 2001/02 is£150.9m and the average rent for a house in Sandwell is£54.48 per week. The capital allocation for 2002/03 for public sector housing is£21.9m however the council has calculated that its investment needs are£441m to meet the recommendations in 'Quality and Choice in Older Persons Housing' and the attainment of the decent homes standard and that the funding gap is£110.6m in 10 years.

Copies of the report are available from Sandwell MBC or on the Audit Commission website at


1. The service was inspected as part of the government's best value initiative, which places a duty on all councils to deliver the most economic, efficient and effective services possible.

2. The inspection involved interviews with council staff and members, and members of the public using the service.

3. The Audit Commission inspection service was established to provide the public with an independent assessment of whether best value is being achieved by their local council. Inspection reports judge how well a service is currently serving local people, based on a star rating from 0-3 where 0 is poor and 3 excellent, and how likely it is to improve in the future.

4. The government has placed a duty of best value on councils requiring them to improve local services over the next five years. Councils must report annually on their performance (best value performance plans in order to identify and achieve continual improvements in local services.

5. Further details about the role of the Audit Commission can be obtained from

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