A team of inspectors from the Audit Commission found the council's housing repairs and maintenance service to be of a fair, one star standard, but with uncertain prospects for improvement. A previous inspection in May 2002 found the service to be of a poor, no star standard, with uncertain prospects for improvement.
However, repairs are often not completed on time, appointments are not always kept, and there is a backlog of repairs waiting to be done. Too many emergency repairs are carried out. There are no plans in place to reduce the high number of homes left empty which means income from rent is being lost.
Nick Atkin, lead housing inspector, said: 'Some difficult problems have been tackled since our last inspection, and the council's new political leadership is now committed to improving services. Staff and tenant representatives are keen to work together to make a real difference. However, we are worried that much recent improvement has relied on the work of external consultants, and we are not yet convinced that the council's permanent staff have the necessary resources, skills and experience to build on what has already been achieved.'
Inspectors found some strengths:
- The council now measures customer satisfaction with all areas of the service, and is working to increase tenant involvement and encourage customers to have a real say in how things are done.
- Repair staff are more flexible in their approach and are prepared to do additional small jobs when carrying out work in people's homes.
- Use of a private contractor has led to major improvements in gas servicing.
- There are no published service standards, and information from customer feedback and complaints is not used to improve and develop services.
- Office and call centre hours have not been looked at to ensure opening times meet the needs of customers.
- The efforts of staff in call centres to provide an efficient service answering queries and making appointments are undermined by poor IT and administration systems.
To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations including:
- Together with customers, review and publish service standards, and use information from feedback and complaints to make improvements in how things are done. Check that the opening hours of offices and the call centre suit the needs of customers.
- By April 2004, improve IT and administration in the call centre to enable staff to deal efficiently with repairs queries and requests for appointments.
- Take prompt action to address problems with the repairs service including the backlog of repairs waiting to be done.
The housing repair and maintenance service is provided to 8,973 council homes and includes repairs, work on empty homes, and planned maintenance. Spending on the repair and maintenance service was £11.8m in 2003/04. An in-house team provides the repairs service, while planned and rolling maintenance programmes are mostly carried out by private contractors.