Agenda item

Update on Transition back to the Council and the BHP Transformation programme

Minutes:

Phil Porter (Strategic Director for Community Wellbeing) introduced the report which gave an overview of the transition of the housing management function and the housing operations transformation programme which was required irrespective of the decision to bring BHP back to the Council. In his presentation, Mr Porter focused on two key strands: transition and transformation.

 

On transition, Mr Porter explained the focus was to bring BHP back within the Council covering the governance arrangements, contracts and staffing. Members also heard that although BHP would remain responsible for the service during the transition period, joint governance arrangements would also be put in place to ensure collaborative working (Housing Operations Transformation Board, Resident and Member panel). As far as transformation was concerned the committee was informed that a broader transformation would also run parallel with the transition, to ensure full optimisation of processes and technologies, resident engagement and tailoring the new service to their needs. The predominant approach would be “lift and shift” (by 2nd October), a restructure was likely to start in January 2018 with full implementation of all changes by June 2018.

 

Discussion centred around issues related to contracts, staffing, resident engagement, budget, performance and service management. With regard to contracts, a member of the committee enquired about existing issues with multiple contracts across the borough, in particular Veolia, and was told robust contract management and working through individual issues was required and that this approach was led by the Regeneration and Environment Department.

 

A member also asked a question on land ownership and “un-adopted land” as one of the main source of issues with regard to contracts. Phil Porter explained that such issues had been avoided for too long and it was only now that they were being brought to attention as part of the current transformation.

 

In response to members questions on information given to residents and working with housing association to engage as many of them as possible, Phil Porter responded by saying that although the local authority could hold contractors to account and provide support where the necessary, communication with residents was ultimately their responsibility. He acknowledged that the service had to be responsive to resident needs and assured the committee that work with housing associations will continue in order to improve contact opportunities for people. In addition, a member commented on the existing communication gap and how it may affect the welfare of vulnerable groups during the transition period. Phil Porter acknowledged the importance of maintaining strong relationship between BHP and Adult Social Care teams and insisted that the Council is determined to do things differently and focus on joint work and encouraging culture change. He assured that practical changes had been put in place including changes to senior management, improving staff performance and overall department synergy. In addition he explained that a building management database was currently being put together the information from which would go on to the GIS mapping facility and will form a publicly available portfolio of properties.

 

The committee paid particular attention on the new staffing arrangements as part of the BHP transformation. On the question of how many staff would move from BHP to the Council and how would they be overseen, Phil Porter responded that all staff will transfer across on 2nd October 2017. Although there were high demands and expectations from the BHP transformation, he assured the committee that the project was not driven by the idea of cutting staff and in fact opportunities would be given to staff groups to take up permanent roles.

 

The committee sought further information on the recent Cabinet’s decision to retain BHP in a revised form, as a Registered Provider of housing and in particular who will be responsible for managing Brent Council’s funds which would be spent on those properties. In response, Phil Porter explained that BHP would become a company, similar in format to Investing 4 Brent (I4B), where standard governance arrangement and corporation taxes will apply and where BHP will hold all the properties and the Council will provide all the housing management. The model which the Council has created will also support the homelessness reduction plan as many of the properties will be outside of the housing revenue account so intermediate rents could be charged.

 

Elaborating on the issue of budget and savings, Phil Porter informed the committee that by bringing BHP back in house the Council was expected to be better off as the transition of the service would remove some of the existing governance duplication and will streamline management. Expectation was that transformation would deliver about £1m of reoccurring savings.

 

Members asked for further clarification on property management, including any empty private housing which had not been seized by the Council and also to purchasing of properties by I4B outside of the borough. Phil Porter explained that on the issue with seizing  empty private housing, the Council has target of bringing 100 empty properties back in use each year but currently were slightly behind target. However, this remains a priority as it was another way of securing homes for people and tackling blight and anti-social issues. Cllr Farah (Cabinet Member for Housing) also added that he would be giving a talk on this on Monday 31st August and would be happy to report back to the committee. In terms of property management outside of the borough, Phil Porter informed members that most of the properties were predominantly in the surrounding boroughs or in Home Counties so disruption caused by dislocation was kept to a minimum and long-term interests of families were taken into account.

 

As far as performance was concerned, members were reassured that resident satisfaction was the main measurement criteria. Particular attention was paid to Veolia’s poor performance levels across the borough and significant variance in standards of service between different wards, the committee was informed that officers were closely involved with contract management and the relevant standards would be applied to ensure consistent level of service.

 

RESOLVED that:

 

  1. The contents of the report be noted including the current state of transformation plan and impact on shared services for residents.
  2. Reports on land ownership, performance and resident engagement strategy and information on the total number of BHP properties in each ward be presented at the next meeting.
  3. A project be set up within the Council to look at the issue of un-adopted land.

 

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