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Partners for Islington: Council likely to ‘bring services back in house’ when PFI deals expire

PUBLISHED: 07:56 25 October 2018 | UPDATED: 13:59 19 November 2018

Jacqueline Cuthbert in her bathroom, where the sink is broken and not attched to the wall, the bath panel is broken and damp, and she has no toilet seat. Picture: Polly Hancock

Jacqueline Cuthbert in her bathroom, where the sink is broken and not attched to the wall, the bath panel is broken and damp, and she has no toilet seat. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Islington could cease outsourcing a chunk of its council housing management when a Public Finance Initiative (PFI) contact runs out in four years’ time, according to council chiefs.

Jacqueline Cuthbert could have been crushed by a falling tree. Picture: Polly HancockJacqueline Cuthbert could have been crushed by a falling tree. Picture: Polly Hancock

Islington could cease outsourcing a chunk of its council housing management when a Public Finance Initiative (PFI) contact runs out in four years’ time, according to council chiefs.

Two Blair-era PFIs were brokered under a Lib Dem-run council and gave Partners for Improvement in Islington 6,440 council homes to let and maintain.

PFI 1, covering 2,340 homes in Highbury, Canonbury and Mildmay, was signed in 2003 and expires in 2033. PFI 2, which covers nearly double that number, was a 16-year deal agreed in 2006.

These tie Islington in with the Partners: Hyde Housing Association, United Living, Rydon Property Maintenance and Halifax Bank of Scotland.

Jacqueline Cuthbert in one of her bedrooms which she says has been unusable for 17 years due to the condition of the ceiling. Picture: Polly HancockJacqueline Cuthbert in one of her bedrooms which she says has been unusable for 17 years due to the condition of the ceiling. Picture: Polly Hancock

Some living in Partners properties have long bemoaned the service provided – and Islington’s “default position” is now to let its partnership become a divorce.

“What happens [when the deals finish] will be subject to consultation,” said the borough’s housing chief Cllr Diarmaid Ward.

“But the default position is that we want to bring it back in house. I don’t think PFIs are a good idea.”

He pointed to the council’s “success” retaking control of the repair service in 2014.

Jacqueline Cuthbert standing by the window where an 80 foot tree smashed through. Picture: Polly HancockJacqueline Cuthbert standing by the window where an 80 foot tree smashed through. Picture: Polly Hancock

“I think it has been a very strange relationship,” he said. “If the current administration were doing things again we certainly wouldn’t enter into a PFI.”

The housing boss added: “Partners accept that, no matter what they do, in reputation, they have a problem in the borough.”

And Cllr Ward clarified his concerns aren’t to do with the day-to-day repairs.

“It’s the long-term work that usually take more than three months,” he said.

Cllr Diarmaid Ward, Islington Council's executive member for housing and developmentCllr Diarmaid Ward, Islington Council's executive member for housing and development

“These tend to fester and Partners have quite a lot of these cases – that’s the figure I want to bring down.”

One such case is Jacqueline Cuthbert, of St John Road, who has lived in her Partners-managed property for 37 years.

Jacqueline, 60, has been asking for electrical and other repairs for 15 years – she says contractors have “failed to arrive” on 26 occasions.

When work has taken place, Jacqueline says “electric sockets were left broken and hanging off the walls” and there was “a very poor level of craftsmanship in the works.”

But Partners claim she denied its workers access.

When her sink broke, Jacqueline says contractors fitted a replacement which “looked like it was off the skip” in October 2017.

She says it was crudely glued to the wall and fell off, breaking three of her toes.

This still hasn’t been repaired, and she added: “I fall over every day due to the flooded floor.” Water is seeping onto it from her faulty sink and broken toilet.

Jacqueline, 60, lives alone and is disabled. But she’s too embarrassed to entertain guests due to her home’s disrepair, leaving her “lonely and isolated.”

She hopes the PFIs “don’t get renewed”.

A Partners spokesperson said it’s “saddened” by her complaints, which don’t “reflect records or all the hours, visits and communication” it’s made.

Glyn Robbins, a social housing campaigner who manages the Quaker Court Estate, off Old Street, was working for the council when the PFI deals were struck.

“I wasn’t the only one who thought it was a mistake,” he said. “There were a number of us saying ‘this isn’t going to do well’.

“The deals made private contractors a lot of money and haven’t necessarily got results residents want and deserve.

“We can’t trust public housing to private business.”

Earlier this month, at a leader’s question time event, Cllr Richard Watts was asked: “Do you have long term plans once your contact finishes with Partners?”

He said: “We will go into the decision with a predisposition of finishing the contract and bringing services back in house.”

A Partners spokesperson said: “Performance information is subject to regular checking and audit by council officers. We are committed to delivering the requirements of our contracts with the council and good quality services to residents. “During the last year we have completed over 99 per cent of 20,000 responsive repairs within target and resident satisfaction with repairs for 2018 is currently at 96pc. We strive to keep improving.

“All complaints are reviewed monthly by senior managers to learn from where we’ve got things wrong so we can provide good services with ever greater consistency.”

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