Islington councillors express concern over Grenfell-linked Rydon’s role in Partners outsourced housing contracts
PUBLISHED: 15:10 04 March 2020 | UPDATED: 09:39 05 March 2020
Councillors expressed unease at a Grenfell-linked contractor’s role in Islington’s outsourced housing contracts at a rowdy meeting on Tuesday (March 3).
Partners for Improvement in Islington's chief exec, Tom Irvine, was hauled before the housing scrutiny committee, and some very angry tenants, to discuss its performance.
Partners is a private sector consortium managing more than 6,000 homes in the borough via two outsourced Private Finance Initiate deals, known as PFI 1 and PFI 2.
The "Partners" originally consisted of Bank of Scotland, United House Group (which has since been bought out) and Hyde Housing Association, with Rydon Property Maintenance providing repairs and cyclical maintenance.
Rydon carried out refurbishment works on Grenfell Tower in 2016. The tower went up in flames the following year, killing 72 people. An inquiry is ongoing into how the blaze began.
Cllr Sue Lukes (Lab, Highbury East) said: "One of your partners, one of those Partners for Improvement, has been specifically asked not to bid for any government contracts until its role in the fire as Grenfell has been fully investigated.
"I'm concerned we are in fact in a contractual relationship with a firm that many of those directly affected by the fire at Grenfell believe are in some way in some way responsible for the deaths of their loved ones. And that feels to me like a very uneasy and difficult relationship, and I would like to know about the possibility of you looking at, re-examining that relationship."
Cllr Lukes was alluding to comments made by housing secretary Robert Jenrick in November, when he tweeted: "I understand why survivors and bereaved do not want to see public contracts awarded to the main contractor for the Grenfell Tower refurb until we have the full results of the inquiry. The contractor should not bid for further work until we know the truth."
The government cannot prevent companies from bidding for contracts unless they have been charged with a crime, and Rydon has not.
In response to her comments, Mr Irvine said: "In terms of Grenfell and Rydon's involvement, it's not for me to comment on Rydon's involvement. But what I would say is, for anyone affected by that tragedy, we are sympathetic."
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Committee chair Cllr O'Sullivan added: "I did receive a report from an individual about Rydon's work vis-à-vis decoration on a property, specifically painting of windows. And they failed to snag them properly, with the results the windows are jammed. Now, this is a fire risk of major proportions. Just before Christmas [the neighbour] was effectively locked in his house, he came within minutes of dying. People had to jammy up the window with a screwdriver and get him to get him out."
Neal Ackcral, chief property officer at The Hyde Group, and Mr Irvine both responded they take fire safety very seriously, and that works are regularly checked.
Mr Ackcral added: "We are looking at Rydon very closely. We can't say anymore on Rydon in terms of that side."
Cllr Lukes said 28 per cent of housing ombudsman complaints upheld against the council related to properties managed by Partners, despite the consortium only running 19 per cent of the town hall's housing stock. But Mr Irvine said the total number of complaints upheld is very small and one or two cases could skew figures either way.
Cllr Lukes said a family of Partners tenants in her ward had their home broken into and smashed up by "a gang of drug dealers who got the wrong address" in September. She said she raised the issue with Partners in September and was told it would be dealt with, only to discover the family still had a broken front door in October.
Mr Irvine said he was "sorry to hear about that case", of which he was unaware.
Islington Council is consulting on whether to bring PFI 2, covering 4,042 properties, in-house when the deal ends in April 2022.
"We expect the contract will end on the date originally in the contract," said Mr Irvine. "We are committed to working with the council to ensure there is a smooth hand over to the council or their [chosen] provider."
"Hooray," shouted one attendee. "Bring it in-house," said another.
Mr Irvine continued, saying: "Let's work together for the good of the communities we serve, absolutely fine to say you hate PFI in principle - let's work together."
He continued: "Yes, of course there are commercial drivers, but we want to deliver good services and make sure people are safe in their homes."
A Rydon spokesperson said: "Rydon prides itself on delivering a consistently high standard of work coupled with a focus on customer care as well as a commitment to meeting customer satisfaction targets."