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Partners for Improvement in Islington labelled 'gangsters' at heated leaseholder meeting

PUBLISHED: 13:20 10 May 2019 | UPDATED: 16:23 10 May 2019

Cllr Diarmaid Ward and Dr Brian Potter. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

Cllr Diarmaid Ward and Dr Brian Potter. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

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A consortium of private companies managing thousands of Islington homes were accused of "extortion" and "gangsterism" by leaseholders on Tuesday night.

From left: Islington's project manager of major works Richard Powell, Islington Leaseholders Association chair Dr Brian Potter and housing chief Cllr Diarmaid Ward. Picture: Lucas CumiskeyFrom left: Islington's project manager of major works Richard Powell, Islington Leaseholders Association chair Dr Brian Potter and housing chief Cllr Diarmaid Ward. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

A consortium of private companies managing thousands of Islington homes were accused of "extortion" and "gangsterism" by leaseholders on Tuesday night.

The homeowners believe Partners for Improvement in Islington is "illegally" overcharging people for communal repairs. But Partners says its sticking to its contracts with Islington Council.

Members of Islington Leaseholder Association (ILA) also slammed the Partners - which include Rydon Property Maintenance and Hyde Housing Association - for producing "propaganda" reports about its performance and users satisfaction levels, and for an alleged lack of accountability.

Partners chief exec Tom Irvine failed to attend the two previous leaseholders meetings, despite claims he was invited weeks in advance.

Dr Brian Potter. Picture: Lucas CumiskeyDr Brian Potter. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

"What I want is for Mr Irvine in that chair in a room full of Partners [leaseholders]," said ILA chair Dr Brian Potter. "You would have to remove all the sharp objects from the room - he would be in danger.

"Partners have earned an enormous amount of money from the council and leaseholders. The amount they have charged is indecent."

"Make him come here," he told housing chief Cllr Diarmaid Ward. "Let us have him."

[The Gazette was reassured these remarks were made in frustration and jest and Dr Potter poses no security risk to Mr Irvine]

Parters' chief exec Tom Irvine at a town hall scrutiny meeting. Picture: Lucas CumiskeyParters' chief exec Tom Irvine at a town hall scrutiny meeting. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

Fellow leaseholder Ray Alcock added: "I come to most of these meeting and people raise issues about problems they have had with Partners' outrageous behaviour - and I think it's totally unacceptable the person responsible for it [Mr Irvine] is not accountable. Is he a god or something?

"It's an insult to the people living in this borough that he thinks he is beyond the law."

Mr Irvine did take questions from the public at scrutiny meeting in February, no doubt a chastening experience as he was widely criticised for Partners purported failures. Mr Irvine wasn't invited to Tuesday's meeting and said he couldn't attend the April 10 summit due to a family commitment. He claims he'd invited leaseholders to "regular open forum meetings".

Another leaseholder chimed in saying she "didn't see the point in being in the same room as Tom Irvine", as her problems with partners are so long-standing they could have "promoted the cheese boy to the job he's got".

The former Lib Dem-led town hall locked Islington into two deals through Public Finance Initiatives (PFIs): PFI 1 which covers 2,340 homes in Highbury, Mildmay and Canonbury and expires in 2033; and PFI 2, which covers 4,100 homes across the borough and runs out in three years'.

Islington expects to pay Partners £44million this year, £44.9m in 2020-2021 and £45.9m in 2021-22.

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Cllr Ward said: "First and foremost I'm not here to defend Partners - I'm certainly not here to defend Partners' contract, which was negotiated under a previous administration.

"The default position is we would like to bring it back in house as soon as we can, subject to consultation."

He also expressed his disappointment at Mr Irvine's absence, saying he should have been there.

Dr Potter added: "Can you please lean on Partners and ask them to have meetings with leaseholders? If you can, we will do the work for you: because we will be screaming."

Leasholder Thomas Cooper added: "Cllr Ward opened with saying he wasn't here to defend Partners. Can I just ask him if there's any aspect of Partners service which he is, or he believes residents are, happy with?".

Cllr Ward believes some neighbours are "probably" satisfied with the way "routine repairs" are carried out - but problems occur when bigger, more difficult jobs arise.

He argued issues with invoices or service charges are just symptomatic of one underlying problem: communication.

Thomas said service charges, customer service and tenancy services are all "an absolute nightmare" under Partners.

He added: "They are gangsters and the council is failing its residents by failing to told them to account. It's widespread misery."

A Partners spokesperson said: "As part of our contract with Islington Council, Partners are required to recover money from leaseholders for works carried out at their properties, in line with the cost of the works undertaken. The KPI's are as agreed with Islington Council. Complaints are taken very seriously by Partners and details of complaints are shared with the Council and not just presided over by Partners. We are very happy to discuss any concerns raised with Cllr Ward."

Leases, rates and repairs

ILA members also alleged Partners is charging them more works on communal windows than is set out in their lease with Islington Council - and they called for an investigation into this perceived malpractice.

One leaseholder said: "On occasions I have had disputes with Partners, nothing terrible, but I have read my lease and they have purported to have authority to interpret my lease. They say I can make a stage one complaint, then they judge themselves. Can it be made clear to Partners they do not interpret leases? They interpret leases to which they are not a party to and say: 'According to our interpretation you pay for all these windows'. A third party with no authority should not be permitted to be an adjudicator."

Cllr Ward said he would raise this in his next quarterly meeting with Mr Irvine, prompting a derisive call of: "Will he even be there," from someone in the chamber.

"Start an investigation - this is serious - they are issuing lease advice," another guest added.

When Cllr Ward promised he would go away and look into these issues, she asked if he'd be pushing for an investigation into Partners conduct before PFI expires in 2022. The housing chief reiterated he'd look into it.

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