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Partners for Improvement blasted for making people's lives a 'living hell'

PUBLISHED: 14:12 13 February 2019 | UPDATED: 16:19 13 February 2019

Islington Town Hall. Picture:Ken Mears

Islington Town Hall. Picture:Ken Mears

Archant

The head of a consortium charged with letting and managing 6,440 council homes via two Public Finance Initiative (PFI) deals was lambasted over the group’s performance at a town hall meeting on Tuesday.

Stock image of partners tenant Jacqueline Cuthbert, showing disrepairs in her house. Picture: Polly HancockStock image of partners tenant Jacqueline Cuthbert, showing disrepairs in her house. Picture: Polly Hancock

The chief exec of Partners for Improvement, Tom Irvine, was hauled before the housing scrutiny committee for his annual presentation of the group’s performance, which become a dressing down over its alleged failures.

A woman, who didn’t give he name, cried as she related her two brothers’ ordeals in Partners properties.

“I’m tired, Tom,” she said. “In [2003 and 2006] the London Borough of Islington handed over to you the care of our street properties, the care of tenants and leaseholders that lived in them.

“And what I what I would like to say to you now in February 2019 is: when are you going to start?”

Stock image of partners tenant Jacqueline Cuthbert, showing disrepairs in her house. Picture: Polly HancockStock image of partners tenant Jacqueline Cuthbert, showing disrepairs in her house. Picture: Polly Hancock

She told how one of her brothers moved into a well-kept “Victorian street property” in October 2006 but claims Partners never maintained it, and subcontractors never turned up for jobs they were paid to do. She said he was forced to move out after “pieces of masonry started falling on people” and it became uninhabitable.

Her other brother, who suffers from schizophrenia, moved into a “beautiful” property in 2006, but she claims the flat suffered “catastrophic” floods of sewage water and contained disturbed asbestos, making his “life a living hell”.

The woman wept as she described her “vulnerable” brother wading through the sewage with soap powder, trying to clean it up. She says he ended up having “a complete nervous break down” and being sectioned. She also alleges her lungs have been damaged by the asbestos, which she says Partners knew about but didn’t fix.

“Clearly you are very distressed,” said Mr Irvine. “I don’t think I’ve spoken to you before – I hope if we can do anything to help we’ll be able to.”

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

Cllr Una O’Halloran (Lab, Caledonian) said: “There are some serious allegations about asbestos and if you knew and when you knew.

“If this had an impact on someone’s health we can’t just sit here and ignore it. Please don’t just sweep this under the carpet. I feel a bit sick.”

Mr Irvine said: “We take management of asbestos seriously.”

Attendees earlier derided Partners – a private sector consortium composed of Hyde Housing Association, Rydon Property Maintenance, United Living and Halifax Bank of Scotland – for focusing on its strong performance in all 15 key performance indicators (KPIs) agreed with the council. Mr Irvine said it’s a contractual obligation to discuss these at such meetings.

People called out “no one believes you” when Mr Irvine ran through the performance statistics, which were all above 90pc.

Mr Irvine said: “If a number is going to be received in that way it’s probably best we move on.”

“Well, Tom, we are here again, said Cllr Troy Gallagher (Lab, Bunhill). “Do you seriously believe these performance stats?

“Seriously, you must think there’s something wrong with the system here.”

“Of course we are sorry for where we have got things wrong,” said Mr Irvine. “We review all complaints. We listen to the satisfaction review results. [...]

“We are committed to improving the service we provide.

Islington’s former Lib Dem administration locked the borough into 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’ time.

“Believe it or not we work very hard,” said Mr Irvine. “I think it’s very unfortunate I can’t see a way that I can come her to convince you that the performance being reported [suggesting Partners is hitting all targets] is the reality. That’s difficult for me – I would like to work with you.”

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

“Believe it or not we work very hard,” said Mr Irvine. “I think it’s very unfortunate I can’t see a way that I can come her to convince you that the performance being reported [suggesting Partners is hitting all targets] is the reality. That’s difficult for me, I would like to work with you...”

“It’s not honest,” interrupted Cllr Gary Heather (Lab, Finsbury Park). “You’re going to come here every year and you’re going to get the same reasons.

“If you say [Partners is] 99.4 per cent on target we don’t believe it. It can’t be true.

“What I’m saying is make sure you have no doubt it’s great in when you’re in internal meetings, but it’s no good [here] because you don’t address you’re fundamental failures. Go away and come back with a better set of measures.”

After the meeting, Islington’s housing boss Cllr Diarmaid Ward told the Gazette: “I was disappointed with the presentation because members don’t want figures but quality examples of how Partners is dealing with complex repair issues and communication with residents.

“[PFI1] ends in 2022 and we are already taking preparations to look at how we would bring that back in house.

“Obviously that would be subject to consultation but the default position is it would come back in house and that’s my position as well.”

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