East Kent Housing fire safety has been slammed by its auditor the East Kent Audit Partnership. East Kent Housing is the largest Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO) in the UK managing the entire social housing stock, for the four councils of Canterbury, Dover, Shepway & Thanet – a total of 17,000 homes.
The Director of Property Services at East Kent is Mark Anderson who has been in post for just two years. In 2012 he served as Interim Director of Assets and Regeneration at the Kensington and Chelsea TMO where he was responsible for planning and ‘consultation’ on the botched Grenfell Tower refurbishment. He was at the KCTMO for less than two years, after which he moved to Circle Housing as Interim Director of Property. Having remained there for just a year and a half he moved on again, ultimately arriving at EKH.
East Kent Housing has been called the UK’s first ‘Super ALMO’. Like all other ALMO’s it’s an outsourced housing management organisation, with limited public accountability and transparency. It’s responsible for the council housing services of Canterbury City Council, Dover District Council, Shepway District Council and Thanet District Council.
According to a report produced by the East Kent Audit Partnership, which provides internal audit services for Canterbury, Dover, Thanet and Shepway councils, EKH has failed to deliver an acceptable fire risk assessment management service to its 17,000 tenants (see pages 13 & 14 of the report).
The report based on audit inspections in the autumn of 2017 identifies several major management failures including;
- Fire risk assessments have not been kept up to date in respect of follow ups based on the suggested dates shown in the original assessments that were carried out in 2014 by an external company. This has meant that outside contractors are now being used with some internal resources to carry out new Type 3 fire risk assessments on all locations with an expected completion date of October 2017 to renew every fire risk assessment for each location whether or not it is in date or out of date.
- There has been no central pulling together of the works that have been carried out across locations to reflect the impact that they have had on the original fire risk assessments.
- There is no central monitoring of the outstanding actions for each location at the time of the audit.
- The new single system is not able to assist in record keeping of fire risk assessments which has meant that a separate software solution is being procured.
The auditors rightly point out that “Since the tragic event happened at Grenfell Tower in 2017, fire safety has become a high priority” and council tenants have a right to know that their homes are safe.
However, it would appear from the problems identified by the auditors that the management of fire risk assessments and associated record keeping by East Kent Homes has been operating at a level which is far below what residents are entitled to expect from a good and responsible landlord.
This shameful and downright dangerous failure of fire risk assessment management was of such concern to the auditors that they classified East Kent Homes’ Fire Risk management systems as providing only “limited assurance”. Limited assurance is defined by the auditors as;
“…significant errors or non-compliance, with many key controls not operating as intended, resulting in a risk to the achievement of the system objectives”.
Clearly the fire risk management systems at East Kent Homes don’t just need a little tweak here and there to put them right. They are, in fact, profoundly dysfunctional and unfit for purpose and could potentially put the health and safety of tenants at risk, just as the alleged failures of the outsourced KCTMO are widely believed to have contributed significantly to the heart-breaking tragedy at Grenfell Tower.
The question must be asked why the senior management team of East Kent Housing, who together are reportedly paid in the region of £350,000 a year, allowed the management of a function as critical as fire risk assessment, to collapse into such an appalling state of dysfunctionality
EKH made a loss of £1,357,000 million between April 2016 & March 2017. In 2015/16 losses amounted to £1,155,000 million according to the accounts registered at Companies House. These corporate losses, however, appear not to have made much of a dent in the remuneration enjoyed by the top-dogs on the EKH board:
Local activist group Shepway Vox has called on Shepway Tenant representative Nigel Lawes, who sits on the Board, and Cllr David Owen to demand an urgent investigation into this matter, especially bearing in mind that after the tragedy of Grenfell Tower, fire safety and fire risk assessment was supposed to be the top priority of all social landlords throughout the country – except perhaps at East Kent Housing which clearly has serious problems in managing this critical issue.
But it’s not just the apparent failings of East Kent Housing which have allowed this unacceptable and dangerous situation to develop. According to the auditors there is a lack of monitoring of East Kent Housing by the “four partner authorities” (Dover, Canterbury, Thanet and Shepway councils) who set up this organisation in the first place and to which they pay about £15 million a year in management fees. Senior managers at these “four partner authorities” should have been monitoring “the outstanding actions and expected costs” of the fire risk assessment process, but, according to the auditors, it would appear that they didn’t.
The crux of this appalling, unacceptable and frankly dangerous situation at East Kent Housing is that when public services such as social housing are outsourced and passed on to other organisations to run they become progressively less and less accountable and transparent in the way that they are managed and the democratic control and scrutiny which used to exist when services were directly provided by the Council becomes almost non-existent.
Lack of democratic control and scrutiny and a reduction in accountability and transparency allow for poor management to thrive and mistakes to go unchecked, which in turn can, and sometimes does, lead to tragedy. That’s why we believe the outsourcing and privatisation of public services should be halted immediately and that organisations such as East Kent Housing should be closed down and liquidated, just as the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation was closed down and liquidated.
This blog was reposted, with a few minor edits, by kind permission of local residents group Shepway Vox. We are indebted to Shepway Vox for allowing us to repost their material and wish to express our gratitude to them for sharing it with us:
Readers might also like to check out an article about East Kent Housing published in the Guardian in April 2011 entitled “Is East Kent Housing the Future of Almos?” This article strongly suggests that, as social tenants, we are all guinea pigs in a grand ALMO cost-cutting experiment. We might well ask whatever happened to ‘informed consent’?