GENESIS FOUNDER CONDEMNS MERGER

Dipesh Shah OBE
Chair
Genesis Housing Association

4th January 2018                                                                                                 via email

Dear Dipesh

Genesis/Notting Hill Housing merger proposals

I am very sorry that I’ll be unable to attend the shareholders’ meeting called for 16th January to vote on the merger proposals, the reason being that I am due for cardiac surgery tomorrow and will need some time to recuperate. In the circumstances I thought I should let you know of my concerns and likely voting intentions.

To get to the point straightaway I am disappointed to find that several of the positive statements and promises made on behalf of the Board in the recent informal shareholders’ events, as well as in our one to one, are not reflected in the prospectus and rules now circulated. The fact that the documents arrived on the last working day before the Christmas and New Year holidays and included the new Rules (which had not been exposed during the informal events) has made scrutiny quite difficult for me in the time window I have had. Please excuse any misunderstandings due to this constraint.

The number of events for shareholders and the openness with which they were conducted came as a pleasant surprise in contrast to the secretive and corporatist approach of the last two decades, which had led Genesis to the brink of disaster. I had begun to think that with your arrival there was a change of tone and style, though I accept that the fundamental problem for housing associations with a clear social purpose is the Treasury’s refusal to inject adequate subsidy into new provision.

Specifically my concerns are;

  • The removal of “social” [housing] from the main purpose of the merged association, in addition to the supplementary words about meeting the needs of the less well-off which go back to the origins of PCHA – this despite Kate Davies saying at the joint shareholders’ occasion that the two boards had heard shareholders saying loud and clear that provision of new social housing was their overwhelming concern;
  • Many of the proposed Rule changes reduce the role of shareholders and the scrutiny and accountability of the Board while they increase the power of the Board – for example the power of the Board to approve or reject new candidates for the Board before they are submitted to shareholders, thus rendering elections effectively hollow: there is no requirement to adopt the latest model rules in this respect;
  • No repeat of Kate Davies’ statement at the joint meeting that sales of valuable street properties in the two associations’ heartlands would be brought to an end;
  • No reference to the intention of the merged association to remain connected to the community in its heartlands and unlike some other big associations to maintain the shareholder base – promises also made by Kate in her intervention;
  • No assertion that the merged body will be able to borrow at interest rates significantly lower than those available to them separately;
  • No real case made for being bigger, including no evidence for the promise to provide 400 more dwellings than would otherwise be the case – I believe there are figures available show that it is medium sized HAs that build more homes than the largest ones.
  • No confirmation that there will be more expressly social housing, as compared with the incredibly low output of social housing last year: rolling affordable and social housing into one category of “general needs” provides huge wriggle room for this vital element of what the association essentially exists for;
  • The trouble with the “Resident Promise” is that many promises of better service have been made before and if they are not delivered there is little that residents can do;
  • By contrast there is no response to my suggestion of bringing back advisory area boards with resident participation as a way of raising the resident voice in governance without threat to the association’s financial integrity;
  • Your promise of a mini-due diligence report as I requested has not been delivered and there are no due diligence reports at all for shareholders. I would be very worried if the two boards had reached their decisions on the basis of the information given to shareholders;
  • Provision 8.1 of the resolution/s makes the outcome subject to the necessary consent, approval or other required authority of funders, but we are told nothing about whether these consents have been forthcoming or are likely to be forthcoming;
  • It is not clear if there are resolutions (plural) to vote on or just one resolution on 16th January – having just one vote excludes the possibility that shareholders could approve the merger in principle but want changes to the new Rules or other details.

For all these reasons I can’t support the plans as currently put forward, even if I believe that Genesis merged might be slightly better than Genesis on its own. I would like to see the two Boards consider further what has emerged from the consultations and be much more transparent about the drivers for the proposals. I will be asking my proxy to vote accordingly.

With best wishes

Robin Sharp CB
Founder member and first Chair of PCHA (Paddington Churches Housing Association)

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Prime Minister’s Rejection of Inquiry Petition – Dent-Coad’s Response

Below is the full statement issued by Kensington MP Emma Dent-Coad on 22nd December 2017, the day the Prime Minister rejected the locally organised petition calling for the appointment of a diverse panel to head the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.

Please continue to sign and share the petition via this link:

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/206722

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Hackitt Report Slams Building Regulations

Dame Judith Hackitt, the former chair of the Health and Safety Executive, has been appointed to lead a review, set up in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, that will examine building regulations and issues of design, construction and building management throughout the UK in relation to fire safety. It will also look at related compliance and enforcement issues, as well as international regulation and experience of these issues.

The Review, which will report to the Home Secretary and the Communities Secretary, was commissioned by the Department for Communities and Local Government in July 2017 and the terms of reference were published shortly thereafter. The review will be forward looking and focused on ensuring a sufficiently robust regulatory system for the future and providing further assurance to residents that the complete system is working to ensure the buildings they live in are safe and remain so.

The Report  is complementary to, and will be shared with, the Public Inquiry.

An Interim Report was published on 18 December 2017 and the Final Report is expected in the spring.  The Interim Report found that:

  • Culture change is urgently required, with industry taking greater responsibility for what is built. It empasised that this change needs to start now
  • The current system for ensuring fire safety in high-rise buildings is not fit for purpose. A clear, quick and effective route for residents to raise concerns and be listened to, must be created.

According to the interim report the building regulations are not fit for purpose and the current overall system is not working effectively and needs to be overhauled.

The review found that Approved Document B – the document setting out the regulations – encourages cost-cutting.

According to Dame Judith Hackitt who is leading the review;

“A universal shift in culture is required to rebuild trust with residents of high-rise buildings.”

The Interim Report highlights several major shortcomings in regulation and other areas affecting fire safety that will shape the more detailed recommendations set out in the Final Report:

1. Privatisation of building control has created conflicts of interest

The interim report expressed concern about increasing privatisation of the building inspection regime;

“There are notable concerns that third-party inspections are open to abuse given the potential conflict of interests, with growing levels of mutual dependence between developers and contracted inspectors, which also highlights the loss of expertise in building control.”

2. Regulations encourage cost-cutting

Documents that emerged in the wake of the Grenfell fire suggested that the renovation of Grenfell Tower was reduced and scaled back due to limits imposed by government on council borrowing for housing. (In our view the renovation was also seriously compromised for more dubious reasons that are yet to be fully revealed).

Dame Hackitt said in her interim report:

“I have been shocked by some of the practices I have heard about and I am convinced of the need for a new intelligent system of regulation and enforcement for high-rise and complex buildings which will encourage everyone to do the right thing and will hold to account those who try to cut corners,”

She also said nothing short of a brand-new regulatory regime was needed to remedy the problems;

““The current system is highly complex and there is confusion about the roles and responsibilities at each stage. It has become clear that the whole system of regulation, covering what is written down and the way in which it is enacted in practice, is not fit for purpose, leaving room for those who want to take shortcuts to do so.”

3. Regulations are undermined by a confusing profusion of guidance

The effectiveness of building regulations is undermined by a lack of clarity and the regulations are undermined by a profusion of guidance;

“The regulations themselves are pretty simple but what sits below the building regulations is a whole series of guidance documents which stacked on top of one another would be about 2ft high. Key definitions are unclear and leave too much open to interpretation.”

4. Both government and all industry stakeholders must play a part in preventing further tragedies

Dame Judith has strongly emphasised the need for all parties – including the construction industry, building owners, regulators and government – to collaborate to remedy the many problems identified. She said that both the regulations and the people enforcing them must acknowledge that they share the responsibility for shortcomings in fire safety in the built environment.

“When regulations are complex it makes it difficult for people to penetrate that complexity to truly understand what they are required to do,” she said, “There are issues of competence to be addressed as part of this.”

5. Residents’ concerns must be heard, responded to and, where justified, acted on.

Two years before the fire Grenfell Tower residents had complained that the refurbishment had been completed using cheap materials and that developers had cut corners. They also claimed that the Conservative-led Kensington and Chelsea Council, which owns the building, had done nothing to address the concerns raised.

The Hackitt report recommends that residents should have a clear, quick and effective route for communicating their concerns and that they should be responded to and addressed promptly;

“The mindset of doing things as cheaply as possible and passing on responsibility for problems and shortcomings to others must stop.”

Dame Judith found that;

“the regulatory system for safely designing, constructing and managing buildings is not fit for purpose. The current system is highly complex and there is confusion about roles and responsibilities at each stage. In many areas there is a lack of competence and accreditation.

“While this does not mean all buildings are unsafe, it does mean we need to build a more effective system for the future. That is why I am today calling for the construction industry, building owners, regulators and government to come together to identify how to overcome these shortcomings together.”

The interim report sets out six broad areas for change:

  • ensuring that regulation and guidance is risk-based, proportionate and unambiguous
  • clarifying roles and responsibilities for ensuring that buildings are safe
  • improving levels of competence within the industry
  • improving the process, compliance and enforcement of regulations
  • creating a clear, quick and effective route for residents’ voices to be heard and listened to
  • improving testing, marketing and quality assurance of products used in construction

Dame Judith consulted widely in developing her Interim Report and has talked to over 300 people. Overwhelmingly the view that has been expressed is that the system urgently needs improving and it needs greater clarity. She will continue her consultations in the coming months before making her final recommendations, in the hope and expectation that her recommendations will bring significant improvements to the system.

“…I have been deeply affected by the residents of high rise buildings I have met and I have learned so much from them. These buildings are their homes and their communities. They are proud of where they live, but their trust in the system has been badly shaken by events of the last few months. We need to rebuild that trust.

“The quicker we can get some improvements in place, the sooner we can build that level of reassurance that residents of high-rise buildings absolutely deserve.”

There are some who might criticize Dame Judith as an establishment insider, pointing to the role she has played as chair of the Health and Safety Executive for more than eighteen years, but the fact remains that she has now produced an independent hard-hitting and uncompromising Interim Report that describes the Building Regulations as unfit for purpose and recommends urgent and radical reforms of the entire system. There is no reason to doubt that her Final Report will be any less thorough. The question that remains at this point would therefore appear to be whether the Government, and the Prime Minister in particular, has the stomach for this and whether the political will exists, after years of procrastination, to finally act on Dame Judith’s recommendations.

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/interim-report-into-the-review-of-building-regulations-and-fire-safety

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/independent-review-of-building-regulations-and-fire-safety-interim-report

 

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Further Thoughts On The Grenfell Inquiry Panel

Arguably the most dramatic moment in the Grenfell Inquiry procedural hearings  on 11th and 12th December, occurred right at the end of the second day, when Sir Martin Moore-Bick invited any last representations from counsel. Nobody who had witnessed the day’s events could have failed to notice Sir Martin’s frequent references to the suggested advisory panel (which he clearly favoured), and his marked avoidance of any mention of the Panel-led Inquiry which had been called for in the Grenfell Speaks petition, and repeatedly on the previous day, by counsel representing many of the core participants from the Grenfell Community.

At that moment Michael Mansfield QC, with the full support of the legal teams representing the Grenfell Community, briefly and concisely challenged the clear and obvious avoidance by Sir Martin of any mention of the call for a panel-led inquiry. By way of reply Sir Moore-Bick stated emphatically that this was a decision for the Prime Minister and was beyond his authority to decide.

The petition calls on the Prime Miniister to exercise her powers under the Inquiries Act to appoint additional panel members, with decision making powers, to sit alongside the Chair of the Inquiry, to ensure those affected have confidence in and are willing to fully participate in the Inquiry. The petition has now accumulated 24,457 signatures. It continues to grow at a steady rate of hundreds each day and shows no sign of stalling.

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/206722

Despite this the Prime Minister wrote to the Chair, Judge Moore-Bick, on 21st December, immediately before the extended Christmas break, pouring cold water on the hopes of the petitioners and leaving their legal teams with insufficient time to mount an appeal against her decision. The key passage from the PM’s letter is reproduced below:

htpps://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/670508/1159_001.pdf

The Prime Minister’s statement seems, at first glance, a clear and unambiguous dismissal of the calls for a panel-led inquiry and, like many others, my immediate reaction to it was one of deep frustration and disappointment, accompanied by a strong  sense of betrayal and anger. However, on closer inspection it was apparent that what seemed to be a clear and unambiguous statement was immediately followed by a slightly more ambiguous follow-up:

The ambiguity, for what it’s worth, lies in just those last three words where the Prime Minister concedes that “additional members should not be appointed …. at this stage.” This seems to offer a glimmer of hope that she might be considering additional panel members at the second stage of the Inquiry – but her statement remains uncomfortably unclear and ambiguous and we cannot assume that this ambiguity is unintentional.

We know that the the Inquiry will be structured in two phases and that there is considerable urgency attached to the early production, in stage one, of an interim report on the immediate causes of the fire. The reasons for this urgency need no explanation.

However, one still has to wonder why the PM couldn’t find it in her heart to include a clear and explicit commitment to a panel-led inquiry at the second stage, for the benefit and peace of mind of the severely impacted community of survivors and bereaved who have made it very clear, both to Sir Martin and to the Prime Minister, that they are deeply concerned and very determined about this.

In his written response to the submissions made on 11th and 12th December Sir Martin Moore-Bick stated;

“It is clear that many of those who lived in Grenfell Tower and the surrounding area are strongly of the view that in the years preceding the fire the TMO received many complaints about the condition of the building and (among other things) warnings about matters affecting safety, including the risk of fire, to which little heed was paid. Investigation of those complaints and the responses to them will form an important part of the Inquiry’s work and it is necessary to examine carefully whether they were handled by RBKC and the TMO properly and in accordance with good practice.”

https://grenfelltowerinquiry.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Chairmans-Response-20.12.17.pdf

Important as these issues are, we know that there are other equally important issues to be considered. It is vital that the Inquiry considers whether the failings of these organisatons may have been caused by an excessively patronising or even contemptuous attitude toward their clients, and whether this may have led, in some cases, to incidents of criminal negligence, and even to a widespread culture of criminal negligence.

What’s more, we must also consider whether a similarly patronising and contemptuous attitude may have influenced the Prime Minister’s dismissal of the petition and the appallingly insensitive timing of her decision. No other explanation even comes close to explaining the timing of the PM’s decision to publish her letter on the very eve of Christmas. It is simply not credible to view this as an error of judgement and it has all the hallmarks of a deliberate and cruel snub. There is an expression that is sometimes used in medical circles to describe a massive heart attack. It is called ‘a gross insult to the heart’.

This was a gross insult to the heart. The Grenfell Community has suffered greatly and cntinues to suffer and there can be no justification for such cruel and insensitive treatment from the Prime Minister.

In my view we must be prepared to consider the possibility that her atrocious behaviour on this occasion may be exactly what we feared – a blatant attempt to destroy the confidence of the Grenfell Community and discourage our participation in the Inquiry.

We must not forget that the Government itself is deeply implicated in the Grenfell tragedy through its deregulation policies, its overt support for the ‘regeneration’ and gentrification of the social housing sector, and its failure, over many years, to reform the building regulations which it knew to be unfit for purpose.

However, we must not lose heart and must continue to trust and to work with the legal teams that represent us, regardless of the actions of those who would seek to limit the scope, effectiveness and independence of the Inquiry.

Finally, please watch for our next blog (coming very soon) on the interim report submitted to the Inquiry by Dame Judith Hackitt on her Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety. This was commissioned, following the Grenfell fire, by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

AND KEEP SIGNING THE PETITION!

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/206722

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Prime Minister Refuses Petition for Panel-led Grenfell Inquiry

Yesterday, 22nd December, the Prime Minister refused a petition organised by some of the bereaved of the Grenfell Fire for a panel-led public inquiry into the disaster that claimed 72 innocent lives at Grenfell Tower last June. At time of writing, the petition had been signed by 22,860 – all dismissed or disregarded by the decision of the Prime Minister.

Bereaved families of the Grenfell Tower Disaster – already facing a bleak holiday season without their loved ones – are heartbroken to have had their petition refused on the eve of Christmas.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/670508/1159_001.pdf

In response to the news that Mrs. May has declined to add an additional expert panel to the Grenfell Inquiry, Adel Chaoui who lost four relatives in the fire and is leading the petition said:

“Not only does the news continue to ignore our concerns, but it seems to have been timed deliberately, on the last working day for most law firms, to limit the time available for us to take legal advice and, or challenge the decision. Under the Inquiries Act we have 14 days to bring a legal challenge by way of judicial review of the Prime Minister’s decision.

Given the news was never going to be well received, the timing raises serious questions about the Prime Minister’s judgement and intent. She demonstrated poor judgement and rank discourtesy in not having waited until the New Year to avoid upset during the holidays, but more concerning is the question of what could possibly be behind the intent to limit time available to respond?

With the Government’s failed promise to update fire regulation after Lakanal House, we feel serious questions should be asked about the decision not to appoint additional decision making panel members to support Sir Martin Moore-Bick who is leading the Inquiry.

We also find it questionable why the Prime Minister, at the very least, did not seek to solicit Sir Martin’s opinion on the matter when he clearly stated he could not make an unsolicited recommendation.

We continue to call on the Prime Minister to take action to build public trust in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry and seek as much support for our petition as possible. In addition to potential legal avenues, we hope to secure 100,000 signatures within the next 5 months and force a Parliamentary debate on the question; in which the Prime Minister will be asked to publicly defend a decision to not give us a fair chance of justice.

We ask the public who have supported Grenfell bereaved families and residents since the devastating fire to sign our petition and more importantly, share it with friends, neighbours and colleagues.”

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/206722

“What we’re asking is not unusual for a public inquiry; it falls firmly within existing inquiries legislation. Given the scale of death and destruction, it cannot be right that the truth of what happened in Grenfell Tower will be judged by a single person.”

It may be worth noting that the Prime Minister said in her letter to Judge Moore-Bick that she does not intend to appoint further members of the panel “at this stage” which suggests this may not be her final decision and it may be kept under review, thereby extending the time limit. Lawyers representing the petitioners and other survivors will be writing to the Prime Minister next week to express our disquiet at the perverse timing of her decision, seeking urgent clarification as to what was meant by the statement that further panel members would not be appointed “at this stage” and asking whether, and in what circumstances, the composition of the panel might be re-considered.

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Grenfell Inquiry Petition – More Signatures Needed!

Karim Mussilhy lost his beloved uncle Hashem in the Grenfell Fire. Yesterday he asked for help with the Petition.

More than 22K signatures today and the government were supposed to respond after we reached 10K. It’s been 13 days and we have still not heard from them!

Anyone who lives in the UK can sign.

Please continue to support and share.

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/206722

We may never reach the 100,000 signatures needed for a debated in Parliament but that’s not really the point.

The Prime Minister has the power to order additional panel members with decision making powers to sit on the Inquiry.

The more signatures we get the greater the pressure on her to do the right thing.

Call on the PM now to take action to build public trust in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/dec/12/grenfell-survivors-demand-justice-at-parliament-gathering?CMP=share_btn_fb

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