This report provides an update on actions taken by Property Services since the previous report in March 2017.
Jane Martin, Interim Director for Property Services, and Chris Culleton, Principal Compliance Manager, attended to present the update report and provide a verbal update on the Council’s response to the Grenfell Tower fire.
Jane Martin reported that all of the recommendations from the original internal audit report had now been completed (detailed in 4.1 of the report). The committee had requested further independent review of Mitie’s remaining 591 EICR test reports not covered by the original sample review but due to staff resource issues this had not been commissioned and would not be available for review and comment until the September meeting.
Housing Property Services had appointed additional staff to support the existing teams and strengthen health and safety compliance and a new compliance database was being introduced at the end of July.
Jane Martin informed the committee that a new Fire Safety Strategy had been written and, with the appointment of consultant fire specialist Graham Coupar, Housing Property Services had embarked on an immediate targeted programme of service evaluation and improvements to ensure H&F was in a better position to deal with existing and future fire investigations, meet its responsibilities under the fire safety regulations, and further develop the borough’s strategic approach to fire safety and risk management.
Following the fire at Grenfell Tower, officers and MITIE technicians had checked all blocks of six stories and above. A block of 12 stories and above is classified as a ‘tower’ and there were 14 in the borough. Three towers on the Edward Woods Estate were cladded, and while residents were understandably concerned, officers assured the committee that the panelling was a stone wall product and not comparable to the flammable cladding on Grenfell Tower. The fire brigade had visited the towers and tested the fitting of the panelling and had no immediate concerns. Officers were listening to residents’ concerns and holding advice surgeries.
Councillor Nicholas Botterill asked if there was a reason all the relevant fire risk assessments were not publicly available on the Council’s website. Chris Culleton said historically the Council had not published them but officers were intending to going forward. Councillors supported this and felt it was good practice to do so.
Councillor Guy Vincent asked what comfort the Council could provide to residents in tower blocks. Would sprinklers be installed for example? Jane Martin said officers were putting together cost proposals for the installation of sprinklers (in individual properties and common areas) on blocks six stories and above. The proposals would be completed by 14 July.
Councillor Guy Vincent asked if there would be funding available from Central Government for the installation of sprinklers and other fire safety improvements. Officers said it would be welcome but felt it was unlikely.
Councillor Mark Loveday noted that the committee had previously been told the programme of electrical safety testing would be completed by 2019 – he felt that was not a tenable position anymore. He asked officers how quickly the remaining electrical testing could be completed. Chris Culleton said they were reviewing this and would take away the committees call for urgency. Councillor Loveday added that the committee had previously been told that the programme would be partly suspended to move resources to the most severe CAT1 level testing – but resource was no longer a priority. The relatively small sums of money involved should not be a barrier to completing safety testing.
Councillor Guy Vincent said the electrical testing programme was a rolling programme so it wasn’t a question of properties not having certificates at all, just that some were older than others. Councillor Mark Loveday said minimum compliance was no longer a defendable position – the Council should make sure they were up to date on all testing.
Kim Dero, Interim Chief Executive, informed the committee that, in light of the Grenfell Tower fire, the administration had made funds available from the capital programme to carry out safety checking, tests and improvements – and the Council would not be satisfied by simply meeting the minimum standards. She added that all areas of health and safety across the organisation were being reviewed.
Councillor Mark Loveday asked if the timescales referred to in paragraph 5.5 of the report were still accurate – that targeted fire risk assessments would start in July 2017 and be completed by December 2017. Kim Dero responded that officers had already started doing the work and a number of assessments had been completed this week. The Council had some globally recognised specialists on contract and was building capacity within the organisation with the support of the Fire Brigade’s Borough Commander. She said she would come back to the committee with a completion date for the entire programme shortly.
Councillor Donald Johnson noted that prior to the fire, residents at Grenfell Tower had made complaints about power surges – he asked if it was known if any blocks in the borough had experienced similar issues. Jane Martin said she was not aware of any but a thorough review of complaints was being undertaken to ensure issues had been addressed.
Councillor Donald Johnson also noted that another issue at Grenfell was the number of contractors and sub-contractors. He asked what due-diligence H&F had done to ensure third party contractors weren’t sub-contracting out to lower quality providers. Chris Culleton said officers were reviewing everything – all sub-contractors and contractual relationships. Kim Dero added that officers had established a compliance action plan and met every week to discuss these issues.
Councillor Nicholas Botterill said Councils had to come up with an all-encompassing approach to safety management that could accommodate the complex arrangements of different organisations, contractors and sub-contracts. He made a comparison to the airline industry that had successfully achieved this and produced huge safety benefits at the same time. Kim Dero agreed and noted that too often the public sector delegated safety and compliance down. H&F would be putting far more robust arrangements in place with the support of a significant capital programme agreed by the administration. H&F wanted residents to get a clear message from the Council that their safety was of the upmost importance. She added that the senior management team would be taking greater responsibility for safety and she would return to the committee with an improvement plan detailing the new approach.
Councillor Michael Adam noted that a lot of the justifiable anger over Grenfell stemmed from the fact that residents had flagged up safety issues over a number of years. Any new safety strategy must be outward looking and reflect the concerns of residents.
Councillor Nicholas Botterill gave an example of a resident who had raised safety issues that had still not been resolved. Kim Dero said officers had gone back to the InTouch team to look at all fire safety related complaints from the last two years, as well as tenant meeting minutes and notes, to ensure any issues raised had been dealt with.
That the Committee noted the contents of the report and the actions taken to date by officers.