The Camden New Journal published the below letter from me on Labour’s ideologically-motivated, but economically-illiterate, plan to stop using contractors to deliver housing repairs. This is in response to Richard Ferraro’s excellent letter saying similar last week.
Camden has the second-worst social housing in the country, and something has to change – but moving services in-house is not the way to do it. Improving monitoring of the contracts is.
I was pleased to see Richard Ferraro show his great knowledge of building contracts to point out in last week’s CNJ that Labour’s plan to bring housing repair services in-house would stretch Camden’s management to breaking point and lead to worse services.
Camden has the second-most council homes in severe disrepair of any council in England, with council homes in Camden being twice as likely to be in indecent condition than the London average. This is a disgraceful record.
So I agree that something must be done, but that something should not be an ideological knee-jerk to the left, but fixing what has gone wrong. That means monitoring the contracts more closely, not trying to cast around for someone else to blame.
If the contracts were badly negotiated, the blame belongs to the people that agreed to the procurement strategy: that is, the Cabinet in 2012, six of whom are still Labour councillors and one is MP Tulip Siddiq. If the contracts are badly supervised, the blame belongs to the supervisor: that is, the Cabinet member himself.
I understand why Camden’s administration doesn’t find either option palatable, seeing as it involves taking responsibility. But the result of not doing so is bringing back from the dead a model that a cursory knowledge of Camden’s history tells you is a costly dead-end.
In the 1980s, Camden had a Direct Services Department: a behemoth organisation within the council that directly supplied services from building to street-cleaning. It also haemorrhaged money, charging 50% more than private contractors at the time, and had such poor management that on any given day, 25% of staff didn’t turn up to work.
Some will remember those times, and others not, but those that do remember won’t remember them fondly. To go back to the hard-left’s failed policies of the 80s would cost Camden money and fail to solve the real problems it has with housing maintenance and repairs.
As Richard Ferraro noted, the administration needs to focus on the day job of improving Camden’s management of services, not seek ideological quick-fixes.