Councillor quits board of Circle Old Ford Housing in row over gas maintenance
PUBLISHED: 09:33 18 February 2016 | UPDATED: 10:45 18 February 2016
A leading Tower Hamlets cabinet member has quit the board of a major housing association with thousands of tenants in London’s East End after a slamming attack on its record of repairs and maintenance.
Marc Francis stormed out of Old Ford Housing after eight years, with other board members, following concerns about a maintenance contract after a family of four were taken to hospital with suspected gas poisoning.
He is known to be worried about the organisation becoming “less accountable to its tenants” now that its parent company, Circle Housing, plans to merge with Affinity Sutton to form Europe’s largest public housing conglomerate.
Cllr Francis, who has been on the board since 2008, put his resignation in a letter.
“It has become clear Circle Housing has no intention of allowing Old Ford to continue as a locally-managed and accountable housing association”, the letter seen by the East London Advertiser states.
“Nothing better illustrates Circle’s unfitness to take over these functions centrally than its disastrous handling of the repairs and maintenance contract,” it adds.
“Old Ford’s board objected to the centralisation of this contract, but the decision was taken out of our hands.
“It went wrong from the start and, despite the board of Old Ford repeatedly raising concerns about the poor performance and inadequate management of the contract, nothing useful was done to put it right.”
Circle Housing was downgraded by government regulators last year after inspectors criticised its maintenance and forced them to switch contractors.
“It was only the intervention of the Homes & Communities Agency regulator that forced Circle finally to end the contract,” Cllr Francis’ letter says.
“As a consequence of this failure, the regulator’s governance rating for Circle was downgraded—one step away from the dustbin.
“Tenants are still enduring a woeful service, leaving many without heating this winter.”
The Advertiser last month reported a couple with two toddlers and a third child on the way, Joe Mordley and his pregnant wife Natasha, being rushed to hospital with suspected gas poisoning in their eighth-floor home at Waverton House tower block near Victoria Park, managed by Old Ford.
They had just had their boiler serviced—but had to spend Christmas without heat or hot water when National Grid had to shut down the supply because the cooker leaked for four days with a washer missing.
Circle Housing now has a “recovery plan” in place after its downgrading and has ended its gas repairs contract with Kier—but its annual boiler maintenance contract is still running.
“We acknowledge problems and have implemented a recovery programme,” a Circle spokesman said. “We are half-way through our governance review and are committed to local scrutiny and local panels.”
Circle Housing is merging Old Ford with eight other housing associations in London, the South East and Midlands to cut costs, it said, with £50m in government rent supplement being taken away in April.
Cllr Frances has “had issues” with the maintenance contractors since 2013, which caused the regulator to step in.
What worries him is Circle abolishing Old Ford management board after its merger with Affinity Sutton goes through, making it more remote from the families in the former council housing estates, although the housing body says there will still be local accountability.