London borough brings £2m estate cleaning contract back in-house

Service review exposes issues which meant extending the contract for the full term was no longer an option.

A London borough has brought its £2m estate cleaning contract back in-house – promising tenants and leaseholders more control over service slammed as “poor”.

Brent Council found satisfaction among those tenants and leaseholders low when it reviewed the quality of the contracted service, with categories including responsiveness to complaints and joint working with other contractors.

Now, the council’s cabinet has given the go-ahead for cleaning of council estates to be done directly by the council itself.

Councillor Eleanor Southwood, council cabinet member for Housing and Welfare Reform, said: “Council tenants and leaseholders have been telling us for some time that the current cleaning arrangements aren’t working, and this is a great opportunity to do something about that.

“I know how important it is for people to feel happy with where they live, and the cleanliness of our blocks is a huge part of this.

“With the cleaning service back in house, it will give tenants and leaseholders much greater control over the service they pay for, as we are committed to developing a resident-led system which works well for all of us.”

Wettons Cleaning Services was awarded the contract in 2013 by Brent Housing Partnership.

Currently taking in around 8,000 council and leasehold flats, the contract was for a period of four years with the option to extend for up to a further six years, covering the maintenance of the internal and external communal areas of blocks of flats managed by the council.

The expiry of the initial four-year term fell into the transition year for BHP, and cabinet heard no work had been done to decide on what happens with the contract.

Rather than agree a full extension for the remaining six years, an extension of a year was agreed in September 2017 so that a review of the service and contract performance could take place.

The service review revealed a number of issues which meant that extending the contract for the full term was no longer an option, with the contract subsequently extended until September this year to give the Council time to implement the in-house option.

Currently, the annual total cost of current service is in the region of £2m, a cost fully recharged under the service charge structure to both tenants and leaseholders.

Cabinet heard the potential increase in the cost of service delivery would be recharged to tenants and leaseholders irrespective of which of the two specified options were taken forward.

After Brent Housing Management services were brought in house in October 2016, improving the estate cleaning service became a priority.

A number of steps were taken to improve the service, and this resulted in an increase in resident satisfaction – up from 58% to 68% in a year.

However, while some improvements have been made, the report to Cabinet recommended that, in order to achieve the desired levels of quality and resident satisfaction, the service should be brought in house.

This was said to will allow estate cleaning to be fully integrated with other housing management services while giving the council, tenants and leaseholders greater control.

Cabinet heard that, in addition, the contract was not well managed under BHP, and there was insufficient investment made to the service by Wettons, which led to a deterioration in the quality of service.

This, members heard, manifested itself through high levels of complaints from residents, members’ enquiries and a number of corrective actions identified by the estate services team.

Improving the estate cleaning service became a key improvement priority when the Housing Management Service came back in house.

In the last 12 months, cabinet heard, Brent Housing Management (BHM) has put in place effective contract management focused on improving the service.

This included developing and implementing a new service communication strategy, a service development plan, improved operational practices and a new performance management framework, which has redefined the service standards, key performance indicators and a new inspection regime.

Members were told these actions have seen significant improvements in the quality of service being delivered.

In August last year, officers carried out a survey of tenants and residents to see satisfaction with the cleaning of internal areas had increased by 10% against last year (58% to 68%).

But cabinet heard that, although positive, the satisfaction levels are still “significantly below” the levels being achieved by top performing social landlords – which is the ultimate aim of the Council.