How many caretakers does it take to change a light bulb?

lightbulbThe answer in Hammersmith and Fulham council properties is none. They are prohibited from doing so. Residents have to fumble along corridors in the dark until the authorised operative from the contractors Mitie turns up.

This matter was raised by a resident last week at a meeting of the Council’s snappily titled Economic Regeneration, Housing and the Arts Policy and Accountability Committee.

I asked for a explanation. Sharon Schaaf, Head of Estate Services, responded:

Managing lighting failures in communal areas

The department’s MTFS programme under the last administration involved the provision of three major outsourced contracts: Repairs and Maintenance, Housing Management (North) and Estate Services (caretaking and the like).

Part of this work included a review of all areas where there were overlapping operations.  It was ascertained, that whereas the caretakers could attend to some lamp failures, and would manage this with a store of lamps, they could not attend to all light fittings or all types of failure.

The department made proposals to the cabinet member for housing to rationalise the specifications to simplify methods of working and to maximise the savings opportunity.  In this regard, the replacement of lamps was removed from the caretaking operation and not included in the caretaking contract.

The reasoning behind this decision was that not all lighting failures can be rectified by changing the lamp (bulb); there are occasions where the failure is a component part of the luminaire, or where the failure is in the wiring circuit for the lamp.  Equally, there are light fittings in certain locations that could not be safely accessed by the caretaking staff, and these repairs had always been referred back to the repairs contractor, but this inevitably added further delay.

Under the current arrangements, all internal communal lighting is repaired by Mitie under the repairs and maintenance contract.  External lighting is covered in two ways:

Where the external lights are mounted on a building, and are less than 4.5m above ground level, they are repaired by Mitie under the repairs and maintenance contracts.
Where the external lights are column mounted, or are mounted on a building at a height greater than 4.5 m above ground level, they are repaired by the highways lighting contractor under a Service Level Agreement with TTS department.

In this way, residents have a single point of contact for all communal lighting failures, and only need to telephone the Mitie repairs number.

I hope this has answered your question fully, if I can be of further assistance please do not hesitate to contact me.

I have replied:

Thanks, Sharon.
I would suggest a small amendment be negotiated to allow some flexibility. If the caretaker is willing to make an initial attempt to resolve the matter by changing the light bulb this should be facilitated and that those caretakers willing to do this be supplied a small stock of the relevant bulbs.

I can’t see why Mitie would object – surely it would reduce costs? It would also generally mean that residents would benefit from the problem being resolved more quickly.

The difficulty I suppose could be if there was confusion over who was fixing the light and whether or not they had succeeded. So I suppose the caretakers would have to log this on a computer or tell the relevant housing officer.

I’ve suggested that each resident is allocated a personal housing officer, with contact details. That could help things run more smoothly – with this being an example.

Best wishes,

This is not just about light bulbs. Have you spotted what is missing from present arrangements – and all the political point scoring, bureaucratic obfuscation and deference to large corporate contracts which justifies them? That’s right. It’s the human element. So rather than blaming the Conservative council or the Labour council or the caretakers or Mitie or Sharon it is about the system. The system needs to be adjusted so that the mentality can be summed up in the slogan that Hammersmith and Fulham Council used to have (which has now been abandoned): Putting residents first.

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