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.

Action promised to clean up the Maystar Estate

maystarbinMore evidence of the filthy state the council estates have fallen into since Labour took control of our borough last year.

Here is a picture, taken by a resident, of the disgusting state of the bin chute in the Maystar Estate. She wrote to the Council leader Cllr Stephen Cowan about it but had no reply from him and then raised it with me.

I have pursued the matter with Sharon Schaaf, the Head of Estate Services, who says:

“Client team officers have checked the bin rooms on Gibbs Green (as detailed on the photo), Maystar estate and then identified what we believe is the bin room in the photo as being at Alice Gilliatt Court.  The detritus has been cleared, and the caretakers and refuse contractor reminded that they need to clear spillage promptly.”

Fly-tipping on the Gibbs Green Estate

Labour claim to be “on the side” of council tenants. But since they took over last year they have allowed standards on the estates to slide. These examples of fly-tipping on the Gibbs Green estate are all too typical.

I have demanded that they be cleared away and that tougher action is taken. But housing officers have got the message from Labour that dealing with this is “not a priority”.


Housing Association offers Bassein Park Road house for sale at £1.2 million

basseinparkrdA housing association is offering for sale a house in 19 Bassein Park Road (currently split into three flats) in Shepherd’s Bush for sale at auction. The guide price is at £1.2 million plus.

We are not told the condition the property is in or the name of the housing association.

What is obvious is that £1.2 million is a lot of money. Some will attack the housing association for selling the property claiming that it means the homes (with a total of five bedrooms) will be “lost”. That is the position of the Labour-run council.

But if the housing association can use those funds to provide more replacement housing then that would benefit some of those in temporary accommodation – often overcrowded.

Some of these auction sales go for even higher prices – I wrote earlier about one in Shepherd’s Bush Road for £2 million.

Housing associations are taking a practical approach to maximise their resources to do as much as possible to ease housing pressures. The council’s policy – refusing to sell regardless of the value – is ideologically driven and does the homeless no favours at all.


Labour’s u-turn on Earls Court redevelopment?

adonisThis morning I’ve written for Conservative Home about City Villages. It’s a report from the left wing think tank the IPPR edited by the Labour peer Lord Adonis. He was seeking to be the Labour candidate for Mayor of London but is now backing Dame Tessa Jowell. He was also brought in as an advisor to the new Labour administration in Hammersmith and Fulham.

There is some local interest in the report as Lord Adonis praises the Earls Court redevelopment. In the past Labour have opposed it. The Labour MP Andrew Slaughter made false claim during the last General Election campaign in 2010 that residents would be forced to live in Barking and Dagenham.

But Lord Adonis says:

“As for larger, current city village developments, Gary Yardley, investment director of one of London’s biggest developers Capco, explains his vision for Earls Court, one of the largest development sites in inner London (nearly 80 acres to provide some 7,500 new homes).

“In many ways Earls Court is London’s next ‘great estate’, reinventing their legacy and approach for the 21st century. The site assembly at Earls Court is itself a remarkable feat: partly existing White City council estates, partly large redundant Transport for London (TfL) train storage and repair facilities, and partly the site of the decommissioned Earls Court Exhibition Centre. TfL will retain a stake in the development company for Earls Court.

“The masterplan combines higher density with significant new public amenity, creating new streetscapes and retail/business centres, a site for a new London museum or gallery, new schools, a large new public park, and a car club which every resident will be invited to join.”

Leave aside the shaky grasp of local geography betrayed by his reference to “White City”. This is a positive message about the development.

Then there is Mr Yardley essay which says:

“Major opportunities come with significant challenges – specifically that volumes should not compromise the need for good-quality homes, connectivity or the need for community integration, and the recruitment of good architects is integral to providing vision to sites of this scale.

Essential to getting major projects off the ground are strong relationships with local governments and planners, to ensure the masterplan of the site meets the expectations of local residents and Londoners. In the case of Earls Court, this involves two local authorities, in particular working closely with Hammersmith and Fulham council to ensure all existing qualifying residents of the old estates will be offered a new home within the development. Such major regenerations may transform the landscape, but in order to retain the social fabric and history of places, ensuring the current residents have a place in the new community is critical for building new places around existing social infrastructure.”

The existing West Ken and Gibbs Green estates are rather closed off from the wider area. This is a typical flaw with council estates – very divisive. Restoring street patterns will change this. The new homes will be better than the existing homes.

Not that they will necessarily be as attractive as they could. When Mr Yardley talks about “good architects” he means award winning architects which means bad architects. Trying to ensure that the new housing is attractive is an area where the council could have a positive influence. Unfortunately with the current administrations modernist planning policies – which favour more tower blocks – this is unlikely. But Mr Yardley can hardly be blamed for operating within the design guidance of planning officers.

Still this is a scheme that will offer real improvements. More housing, better housing, a better mix of tenure. It will mean our community is brought together rather than having one section closed off from the rest.