At a recent Scrutiny Meeting the Managing Director of the Corserv Group was asked about an external review that had been provided in relation to Cornwall Housing Limited (“CHL”) which is part of the Corserv Group which in turn is wholly owned by Cornwall Council.
No previous mention had been made of this review and when pressed the MD agreed to circulate to Members the Executive Summary of the review. After much chasing for this document, and some six weeks later, Members have been sent an internal, public, report which you can view here, prepared by officers which contains a supposed summary of parts of the report rather than the report itself. Given that this report to Members is produced by those whose deeds are the subject of the review it is reasonable to assume that the best possible “spin” has been put on the external review.
Based solely on the officers’ report it is clear that there have been multiple failures within and around CHL. The report notes that;
- CHL’s services are average.
- There are compliance issues that must be urgently addressed.
- The programme for electrical testing of properties is so delinquent that Cornwall Council has referred itself to the Regulator for Social Housing.
- Repairs on average take longer to complete compared with other providers.
- Void turnaround times are greater than the average.
- Management costs in relation to repairs and voids are higher than the average (despite lower than average performance)
- Key actions are required now in relation to governance, commissioning and compliance.
The report also comments on a recent scheme under which Corserv Property Limited would spend up to £40 million on purchasing Private Rented Accommodation to be used to house homeless people, a very sensible and economically sound concept. Before this report it was clear that this project had suffered delays, some of which could quite reasonably be attributed to Covid. However the report highlights that this project has “been impacted by internal factors” and also notes that required refurbishment on properties acquired “was significantly under-estimated at the time of purchase”.
The report also comments on a proposed new agreement between CHL and Cornwall Council which has not yet been entered into because of “protracted negotiation of certain legal provisions”. This is an agreement between Cornwall Council and a company that it wholly owns not between two unrelated parties and yet its terms require negotiations and legal costs and time.
Finally, the report notes that the relevant Strategic Director proposed that a new Strategic Risk in relation to CHL to be rated Red be added to the Council’s risk register in September 2020 but appears to have been talked out of this by the promise of an external review. If the risk had been added in September 2020 these problems, or at least a hint of them, would have become public and subject to scrutiny, however belated.
Councillor David Harris, deputy Leader of the Conservative Group on Cornwall Council said:
“This report is damning of the workings of Cornwall Housing Limited, its supervision by officers within the Council and the total absence of any leadership by the relevant Cabinet Member and indeed the whole Cabinet. I am not criticising those at the coal face within CHL, I have seen the work they do and the constraints that they have to work within.”
“Ever since I became a councillor I have challenged the absolute lack of transparency in relation to the workings of the Council’s group of companies and this is just the final proof, if it were needed, that change is needed. The Managing Director of Cornwall Housing left very suddenly earlier this year but no notification was given to Members.”
“I doubt we would even have known about this report had I not asked questions about it and then pressed for a response. If we were not only days away from elections I would be demanding the resignation of Andrew Mitchell as Cabinet Member for Housing. As it is I am now asking for the following:
- The release, in full, of the external report
- A copy of the self referral made to the Regulator of Social Housing and any response to this
- An explanation of the “internal factors” that have cause delay within Corserv Property Limited.
- Confirmation that the previous MD of CHL did not get any sort of “pay off”
- An accounting of the cost of the underestimate of refurbishment works on properties acquired. Did we use external surveyors to look at these properties in which case what action is being taken against them?
- Who determined that the recommendation to place this matter on the Council’s Risk Register should be ignored-the ultimate cover up.”