Went to this working group on 22 July 2009, on the agenda were a lot of items to be dealt with in 1 1/2 hours. Horticulture, standards of access to information, mock audit inspection, service improvement plan.
The Service Improvement Plan is so comprehensive that an extra meeting for this has been scheduled to take place in September. I will be there.
What was an interesting question was, can foreign language speakers be forced to speak our language and the council thinks not and that it would be discrimination not to translate to people who “refuse” to speak our language. (Please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). I think this is against current guidelines.
Horticulture has one big problem in my view, that is that horticultural contractors do not take out tree saplings when they are really small because they are not responsible for trees. The saplings are allowed to grow into big trees, even if they grow in totally inappropriate places and have then to be removed at great cost by another section, responsible for trees alone, what a wast of money.
The Inspection feedback brought the remarks that prior to the Inspection there were plenty of caretakers, many of which were removed immediately after it has taken place. And most interesting that leaseholders are allowed to owe up to £20.000 in service charges without action being taken. This is against tenants getting a reminder immediately at great cost even if their weekly payment is 1 day late.
Leaseholders argue that they do not get a breakdown of their charges with their bills and have to wait for the breakdown and explanation of their charges if they complain and the wait is weeks rather than days.
This system is slack and exploited by leaseholders because they are allowed to get away with it mainly because the Council does not provide a proper breakdown of charges.
For example in the field of horticulture the increase of pay to the horticultural service is 3 % and leaseholders are charged an extra 18%. Of course if it is put in these over-simplified terms they all refuse to pay that.
One common complaint is ‘Why should I pay for a lift in a block of flats if I live in the ground floor’. or ‘people on benefits break the lift, why should I pay for the repair?’.
It is completely farcical and leaseholders know they signed a contract on the terms that they are responsible for equal portions of cost, when they arise in the block or estate they reside in and cannot escape those costs on the grounds of squabbling each time. If they do not like it they have the option of the Ombudsman and or a Judicial Enquiry.
The Council is too soft on leaseholders and tenants subsidise the services. Unfortunately leaseholders have a powerful leaseholders organisation only for them whilst tenants have not and council events, even if they are held in the tenants resource centre can be attended by leaseholders and they dominate almost all meetings. That is not in the spirit of equality.
What I find most interesting in the Service Improvement plan is that contractors now shall make the pre-inspections instead of council personnel. I think it is then up to the contractor to deliver good value for money and not exploit that situation by charging as much as possible for repairs that are not necessary. We constantly hear that private enterprise can deliver better value for money but they really have to live up to this and proof it, because if they don’t the argument goes for state run and council run services instead. it is entirely up to the contractor themselves to proof that they can deliver a sufficient service so that we want to keep that system.