NIHE under supervision over repairs contracts
The UK’s largest social landlord has been plunged into turmoil after it was placed under government supervision following a damning report into its management of repairs contracts.
Social development minister Nelson McCausland ordered the 90,000-home Northern Ireland Housing Executive to report to his department every two weeks under ‘special accountability measures’. But the move has angered many tenants’ groups and unions who claim it is politically motivated.
The decision over the organisation’s handling of its £170 million annual maintenance contracts followed the resignation of NIHE’s chair Brian Rowntree on Monday, citing a ‘challenging relationship’ with the Department for Social Development.
According to Mr McCausland, a report on the organisation’s contractual governance and the quality of its repairs work showed ‘considerable issues’ regarding the work carried out and the correct billing of jobs. The report has not been published due to commercial sensitivity.
Mr McCausland commissioned the investigation following the termination of a maintenance agreement with contractor Red Sky after allegations of poor performance.
The NIHE’s trade union and tenant organisation branded Mr McCausland’s statement a ‘vendetta’ against the organisation, designed to undermine confidence ahead of a planned break-up of the NIHE in the autumn.
The Department for Social Development is currently carrying out a ‘fundamental review’ of the NIHE’s functions. It is likely to transfer the ownership of its homes to five housing associations, leaving the executive responsible for funding and strategy. However, it is understood that a break-up is unlikely to go ahead before 2015.
A source close to the NIHE said: ‘Things do move at a glacial pace here. Even once we get the minister’s ideas on the future of the executive, it’s likely there will be a long consultation exercise. Then the plan is for there to be a Housing Bill in 2014 to legislate for any changes required. So it is likely that it’ll be at least three years from now until any new framework is in place.’
Brian Holmes, director of tenant organisation Supporting Communities, said tenants were largely satisfied with their repairs service, and that the minister’s report represented a tiny number of complaints: ‘The housing executive is one of the success stories in Northern Ireland during the troubles.
Are the tenants now going to miss out on knowing what is happening to the organisation because of politics?’
A NIHE statement said: ‘While accepting that there have been problems with response maintenance delivery… we, nevertheless, have a record of delivering high levels of public services. We remain fully committed to ensuring maximum accountability and transparency, including taking action when required.’
The DSD declined to comment.