In what has to be seen as a vindication of community activists who have for some time been highlighting how bad is Pavilion, the Audit Commission has recently published a damning indictment of Pavilion. It is also another nail in the coffin of privatisation of council housing, as no matter how badly run council housing may be, it is nowhere as bad as the private sector.
For some time tenants have been saying how bad is Pavilion, in particular how long it takes to get repairs carried out and the substandard nature of much of Pavilion's housing stock.
Firgrove Court in Farnborough is a good example. A small estate of 28 maisonettes arranged around a grassy area. Good solid brick building, but in disgraceful state of repair. Pavilion and the local council are using the poor state of repair as an excuse to evict all the tenants to enable the estate to be demolished to make way for a car park for a superstore. Harassment by neglect? Half the town centre is to be demolished for the superstore.
Community activists who have campaigned against Pavilion have been threatened with eviction and ASBOs (anti-social behaviour orders).
Then the Audit Commission were brought in ......
This was some months ago. Publication of the report was delayed for some months by the Board of Pavilion who sought to have it suppressed.
It is easy to see why. It was a damning indictment of Pavilion, one of the worst reports ever published on a housing association.
'We found Pavilion was not particularly responsive to the needs of its tenants. For example Pavilion’s own performance monitoring of its repairs service for 2003 / 2004 shows a continued decline.'
'Tenant satisfaction with the repairs and maintenance service overall has fallen. In 2000 seven in ten tenants expressed satisfaction with the repairs service overall. In 2003 this was six in ten. According to the latest tenants survey (2003) 37 per cent of tenants did not express satisfaction with the repairs service.'
'On our stock tour and estate visits we found the grounds maintenance was generally satisfactory. However, the quality of services as regards works to and upkeep of internal and external communal areas was poor. We found evidence of longstanding neglect. At North Town estate in Aldershot we observed broken fencing, uneven paving, drying areas which have fallen into disuse and disrepair and enclosed overgrown gardens with no one responsible for their up keep. At Selbourne Avenue, we found disrepair not being recorded or reported; leaking guttering, stained brickwork from pipe overflows and filth from bird droppings. Ad hoc estate inspections, a lack of set standards for cleaning and proper enforcement of tenant responsibilities have contributed to this poor state of affairs.'
'We found that Pavilion is under investing in its stock and that it needs to devise an asset management strategy that provides and continues to provide quality homes that meet people’s needs.'
'Pavilion has sought some tenant feedback but not in a systematic, coordinated way. We found the organisation could improve the way in which it listens to and involves its tenants to improve its services.'
'Pavilion does not routinely involve the wider tenant body in setting or monitoring service or performance standards.'
'Pavilion acknowledges it has a poor image locally. This has involved reports in the local press and the raising of issues through a local tenants action group.'
'Performance management is weak. Service targets and timescales are not ambitious, customer focused or designed to aid service improvements. For example according to procedure it could take over three months for a complaint to go through the formal complaints process.'
'During the inspection we visited seven voids [empty properties] that were ready for letting. The voids were all clean, tidy and each of them had a welcome pack of cleaning materials. In some the kitchens were coming to the end of their useful life. Only one of the properties could be described as desirable, all of the others were let down by the lack of investment in the property, the estate or the block they were in. Communal areas were often drab, dirty or just unwelcoming.'
Empty properties are left empty for far too long, there is no proper tracking of empty properties. The Audit Commission did though find something positive to say: 'Welcome pack of cleaning materials left in void [empty] properties].'
What the Audit Commission does not seem to be aware of is that Pavilion are deliberately keeping properties off the market. Properties are being trashed, it can then be claimed these properties are uninhabitable. Around a dozen properties are empty at Firgrove Court in Farnborough town centre. Pavilion has trashed them by ripping out the kitchens and bathrooms. The same has happened at Spean in south Farnborough. Spean has sat derelict for several years. It is part of an old stable block, all that exists from one of the old houses of Farnborough. Not content with trashing the interior of the building, Pavilion has also trashed the garden, including an Edwardian greenhouse. When the owner was alive, it was one of the best gardens in the locality and his pride and joy. The council of course turns a blind eye. Pavilion wish to sell off the land at Firgrove Court to a developer for a car park for an unwanted superstore. They wish to demolish Spean and in its place build three houses and a block of eight flats three stories high.
On the Pavilion estates, apart from the poor quality of the housing, there are problems of anti-social behaviour – noise, vandalism, graffiti, drug dealing. Pavilion estates are the worst areas of social deprivation in North East Hampshire.
Tenants satisfaction with Pavilion is below the national average and falling.
'During the course of our inspection we conducted a tour of the housing stock. We observed the poor state of external and internal communal areas. For example, at Mayfield we saw open balconies with filthy glass panels, grime in the lift and ill fitting doors. The concierge area, although free from litter, was tired and grimy. At North Town it was evident that common parts are not cleaned and there are no arrangements in place to ensure and maintain a good standard. We were advised by the association that tenants have responsibility for cleaning these areas, however this is not enforced. The association has not set any standards for cleaning and maintaining these areas or re-opened a dialogue with tenants.'
'We saw that the external areas have been neglected. At North Town estate we noted broken fencing, disused drying areas in a poor state of repair and uneven paving. We saw enclosed gardens where no one had responsibility for their upkeep and which as a result had become overgrown. This together with the internal condition of the blocks of flats gave a poor overall impression of the area. This was disappointing particularly as the grounds maintenance was satisfactory and the areas were free from litter.'
'Estate inspections, with the exception of those carried out by the neighbourhood wardens, tend to be ad hoc. There are no details published in advance to enable tenants and other interested parties to attend. Without regular inspections and cleaning taking place, it is unlikely the present situation will improve.'
'We found that overall the association has scope for considerable improvement in relation to its services to customers... it does not seek to improve services to customers by way of monitoring, regular review or by setting ambitious but achievable targets. The monitoring of complaints is muddled and confused. The association tolerates poor environmental conditions on its estates and lets residents down by failing to ensure that communal areas are clean and well maintained.'
Conclusion: 'We have assessed Pavilion as providing a service that has scope for considerable improvement and which shows weaknesses in process and performance. Overall we found Pavilion to show scope for considerable improvement in the services provided ... we found inconsistencies in service delivery in terms of responsiveness, level and quality. Key examples which can be cited include the maintenance service where performance has been falling for some time. Some estates have also clearly been subject to some under investment. There are issues with Pavilion’s services to customers including the way in which complaints are managed and the standard of estate services. Its management of incidents of nuisance and anti social behaviour is negatively impacted by tenant perception. ... Systems to implement and monitor service delivery are not robust and policies not properly embedded.'
The inspection was carried out in February 2004, but not published until July 2004, as Pavilion tried to block the findings.
Pavilion responded: 'with regard to dealing with anti-social behaviour and customer service have not previously been voiced by tenants, regulators, partners or stakeholders. It believes that insufficient credit has been given for its improvement plans or for the economy of services. We think that the assessment that there is “considerable” scope for improvement is therefore considered harsh and inconsistent with the findings at many other RSLs.'
This of course was nonsense, as tenants were raising these issues, it was just that they were at best ignored and at worst intimidated into silence.
Pavilion acknowledged that they had not even been meeting their own response times for repairs for some time. And yet, their Annual Reports claimed they were meeting them. At a meeting I had with Pavilion in January, Pavilion claimed they were meeting response times for repairs. A statement that was patently untrue.
Pavilion is proud of the outcomes it has achieved in dealing with anti-social behaviour.
There are yobs running amok terrorising the estates.
The Surrey-Hants border is one of the most prosperous areas in the country. But travel into the heart of a Pavilion estate in Farnborough or Aldershot or Farnham, and it is as though one has been transported to the Third World. Not quite a shanty town of shacks and open sewers, but not far off.
Following publication of the damning Audit Commission report, Pavilion were summoned to appear before the Rushmoor community panel, a committee of Rushmoor Borough Council.
A presentation was made by Pavilion chief executive Mervyn Jones. From the presentation one would have been hard pushed to believe that Pavilion was the subject of one of the most damning reports ever published by the Audit Commission.
According to Jones, it would appear that Pavilion could do no wrong: repairs were carried out promptly (and statistics were displayed to show this was the case), tenants were satisfied (more statistics were displayed), only 25 complaints had been received from tenants, only three cases referred to the Ombudsman, the sun always shone and he had the full backing of the Pavilion board.
If there was anything wrong (and of course there wasn't), it was perception, caused by: the local press painting Pavilion in a bad light, the Audit Commission publishing a bad report, local councillors for raising expectations and tenants for expecting too much.
Sat alongside was his right hand man, Jessie Hewitt, who concurred with everything that he had to say. Tenants were happy and did not have problems. Slight problem here. Hewitt is chairman of the tenants consultative group, which is supposed to represent tenants. Which may explain why the Audit Commission were none too happy with their role, and why tenants see the TCG as a useless quango and bypass them altogether.
I have never heard so much bullshit in my life. I was reminded of the crap that councils and the private sector come out with when they try to persuade council tenants to vote for privatisation.
The smile on Jones' face did not last for very long. First off the block was Mike Roberts who launched a blistering attack on Jones, and suggested quite rightly that he should consider his position.
Unfortunately, apart from a few half-hearted attempts, the attack from Roberts was not followed through.
The most sickening performance of the evening, apart from Jones and Hewitt, was by Charlie Fraser-Fleming. He is a Rushmoor councillor who sits on the Board of Pavilion, but the impression given was of a Pavilion board member sitting as a councillor. He kept referring to 'we' and 'us' and 'our' as he spoke of Pavilion and defended the indefensible. One got the impression that a second presentation was being made on behalf of Pavilion.
The Rushmoor community panel has a scrutiny role. For Fraser-Fleming there was a clear conflict of interest. He did not declare he has a conflict of interest. Nor did he say he was already under investigation for this conflict of interest for his role on the planning committee pushing through a planning application that was to the benefit of Pavilion.
Fraser-Fleming is currently under investigation by the Standards Board for England for his role on a planning application for the redevelopment of Farnborough town centre, as are several other Rushmoor councillors. He has been referred for investigation for his latest activities.
Pavilion now has to draw up an Action Plan. This is to be put before the community panel when it next meets. Pavilion are also to be referred to their regulator, the Housing Corporation.
Mervyn Jones has to go. The same could be said of the board of Pavilion. The Housing Corporation has the powers to take over and run failing housing associations. These powers should be invoked for Pavilion.
Mike Roberts hit the nail on the head when he said housing associations are accountable to no one. And that is the underlying problem, housing associations are accountable to no one, especially their tenants.
This is not just a problem in Rushmoor. Across the country, there is the same problem of lack of accountability. Once council housing stock is privatized, it is downhill all the way. I was asked to speak on this some months back in Camden Town Hall following their massive rejection of privatisation, in spite of the large bribes on offer. I was able to say, no matter how badly run council housing is, and it is usually bad, it is nowhere as bad as the private sector and gave Pavilion as an example. And that was before the Audit Commission report.
We should all be lobbying government for change. A model I proposed at Camden, which generated great interest, was that the housing stock, including RSLs, be handed over to the tenants for self-management. The tenants elect a board, who in turn appoint a chief executive to run the housing on their behalf.
RSLs, as we see with Pavilion, are the worst possible model. Apart from maybe PFI and PPP and arms length management (which is back door privatisation).
It was a very bad day when Rushmoor handed over its tenants to Pavilion. At the very least Rushmoor should be making up for for this mistake by doing its best to act for its former tenants who were sold down the river.
Were Pavilion tenants given a choice today, with what they now know, there would be a resounding NO vote for privatisation.
Inspection report: Pavilion Housing Association, Audit Commission, July 2004
Keith Parkins, Town & Out II, Corporate Watch, 14 January 2004
Keith Parkins, Social landlords are deviating from their intended purpose, Indymedia UK, 20 January 2004
Keith Parkins, Social housing landlords the new corporations, Corporate Watch newsletter No 17, January-February 2004
Keith Parkins, Camden council house transfer - Camden Town Hall meeting, Indymedia UK, 11 February 2004
Keith Parkins, Registered social landlords – the new corporations, Indymedia UK, 18 February 2004
Keith Parkins, Sell out of Farnborough town centre, Indymedia UK, 5 June 2004
Keith Parkins, Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, Indymedia UK, 28 June 2004
Keith Parkins, Delivering the final death blow to Farnborough town centre, Indymedia UK, 2 July 2004
Keith Parkins, Misuse of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, Indymedia UK, 5 July 2004
Pavilion, BVEJ newsletter, January 2003
Pavilion Housing slammed, Surrey-Hants Star, 22 July 2004
Red faces as report lashes Pavilion Housing, Farnborough Mail, 20 July 2004