Archive for December 20th, 2010

In a previous post, an anonymous commenter made some remarks about impending cuts at Tower Hamlets Homes, the arm’s length management organisation that now runs the borough’s publicly owned housing stock. THH was set up by Labour after a wave of Housing Choice stock transfers. The thinking at the time was that having an organisation separated from the town hall would allow for a leaner outfit.

THH certainly picked up a poisoned chalice. I can speak from personal experience on this: the freehold on my flat is owned by the council/THH and the issues I’ve had with the various leaseholder services personnel over the years quite frankly defy belief. I think even THH staff would recognise the mess they have to deal with and to be fair, since they took over, there has been a determination to sort it out.

The comment made about THH was this:

Ted, not sure if you have heard Tower Hamlets Homes is axing 80 jobs after it privatised a number of its services, Repairs, Major Works and Decent Homes. They are also getting rid of all the Resident Engagement staff as well as staff in leasehold services, caretakers and rents. I’m surprised you haven’t covered that and neither have any of the other local press.

Wonder why there is this silence from the press in what is a major shake-up of one of the biggest housing association in the borough.

That comment has attracted the attention of Gavin Cansfield, the chief executive of THH, who, in the dealings I’ve had with him, seems to be extremely attentive, approachable and determined to run a better operation. His job is a tough one, though. He has just posted a reply and clarification on the situation on the “Dead Sheep Mauled” thread. However, I’m going to use it here, both to keep that thread on topic and to allow for a more focused discussion under its own title.

Here’s his reply:

Following the comments by ‘Anon1′ about Tower Hamlets Homes, I thought it would be helpful to set the record straight about what we are proposing.

Like all public sector organisations, we are having to make cuts and do the same or more for less. We need to find £4.424m of savings over the next three years, of which £3.458m needs to be found for next year – there is no way of making these savings without employing fewer staff.

Our top priority is protecting frontline services, which is why we have committed that there will be no job losses among front-line caretakers, Neighbourhood Housing Officers or in the Rents Team and minimal job losses in the Leasehold Team. Instead, we are proposing to cut senior manager posts, by moving from four directors to three, and from 17 Heads of Service to 12.

However, we still need to make further savings, and have offered staff in certain areas of the organisation the opportunity to apply for a voluntary severance package.

No staff have yet been made redundant. We have not privatised our Repairs or Major Works section, or indeed any other part of the organisation. We are not ‘getting rid of all the Resident Engagement staff’.

Our proposals are just that – proposals, and are currently out to consultation with staff and trade unions. If any Tower Hamlets Homes resident wants more information about what we are proposing, they should feel free to contact me directly.

Gavin Cansfield
Chief Executive
Tower Hamlets Homes

It’s commendable that Gavin has wanted to set the record straight. Let’s please have an informed and sensible discussion about tenant and leaseholder issues in the borough and make constructive suggestions to him about how things could be improved.

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You’ll remember that back in November, I wrote this post which revealed that one of the first edicts of new Mayor Lutfur Rahman was to order town hall minions traipse over to the Apple Store in Covent Garden to buy a top of the range iPhone4.

You’ll also remember in that post, I detailed the helpful response of the council’s expensively assembled press office to my query asking for confirmation of the purchase. It was this: “We aren’t going to be issuing any information about phones for members.” I’d heard that this decision had been made by Takki Sulaiman, the council’s £100,000 a year head of communications who was hired last March by moonlighting Lutfur Ali.

Well, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, we now have proof. In this series of emails, chief press officer Kelly Powell tells senior officers in the democratic services department: “Takki’s advised me to let Ted know we won’t be responding to the enquiry re: the phones so to alert you, this may come through as an FoI in due course.” Bingo. So they deliberately withheld information from a simple press query in the full knowledge that they would have to disclose it under FoI.

Now, as that FoI cost the council money to collate and investigate, is it not a touch irresponsible for a £100,000 a year bureaucrat to be so cavalier with public cash? Not only that, it’s just simply bad PR for the Mayor. It makes him look evasive and deceitful. It also undermines the work of his press officers who are currently going through a redundancy process: if they’re not allowed to do their jobs by answering simple press queries, what are they actually doing. Our money is being used to pay Mr Sulaiman’s hefty salary. He is nowhere near worth it.

I also urge you to read this series of emails surrounding the iPhone order; you’ll see that Lutfur considered the iPhone 4 so essential to his work that he couldn’t wait a week for one to be ordered under the council’s procurement contract and that’s why one was bought from Covent Garden.

And for those who need the proof of its £599 cost, here’s the receipt. Private Eye has also discovered the FoI responses: all the above, and my post here about Mr Sulaiman’s decision to remove the press desk from the council chamber, is in the current edition. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Takki becomes an Eye regular.



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