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22,000 homes to be brought back under council control

Surprise after flagship Conservative council axes reverses privatisation

21 September, 2018 — By Tom Foot

The CityWest chief executive Jonathan Cowie has resigned

HOUSING is to be brought back under council control, it was announced yesterday (Thursday).

Westminster Council said it had “no option” but to axe its long term private operator CityWest Homes after the organisation failed to get its house in order.

It said a “high level” review had identified a “sense of ‘us and them’” and lack of “public service ethos” at the company.

The move has sent political shockwaves across the borough and has stunned left wingers who assumed the flagship Conservative-run council was ideologically opposed to running its own housing and public services.

CityWest runs more than 21,000 local authority properties in Westminster that will now be run by the council.

Housing chief Cllr Andrew Smith said: “Along with the council’s leader and cabinet, I believe there is no option now other than to bring the management of council housing under the council’s direct control.

“We believe that this will be the most effective way of driving through the improvements that our residents need to see.”

The council’s review found there was need for a “culture change” and “reform of the management board” that would give residents more power to manage their homes and estates. It also recommends lease agreement changes that could make it easier to fund major works.

Cllr Smith said CityWest had been “failing” to provide the “best service” for residents and tenants adding it was necessary to “restore confidence” to help residents feel “safe and secure”. The change will be formally approved in October.

Tenants and leaseholders have been complaining vociferously since CWH stripped estates and man- agers of housing officers and left them with no point

of contact for complaints managers other than a centralised call centre service .

Consultancy firm Camp- bell Tickell was commis- sioned to “undertake a high level review”. Its report, published yesterday, said: “There was a general com- plaint amongst residents that CityWest Homes had lost a local presence fol- lowing the closure of estate offices and that services that had been intended to

replace the face-to-face interaction (eg local surger- ies) had not been success- fully implemented.”

The report also suggest- ed that a solution to major works backlog could be to introduce “sinking funds” into residents’ lease agree- ments. A sinking fund is when leaseholders pay a monthly fee into a long- term savings account that is used to pay for works when they are required.

The collapse of the CityWest relationship was being celebrated last night by Westminster’s Labour group that had campaigned for CityWest to be scrapped in the build-up to the council elections.

The party had led a series of investigations and published real-life horror stories from CityWest and its key manifesto pledge before the May council election was that it would axe the firm.

Westminster leader Cllr Adam Hug said: “We are delighted that the council has listened to the deep concerns of CityWest Homes tenants and lease-holders by taking the service back in-house.

“There is much still to do in order to improve the services residents receive but this is a welcome step forward.”

Last June chief executive of CityWest Jonathan Cowie resigned and Cllr Smith said at the time that a new housing boss was needed to take forward a “new vision”.

A CityWest statement said: “Last year housing services supplied by CityWest Homes fell below the standards expected by our residents and the city council. Since then our staff have worked hard with the city council to put in place improvements that are now starting to have a positive effect.

“The main focus of all our attention has to be our residents. We will work closely with the city council so that this transition does not affect residents and our staff remain dedicated to providing the very best services to them.”

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