Councillors call for 'embarrassing' report on local social housing to be made public
By Andy Mitchell - Local Democracy Reporter
17th Nov 2023 | Local News
Councillors have questioned why Warwick District Council has yet to publish a "damning" report that led to a self referral to the Regulator of Social Housing – and uncertainty prevails over whether it will appear in full.
The authority commissioned an independent report by Pennington Choices - a surveying and consultancy company - ahead of new social housing regulations, designed to protect tenants of social landlords from serious hazards in their homes, coming into force from the start of October.
Senior councillors this week conceded that it makes for "very uncomfortable" reading and while it has yet to be made public, a series of recommendations have been made.
Liberal Democrat councillors called for the document to be published and while Labour councillors – part of the Green-Labour administration running the council – committed to it being published in the future, officials employed by the authority only went as far as to say it would "consider how it publishes the report".
The report's recommendations relate to demonstrating compliance on building, fire and electrical safety, strategies, staff training, having the right people in place to ensure compliance, plus matters such as asbestos management, water hygiene and lift safety.
The council's response was to set up new governance structures, including a new panel focused on compliance in relation to social housing stock and a separate scrutiny committee of councillors.
An action plan has kicked in to address the most immediate concerns with a more detailed plan and a report on how things slipped the net to follow.
A letter to tenants acknowledged the council's framework covering such matters "was not as effective as it could be".
"Record keeping and reporting mechanisms were not providing a clear audit trail of routine or follow-up maintenance being carried out," it said.
"This, in turn, means that we are not able to demonstrate that we are meeting legal and obligatory requirements."
Cllr Bill Gifford asked when the report was going to be published, during this week's meeting of full council.
Portfolio holder for housing Cllr Paul Wightman replied: "We wish to be completely open and transparent.
"At the moment, having made the self referral, we are waiting for a response from the regulator before we can share the specific report.
"In due course we are hoping to be in a position to share it but not at the moment and until we get a response from the regulator."
Cllr Phil Kohler picked up the baton.
"I don't understand why we have to wait for a response from the regulator," he said.
"It is a report that we commissioned, it is our document, why can we not publish it? Surely we can.
"It is in the public interest, it must be published."
Cllr Gifford added: "Stopping the council being embarrassed is not a reason to avoid publishing the report.
"Having read the report, I see plenty of reasons for the council to be embarrassed, I can see no reason for the report not being published."
Cllr Wightman replied: "We are seeking advice from officers, it is our document but the advice is that we should hold fire but that shouldn't delay it for too long.
"We are proceeding with a degree of caution but it is our intention to be completely open and transparent. That is the advice we have at the moment."
Deputy leader Cllr Chris King said: "It is uncomfortable reading to put it mildly and we will be publishing it, there is no question about that, it is just that we can't right away. But that is a guarantee, it will be published.
"Progress is already being made and I can only assure everyone here of the urgency that is felt by all the officers and all of us here who have been discussing this.
"We must proceed with utmost haste and it must be carefully scrutinised so we build our systems better and more robustly for the future."
However, the Local Democracy Reporting Service asked for confirmation from the council as to whether it would publish the report and whether it would be in full and unredacted.
The council's statement read: "The regulator is the government body who will investigate and determine the council's position, then assess what actions must be taken to address the areas for improvement.
"They are the governing body and it is their opinion that is valid. The regulator will publish their own findings which will be publicly available and a more accurate summary of the situation at that point in time.
"The council will consider how it publishes the report once the regulator has had the opportunity to review it and has fed back.
"The council's responsibility to its tenants and leaseholders is paramount and is where the main focus should be. Publishing the report now could have the effect of pushing that work off track."