Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Brent's Council estate cleaning to be brought in-house

Officers are recommending that Brent Council brings the cleaning contract for its council estates, currently held by Wettons, in-house.  The contract covers the cleaning of communal areas in purpose built flats, windows and hard-standing areas. Veolia cut the grass and maintain (chainsaw) shrubbery.

Veolia's handiwork

The report to Cabinet outlines feedback from an analysis of complaints to Wettons and Brent Housing Management that includes a slow response to cleaning issues associated with environmental anti-social behaviour such as removal of litter from communal areas, lack of compliance with the cleaning visits schedule and over-spilling of residual waste in surrounding bin areas,

The GMB union is currently in dispute with Wettons despite winning a minimum wage legal claim in Autumn 2018:

Employees at Wettons, are to finally receive the minimum wage after a legal claim supported by their union the GMB. The union announced the victory on their website:

GMB were made aware, by their members, that Wettons Cleaning Services Limited, who hold the contract for cleaning on housing estates, from Brent Council, were using their London Weighting Allowance, in calculating the minimum wage. Recent Employment Tribunal cases make this practice illegal.

When originally challenged on this Wettons refused to budge, but when the GMB solicitors started proceedings at the County Court and Employment Tribunal, Wettons finally backed down and agreed to settle the three test cases brought by the union. Following this, Wettons have now agreed to settle all outstanding claims for the rest of the workforce and they will be receiving back payment of up to six years this month.

Despite Brent Council being a registered London Living Wage employer (as defined by the Living Wage Foundation), and one of the first to develop a scheme promoting all businesses in the borough becoming Living Wage employers, the cleaning company chosen as their contracted partners were found to not be paying even the minimum wage themselves.
Despite this victory the GMB remain in dispute with Wettons who have refused to enter into discussions on a reasonable pay claim submitted by the union for nearly six months.

The union called on Brent Council to either put pressure on Wettons to comply with Brent's London Living Wage policy or bring the cleaning service in-house.

There are two options before the Council 1) in-sourcing 2) going out to competitive re-tendering. Both would requite payment of the London Living Wage. Option1 would set pay at Scale 4 of the GLPC pay scheme.

The report criticise the procurement process undertaken by Brent Housing Partnership, the arms length organisation that previously managed Brent council housing:

A review of the service, which is discussed later in this report, has uncovered that the procurement did not appear to have fully taken residents’ needs into consideration, as the specified standard of service and their inspections are not fit for purpose. It appears that the procurement was focused on reducing costs to residents without fully engaging them to understand their needs and adequately taking into account their expectations about the quality of service. This has led to a misalignment between residents’ expectations of the service and the cleaning specification Wettons are contracted to deliver. 

In addition, the contract was not well managed under BHP and there was insufficient investment made to the service by Wettons, which led to a deterioration in the quality of service. This manifested itself through high levels of complaints from residents, members’ enquiries and high numbers of corrective actions identified by the estate services team. Improving the estate cleaning service therefore became a key improvement priority when the Housing Management Service came back in-house. 
The report notes: 

The operational interface between Wettons and Veolia have also played a major role in poor service delivery. This is driven largely by lack of collective ownership by both contractors for the delivery of the overall estate standards. In addition, poor communication in agreed responsive solutions to the operational issues such as the handling of fly-tipping/bulk items, missed refuse collections and management of refuse bins were identified as key challenges during the review.
 The current contract is worth almost £2m annually and officers estimate that Option 1 would add costs of £0.8m. It is fully funded from service charges paid by tenants and lease holders. Officers envisage future savings on the contract  as a result of integration with other council services,  the removal of the profit requirement of out-sourcing, a better motivated workforce with more direct control by the Council and other 'efficiencies'.

I imagine if these factors  do not reduce costs there may be increases in service charges, albeit for a better service. Krissy O'Hagan, GMB London  Region organiser, told gWembley Matters, 'GMB Trade Union welcomes Brent Council's decision to discuss bringin this service back in-house and we hope that the council make the right decision and that the service is returned to Brent Council.'

No comments: