19 March 2018
A repairs contract costing over £200m should be overhauled and brought back under council management, say local Greens.
Greens have raised repeated concerns over the multi-million pound housing repairs contract with Mears PLC, which has been beset with complaints. High-profile pricing scandals revealed the company charged up to twice the cost of many other surveyors for some repairs. Despite assurances, Mears also came under fire for overcharging for electrical works at the end of last year, with an estimated six-figure sum still owed to the council.
The Green Group of Councillors have called for contract with Mears PLC to come back ‘in-house,’ as part of a review of options for when the existing contract ends in 2020.
With a consultation planned in the coming months, Greens say a council owned repair service has the potential to save public money and also bring added community benefits of increased accountability for the public and stronger employee rights.
Green Councillor Tom Druitt said:
“The continued number of complaints about Mears proves something has to change. Too many of our tenants have been left without a good service. During the last burst of extremely cold weather, a number of our council tenants were unacceptably left without heating after boilers broke and the repairs service were overwhelmed with calls.
“Twice now the council have had to deal with high profile scandals of malpractice and overcharging from this contractor. But we have an opportunity now to change things, and the Labour Council has promised the biggest consultation this Council has undertaken in ten years. Greens will be holding them to this and pushing for meaningful engagement with residents over the best way forward.”
Greens have repeatedly challenged the practice of handing over huge amounts of public money to private companies, a model they say is ‘failing to deliver’ for the city in light of complaints. Pointing to a shake-up of contract management in Preston, Lancashire, Greens have argued breaking such huge contracts into smaller chunks would make it possible for smaller, local businesses to apply, boosting the local economy. 
Councillor David Gibson added:
“It’s good to see options to overhaul this costly repairs contract are finally on the table. Public provision is a positive model – It provides direct accountability of an in-house service to elected councillors and no profits are creamed off by private companies. Councils offer better conditions for their workers including pension schemes. In Islington and in Sheffield, councils breaking with private repairs companies have been able to demonstrate huge cost savings but also a better quality service. It was heartening that Councillor Moonan spoke positively about bringing the contract back in house too.”
“Greens also want to see the council explore the options for breaking these gigantic, monumental contracts into smaller chunks so that we end the practice of pricing out smaller, local companies from being able to apply. In Preston this has boosted the local economy, and the Labour Council here could follow their lead and change the practice of handing over massive sums of public money to giant private companies.”