Calls for council leader to resign over housing safety checks failings
Matthew Smith, Local Democracy Reporter
- Credit: WHBC
The leader of Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council is refusing to quit in the wake of the scandal over the authority's housing stock.
Cllr Tony Kingsbury is facing calls to resign after a report into the safety checks carried out on WHBC housing stock found “potential for serious detriment” to tenants.
The Liberal Democrat and Labour opposition groups have announced their intention to pass a motion of no confidence in the Conservative administration's leader at the next meeting of the council on September 16.
The motion comes in the wake of last month's report by the Regulator of Social Housing, which found that 90 per cent of council homes had an overdue fire assessment, and thousands of remedial actions found in assessments in 2018 had not been acted upon.
The regulator concluded that the borough council had breached part 1.2 of the Home Standard, which meant there was “potential for serious detriment to Welwyn Hatfield BC’s tenants”.
The Home Standard is one of four consumer standards social landlords must comply with, and requires providers to have a cost-effective repairs and maintenance service, and to meet all applicable statutory requirements that provide for the health and safety of tenants in their homes.
Following the publication of the report last month, the borough council said that the “majority of issues identified have now been addressed”.
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But the Lib Dems and Labour claimed the council leader had ‘hidden’ the problems from opposition councillors and the public, and said until their questions are answered it’s “impossible” to have confidence in the council’s leadership.
Cllr Kingsbury has rejected the suggestion of a “culture of secrecy” and that he should resign as a result of the report.
The joint Liberal Democrat and Labour statement read: “For many years, the issues of housing maintenance, poor service and unresolved serious complaints have been raised at multiple levels of the council both publicly and privately. Formal questions have been tabled and motions passed expressing concern.
“The shocking revelations that serious safety checks including fire and electrical tests had not been done and worse, that it had been covered up is no more awful than the reality that while all this was happening Conservative councillors simply looked the other way.
“Highlighting these failures is not point scoring. Concern for the safety of residents and also the financial exposure of all taxpayers is genuine.
“The public deserve answers, on how this could happen, how anyone can be sure similar failings aren’t being hidden elsewhere, and how they can be assured this will never happen again. Until these questions receive answers, it is impossible to have confidence in the leadership and direction of this Conservative council and the services it is failing to provide."
A motion to be brought at the next council meeting added that, “while there may be some points that cannot be shared in public, a substantive explanation must still be given and the continuing culture of secrecy dropped”.
Cllr Kingsbury said it was ‘disappointing’ that opposition councillors have used the situation as a “political opportunity”, and as soon as he was made aware of the situation the council referred itself to the regulator.
Cllr Kingsbury said: “I strongly reject the claim I have kept the housing compliance issue hidden from the public, and that I should resign as a result. I am confident I have directed the council to act directly and with transparency.
“I made a point of keeping the leaders of the Lib Dem and Labour groups in the loop throughout. Therefore, it is disappointing – but predictable – that they now suggest I somehow kept them in the dark. I have seen no motion, but their comment, which implies there has been a “culture of secrecy” on this subject, is a clear attempt to twist the situation into a political opportunity.
“I am confident the council has acted transparently and openly under my direction, and as such I shall not resign. Instead, I will continue to lead the council in a way that puts its tenants and leaseholders before politics, and make sure the works needed to bring our housing compliance up to date happen as quickly as is feasible.”