Council leader hits back at Lib Dems calls to resign over housing compliance failures

Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council leader Cllr Tony Kingsbury faces calls to resign.

Council leader Tony Kingsbury (left) faces calls to resign from the Lib Dems. - Credit: WHBC

The leader of Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council has hit back at Liberal Democrat calls for him to resign after a report into the housing compliance process found ‘critical failures’.

Lawyers Eversheds Sutherland conducted a Compliance Process Review following a self-referral by the council to the Regulator for Social Housing in May last year.

Now, Lib Dem leader Paul Zukowskyj has called on WHBC leader Tony Kingsbury to resign after ‘complacency’ and failed safety checks posed a ‘potentially fatal’ risk to social housing residents.

“The failures at the council are massive, structural and ingrained,” he said.

“Too many of the problems still exist, and there is clear evidence that the Conservative administration is in denial about this. Not a single political resignation or departure over this is an appallingly poor response.

“Cutting health and safety risks lives. When those cuts mean the law is broken and residents put at major risk of serious injury or fatality, the leadership of the council has to be questioned.

“Coupled with blatant complacency the result is a potentially fatal mix.

Paul Zukowskyj

Lib Dem councillor Paul Zukowskyj. - Credit: Liberal Democrats

“I specifically questioned the council’s record on electrical safety testing at a full council meeting in February 2020. I was assured there was no problem.

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“The response from the administration was ‘everything is fine’. That was untrue. Leaders take responsibility, I call on the council leader to show leadership, and resign.”

Cllr Kingsbury has fired back against these calls, claiming the Lib Dems are trying to ‘spin a non-political situation’ to win votes ahead of the local elections in May this year.

“Firstly, it is very disappointing that the Lib Dems are trying to twist and spin a non-political situation into something to get people to vote for them. Perhaps not a surprise, given that local elections are coming up,” he said.

“They simultaneously refer to the Eversheds report and call it evidence that the Conservatives are responsible for the housing compliance failings, while ignoring most of the report’s findings.

“So, let’s set the record straight with facts. The report states that ‘they [the housing compliance failings] were not reported to the Cabinet’. This is due largely to the poor performance of certain council officers who are no longer in their posts.

“The idea that I, or any elected Conservative, deliberately or otherwise hid anything from the public - the idea the Lib Dems are trying to get you to believe - is simply not true. The very report they’re referring to says so in black and white.

“The reality is the failings occurred because my Cabinet and I were misled by the reports submitted to us by certain individual council officers. These reports led us to believe that everything was on track.

Councillor Tony Kingsbury (Conservative, Welwyn West) chairing a Local Plan meeting to determine housing targets.

Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council leader Tony Kingsbury. - Credit: Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council

“That said, as the leader, I take full responsibility for the conduct of the council and its employees. I apologise unreservedly for the failings and to the people affected.

“However, I’m proud that, under my leadership, the council has acted with complete transparency from the moment I found out about the failings.

“I instructed the council to refer itself to the regulator, to commission this Eversheds report - deliberately putting it in the public domain, and to write to every single council tenant and leaseholder on the books.

“I did all this in the interest of transparency, and getting the issue sorted for those affected as quickly as possible. As such, we are very much on track in terms of identifying the failings, rectifying them, and getting back to where we should be.

“Being transparent and fixing the problem is the true measure of whether this problem has been addressed.

“It’s clear that political resignations and whether or not they can spin some political benefit out of it are the Lib Dems’ true measure of success.

“This suggests that their interest here isn’t making the council’s reporting systems function better, or the wellbeing of the people they claim they’re fighting for – it’s in getting you to vote for them at all costs.

“As usual, the Lib Dems are using political spin to try to get you to vote for them. I hope you’ll join me in rejecting their approach of putting politics first and people second.”