Two quick questions to see if you are up to running housing in Haringey.
a. A mouldy window needs fixing. Do you send (a) a bricklayer, or (b) someone else?
b. A collapsed stair needs fixing. Do you send (a) a gardener, or (b) someone else?
If you answered two straight (a)s, congratulations, you’ve got what it takes, for as the local newspaper, the Tottenham Journal, has reported:
Teresa Martin, 68, regularly called HfH [Homes for Haringey] to chase up progress on repairs to the maisonette she has lived in for 32 years in Lordship Lane, Wood Green.
But a gardener used the only material he had to hand – some garden fencing – to repair a collapsed stair after he was assigned to the job, and a bricklayer was sent packing after being dispatched to treat and fix her mouldy windows.
“He said he didn’t know what he could do,” said Mrs Martin, “and I said we don’t brick our windows up these days, we use glass.”
It’s risible, and full marks to Mrs Martin for her comment, but it’s also very serious for these sorts of blunders explain why she’s had to put up with her landing floor still not being repaired since collapsing in the autumn.
It also comes only a few months after it was revealed that millions of pounds have been paid out in bonuses in the housing team. The problem is that, as Teresa Martin’s case demonstrates, they are bonuses for failure, in a badly run public service that is repeatedly letting down some of those most in need of help from public services.
What’s more, not only is money going on bonuses for failure, money too is being wasted on the costs of dealing with all those sorts of blunders that have marred Mrs Martin’s case. Surveyors have just been sent to her home to work out what needs doing for the fifth time. Once should have been enough – with the four other visits being wasted time and wasted money that could, and should, have gone on helping others.
It’s a classic case of what John Seddon calls failure demand which, for all my caveats over some of his other views, is an important concept. When you’re wasting resources by making trips to do a survey rather than one, the problem isn’t the size of your budget, the problem is your wastefulness.