The council spokesperson quoted in the Advertiser (Official figures confirm ‘nearly £1 million lost rents through empty homes in Swindon) is simply making excuses for a management failure. Initially they denied the figure that Councillor Bob Wright quoted for lost rent, even though it was their own figure which they had supplied the government with.

Now we are told that it’s not all ‘proper’ empty properties lost rent because it includes George Gay Gardens which is being demolished. In fact rent has been lost previously because of properties empty awaiting demolition; Sussex Square for example. Yet the amount of lost rent came nowhere near last year’s level. In 2017-18 rent lost was more than double the amount of any year of the previous six. The average time taken to re-let a ‘void’ was 64 days as compared to the previous year’s 30 days and the more usual average of 25 days.

We are told that the contractor in question passed all the pre-contract tests. What difference does that make? It sounds like “it wasn’t our fault”. But it is your fault if you give the work to a contractor who cannot fulfil the contract. The decision to give all the work to a single contractor without a base in the town, nor a workforce, proved to be a mistake. Why can’t the management admit this? It was a very risky thing to do. We have had previous experience of problems with contractors who use sub-contract labour.

The council “had to step in” we are told when the contractor withdrew. So they took a dozen of their repairs team and put them on ‘voids’ work to tackle the backlog. An in-house ‘voids’ team is fine. We would like to see more work come back in-house. However, because it was done in a crisis situation it meant that the repairs team lost these staff overnight. Hardly any wonder that a big backlog of day to day repairs work built up, which means tenants have to wait longer for repairs than they should do. The department had to replace the staff lost to repairs. In order to try to deal with the backlog it is employing (more expensive) agency staff as well.

Instead of trying to spin something positive out of what has proved to be a disastrous mistake the management should accept their responsibility for what was a failure of judgement. In life everybody makes mistakes. The key question is whether you learn from them otherwise you are apt to repeat them. How can tenants trust a management which refuses to accept responsibility for such an obvious mistake?

Martin Wicks
Secretary, Swindon Tenants Campaign Group