Labour close ranks to prevent accountability and apology over the “Catastrophic Failure” of Estate Major Works

30 Nov 2023
Devon Mansions
  • Déjà vu as Council Housing Bosses unconditionally apologises again for “Catastrophic Failures” of Estate Major Works, with investigation into possible fraud.
  • Labour Councillors refuse to hold Cabinet Members responsible for millions of pounds they signed off.
  • Residents tell committee: “we need a change in politics in Southwark"

At last night’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee, the council was once again forced to apologise unreservedly for a major works programme that overran by 2 years and overspent by £4 million. This comes just a month after the Council was forced to apologise for the Canada Estate project which ran 17 months over schedule and £1.7m over budget.         

The interim director for housing confirmed that disciplinary action had been taken, and that a full independent investigation would be underway, including looking into the possibility of fraud. Officers explained that there were “unusual” procurement practices with “clear conflicts of interest” that needed to be fully investigated. The Director said he thought Independent Regulators would be “appalled” at the “catastrophic failure” if they looked into what had happened. 

But Labour Councillors closed ranks to prevent full accountability among the Cabinet. Blocking Lib Dem recommendations to hold cabinet to account was the Chair of OSC, Cllr Ian Wingfield (a former Deputy Leader & Cabinet Member for Housing Management), and all the committee’s Labour councillors.

This came after Cllr Darren Merrill, the current housing boss, answered Cllr Chamberlain’s question about what had changed simply by saying “I am in post”, leaving in question the role played by his predecessors.

Despite this admission and a token apology, he refused to bring forward Cllr Chamberlain’s suggestions to ask the Cabinet to formally apologise and hold the previous post holders, including Leader of the Council Cllr Kieron Williams and Finance Boss Cllr Stephanie Cryan, to account.

Highlighting the scale of this problem, and the clear institutional failings, is the fact that Canada Estate returned to OSC immediately after this item. It was confirmed that it was “the same people, the same teams” who were responsible. Once again the council was forced to hear how residents had “no trust” in the political leadership.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Leader of the Opposition Cllr Victor Chamberlain said:

“Southwark's Housing department is rotten. Last month I demanded a “root and branch” review. Since then, staff have had to be sacked and suspended, there are criminal allegations of fraud and assault, and residents are treated with contempt and have been kept in the dark.

The same Labour Bosses who should be accountable for decisions made over the last few years remain in the Cabinet. It’s no wonder residents have no trust in the Council. In the words of one resident of Devon Mansions, “we need a change in politics in Southwark”!”

Vice chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee and Liberal Democrat London Assembly Candidate Cllr Von Wiese said

“These institutional failings are endemic not just in Southwark, but across the whole of London. Only recently I visited East Village in Stratford where residents are trapped by botched cladding replacement. Clear reform needs to happen at every level across public and private construction sectors, otherwise these catastrophic failures in people’s homes will only be repeated.

In Southwark Liberal Democrats will continue to hold those responsible for these housing scandals to account.”