East Renfrewshire: A Place That Blows

Using this post to preserve public mentions of what is now my now twelve-month struggle with East Renfrewshire Council to get a basic repair done that will allow paramedics to regain physical access to my disabled mother in law, who has rapidly advancing Parkinson’s Disease and requires frequent emergency first aid and medical assistance. Although she wears an emergency call button 24 hours a day, once paramedics arrive they have no way to get into her building unless someone happens to be there to punch the door in. There have been three occasions when paramedics have been unable to gain access, leaving me and my family to act as first responders and blood-mopper-uppers. She has been on the waiting list for sheltered accommodation since 2010.

In classic proof of the “broken window theory”, because the vandalism to the door entry system was left unrepaired, the culprits later kicked the perspex panels out of the door as well. East Renfrewshire Council Head of Housing Phil Daws then used these “reports of vandalism” to justify an £8000 quote for a stainless steel “security door” and a complete replacement of the door entry system, which is less than three years old and still intact. It later emerged that this estimate was based on only one quote, and that the people who secured this quote have never visited the building or inspected the damage in person.

Now, let’s watch the Convenor for Environment (and therefore housing) play “Nyah nyah, fingers in ears, I can’t heeeear you!”

If a citizen screams and nobody who works for the Council is listening, does she make a sound?

In accordance with ERC’s own complaints policies, I have CC’d Head of Housing Phil Daws’ boss, Andrew Cahill, into every letter and email I have sent about this issue since December. He has never responded; he has never phoned; he has never checked in; I have never heard a peep out of him. All that I know about him is that he is the Director for Environment and he’s on a base salary of £99,234.

I have involved four of East Renfrewshire’s elected Councillors in this issue since the summer. Or tried to.

  • Cllr Tommy Reilly has earned his stripes and done his best to fight for my family, but even he’s hit the wall of the Housing Department’s arrogance and wagon-circling;
  • Cllr Danny Devlin, who is my designated local Councillor, is the kind who gets things done by picking up the phone and shouting at people. That works. Not. In the eight years I’ve known him it’s been clear that he has a kneejerk, almost childish aversion to any kind of constructive conflict that cannot be rectified by the sound of his own voice. For that reason, he refused to get involved in this situation. He doesn’t like email, so he skims it and doesn’t respond. His final word on the situation Wednesday was “at the end of the day, this isn’t my problem to resolve.”
  • Cllr Vincent Waters is Convenor for Environment, and he’s stopped returning my calls, emails, texts, and is ignoring my tweets, although he has found time to tweet enthusiastically about a hockey club and taking a pensioners’ bus to a St Patty’s dance;
  • Hugh Henry MSP was asked by my solicitor to investigate the situation, but it was Friday and he couldn’t be arsed, so he passed the issue straight on to
  • Cllr Kenny Hay, a syncophant who had a go at me for questioning the great and almighty Council. He tried to portray the Council as the victim and me as the aggressor. His first question to me, the very first time we spoke, was “who have you been working with?” When I said which Councillors, he said “Well, they’re not in my party.” He then proceeded to interrogate me as to why I had involved a Councillor who lives in my town but represents another town and is not, guess what, in his party. Kenny clearly has his priorities. He was quite patronising and sexist to me – “you sound like an intelligent person”, etc – until he realised that he knows my husband from the fitba, at which point his tone and manner completely changed and he proceeded to talk to me like I was his old chum. At no point did he actually ask about the disabled woman living in fear as a consequence of the Council’s misconduct. I haven’t wasted my time with him since.
  • As for my solicitor, when she tried to hold Phil Daws to account on the phone he was so delusionally arrogant and evasive that she terminated the call for his own good. This was the conversation where he informed her that if my disabled mother in law won’t pay for her share of his department’s funny money one-quote estimate, “she should move out.”
  • Then Daws pulled a typically cowardly trick. He refused to answer my questions at a designated meeting time, so he had his PA send me an email saying “Phil notes your non-attendance.” I replied immediately disputing this – it was him refusing to meet, not me! After sending it, I immediately received an out-of-office autoreply from the PA saying she was away until after the scheduled meeting time. So he doesn’t have the balls to face up his actions, then he gets his PA to do his dirty work.
  • Phil Daws later claimed he got another Councillor, Betty Cunningham, to show up at the meeting I did not attend because his PA had already cancelled it, which they then pulled me up for not attending (Council logic is a wonderful thing). I don’t know Betty Cunningham and she doesn’t know me. None of my family do. She knwos nothing about our family situation. All I know about Betty Cunningham is that she has a teenage grandson in jail for murder, which makes her patently unqualified to arbitrate on a problem caused by underage antisocial behavior. That also speaks volumes for how Phil Daws selects his team. Betty has made no effort to contact us independently or outwith Phil’s lap. Betty is currently in Malawi distributing hand-knitted jumpers to poor wee African babies. I am not joking. You couldn’t make it up.

None of these people have ever picked up the phone on their own initiative to say “hiya, just checking in” or “how’s your mother in law” or “has anything changed.” I have had to write the emails, send the texts, leave the messages, fight this damn fight. Nobody cares. Nobody listens. Nobody responds to any communications, full stop. And then these same elected officials who think local democracy means “och, leave it wi me, I’ll have a wee word” reply, with genuine bewilderment, “why did you go to a solicitor?” Then they follow up with “well, if you’re working with a solicitor, I can’t really work with you on this issue anymore.” Well buddy, maybe if you answered your phone, returned messages, replied to texts, replied to emails, or had spoken to me at any time in 2013, I wouldn’t have had to go to a solicitor. How’d you work that one out?

This is what you have to do, in East Renfrewshire, to get a white van man to come out and fix a door for a disabled pensioner. And I’ve now been doing it for a year.

The questions that East Renfrewshire Council have been asked since the autumn, and which Housing Manager Phil Daws has refused to answer

1. The damage to the door entry system at (ADDRESS) was first reported to East Renfrewshire Council in March of 2012. As a security repair, the repair would fall under priority codes A2 or A1 of the Council’s own repair categories, requiring repair within ten working days. This did not happen. As the Housing Manager, please explain in detail how this happened.

2. The damage to the door entry system was first reported to East Renfrewshire Council in March of 2012. The first acknowledgement that the Council made of the problem was not until over eight months later, in the form of the Estimate Letter of 27/11/2012. As Housing Manager, please provide, in detail, a full accounting on each of the multiple repair requests filed by multiple close residents during that eight month gap.

3. When the damage to the door entry system was first reported to East Renfrewshire Council in March of 2012, the door itself was still intact. It was not until several months later, in the late summer, that the children resident at (ADDRESS) kicked in the perspex panels on the front door, necessitating the wooden covers. Working from the position that the “broken window theory” holds true in cases of antisocial behaviour, please explain why your department ignored the door entry system when was it was the sole issue.

4. Council staff repeatedly maintained the need to get three quotes for the repair work as the excuse for the eight-month delay. However, the Estimate of 27/11/12 was based on only one quote. This deception was only uncovered when Cllr Tommy Reilly physically visited the Housing department to investigate the situation. As Housing Manager, please explain the managerial reportage systems you have implemented which permitted an estimate to be sent out with only one quote.

5. In July of 2012, Housing officer Graeme Hall informed Heather Burns by telephone that it was her personal responsibility to provide copies of the close keys to the private let tenants at (ADDRESS) as well as the Council tenant at (ADDRESS). The Council has acknowledged that the damage to the close door was caused by the family resident in (ADDRESS) kicking in the door for all entries up to twenty times a day because they did not have a set of keys. If, within this system, owner-occupiers are responsible for the provision of keys and financially liable for any damage caused by residents for whom they have not provided keys, please clarify where this is addressed with in the Housing Service Repair Policy as well as the Title Deeds.

6. In her letter of 24/12/12, which was classified as a response in the formal complaints process, Suzanne Conlin wrote “I understand that the correspondence that took place was between yourself and Alaine Nobes, System Administrator/Customer Liaison Officer, and not Lynne Garbutt.” This was wholly and factually incorrect. As Suzanne Conlin’s manager, please explain a) why you permitted your direct report to commit such a fundamental error in the course of a formal investigation; b) whether the investigation proceeded on the basis of any additional fundamental errors.

7. In her letter of 24/12/12, Suzanne Conlin wrote “We are in the process of obtaining a further two quote (SIC). If the quotes are more competitive you will be notified of the details.” As Housing Manager, please confirm from whom these further “two quote” were sourced, and provide their breakdowns.

8. In your telephone conversation with (SOLICITOR) of 21/02/13, you maintained that Housing, and East Renfrewshire Council, are not responsible for making any adjustments to the property to ensure access. However, in her estimate letter of 27/11/12, Lynne Garbutt maintained that “This work requires to be undertaken in order to maintain the integrity of the fabric of the building and to prevent it falling into a state of disrepair. Your Title Deeds contain a “Factors clause” Which entitles the Council to act as Factor and to undertake this necessary urgent repair.” As Housing Manager, please clarify why you have adopted an opposite position from your direct report.

9. In your telephone conversation with (SOLICITOR) of 21/02/13, you maintained that Housing, and East Renfrewshire Council, are not responsible for making any adjustments to the property to ensure access. As Housing Manager, you are aware that as of this writing, there are ten people resident within the close. In light of your stated personal position, which conflicts with your department’s own policies (see question 8), please confirm that you are willing to accept legal responsibility for the inability of the emergency services to access any of these eight flats and ten residents at any time.

10. In your telephone conversation with (SOLICITOR) of 21/02/13, you stated that if (MY MOTHER IN LAW) cannot afford the door repair, “she should move out.” As the Head of Housing you are aware that (SHE) has been on your department’s waiting list for sheltered accommodation for two and a half years. She is currently at or near the top of the list. Your comment can only be interpreted as a personal desire for (MIL) to move into another form of private housing in lieu of medically required sheltered accommodation altogether. In light of this, was your statement, expressed within your position as the Housing Manager, evidence of an attempt to remove (MIL) from the sheltered accommodation waiting list.

11. The estimate letter of 27/11/12 was not sent out until two medical emergencies had already occurred wherein NHS paramedic teams were unable to gain access to the building to treat (MY MOTHER IN LAW). After each of these instances, residents of the building repeated and re-filed their service requests for repair to the door entry system specifically discussing the lack of emergency service access. As with question 2, please explain where these requests were processed and ticketed.

12. As Housing Manager, please explain your position on all of the above matters in light of the provisions of the Equality Act 2010, Chapter 2, Section 20 (7), 21, and 27.

*The title of this blog post is, of course, a play on the slogan used by East Renfrewshire Council’s current glossy PR campaign about what a great place this is to live. I’m allowed to do that, because it was me who came up with that slogan during a marketing focus group meeting. Serves ’em right for not paying me royalties.

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