Housing repairs £4.5m over budget but still award winning

While the Sentinel were reporting today that Stoke-on-Trent City Councils housing repair bill was £4.5 million over budget, Kier Stoke were publicising that had won a Tenant Participation Advisory Service (TPAS) award for its work alongside Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

The company was announced the winner of the ‘Excellence in Working Together’ category for its project ‘Reigniting the Customer Experience’, at the TPAS central region finals. Kier Stoke ensured its responsive repairs service was both time efficient and cost effective, while meeting the needs of the local community. Continue reading

When’s A Workman Not A Workman?

Pits n pots have been contacted by a concerned resident who wanted to highlight an issue they had seen with a Kier employee. Kier Stoke are the company formed as a joint venture between Stoke-on-Trent City Council and construction and support services specialist Kier Building Maintenance to take on the repairs to Stoke-on-Trent City Council housing stock in 2008.

I was going shopping on Friday in the north of the city, I went to the pay and display meter to get a ticket, while I was getting some change a Kier workman came out of a pub near the meter on his telephone. He was in his work clothes with the Kier badge on them and saying to the person on the phone that he was still on a job and wouldn’t be able to take the job they were trying to give him. Once the call had finished he went back in to the pub.

Kier Stoke seem to be going through some turbulent times at the moment. Chief Executive John van de Laarshot brought Vanguard, a ‘systems thinking’ consultancy, in to look at ways that the City Council could work smarter and save money. The first place he sent them was in to the housing directorate to look at the contract with Kier and how to provide quicker, better and more cost effective services to council tenants.

A suggestion, if I may be so bold, might be to know where your employees really are when they tell you they are still on the last job you gave them.

Van de Laarschott – The task ahead

Stoke-on-Trent’s new Chief Executive John Van de Laarschott has officially been in post for just one week.

In his first week, following the chaos in the Council Chamber on Thursday, he will be left with no doubts just how fragmented, fractious and sometimes even childish, the political scene is here in Stoke-on-Trent.

Oh sure, he will have been told. Agencies like IDeA, the Governance Commission, the Transition Board would have been queuing up to give him the bad news. But there is nothing like seeing it with your own eyes is there?

The Council Chamber will be prioritised as ‘work in progress’ however.

The real priority, for our new CE, will or should be a strategic review of every department to establish who’s hot and who is not!

There have been too many examples of so called officer incompetency over recent times. They are well documented on this site and they certainly keep Iain ‘Robbo’ Robinson over at the Sentinel busy for most of his week.

John Van de Laarschott is no mug. He has the necessary experience to really sort this Authority out.

People may point out that he has a limited experience of local government having managed only one other Authority in the past. But I think that is a good thing.

If you really look into what he achieved at Torridge, you will find out that he ain’t afraid of making tough decisions and wielding the axe if it’s needed.

At least if he wields the axe, those on the receiving end will, according to J V d L:

"If anyone is affected by changes that we might make in the future, they will be treated ethically, fairly and with dignity."

Maybe if he had handled the recent voluntary redundancies at SOTCC they would not have had the 100 or so who rejected the final offer due to the ridiculous compromise agreement they were being forced to sign.

Net Result? Nowhere near the savings that we had hoped for!

One of the first things he did at his last Authority was to undertake a comprehensive review and consultation across the entire landscape.

This 4 month belt and braces analysis unearthed a ‘Council that lacked leadership and direction and a work culture steeped in stereotyped philosophies and mismanagement’ – their words not mine! But does it sound familiar?

John Van de Laarschott was on a mission to create a customer driven Authority that wasn’t bogged down with out dated local government practices.

Now for the controversial bit.

Our new CE brought in a consultancy company called Vanguard.

Vanguard are the modern day equivalent to the old fashioned ‘time and motion’ study. They specialise in implementing new management systems and more efficient working practices.

They don’t come cheap, but they get results.

Some people may bemoan the use of more consultants which comes hot on the heels of the announcement that there is to be review on the use of them by our council.

But I for one will not criticise John Van de Laarschott should he decide to bring in Vanguard.

He has, quite rightly, already pointed out that our council is described as broken and whilst it make take time for the politics to right itself in our City, at least we should see some effective results in Stoke-on-Trent PLC pretty rapidly.

Stoke-on-Trent is not so different to Torridge, if you take away the fact that they had the sea on their landscape and we have the Peak District on ours. The fact is, they were massively under-performing and so are we.

In 2005 Mr Laarschott had this to say about Torridge:

"We must create a culture in which the customer comes first. We must rid ourselves of the view that we do something because we’ve always done it that way.

"It currently takes around 30 days to process a new benefits claim. Why? All a new claimant wants to know is if he or she is entitled to benefit, how much they might get and when they will get it. If they have all the relevant proof of identity and status, that surely could be done almost instantly.

"Similarly in planning. We have an eight-week target for dealing with standard applications. With clearly defined guidelines and by educating applicants, particularly agents, to supply all the necessary information at first contact, we should be able to reduce our response times dramatically.

"To do this we must have a workforce that is prepared to accept a change in mindset. Our staff must want to be the best players in the best team. In football terms, they should be thinking Chelsea, not Cheltenham. There will be no place for people who are not prepared to accept this."


I think this describes Stoke-on-Trent perfectly. The only significant difference is the size of the task ahead of our new CE. He has to turn Stafford Rangers into….. well, Stoke City of course!

If the outcome for Stoke-on-Trent is the same of that in Torridge, the use of Vanguard whatever the cost will be well justified, won’t it?….