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Agenda item

Wolverhampton Homes

[Lesley Roberts – Chief Executive of Wolverhampton Homes and Simon Bamfield – Head of Stock Investment]



The Group welcomed Mrs Lesley Roberts – Chief Executive of Wolverhampton Homes and Mr Simon Bamfield - Head of Commercial Services and Stock Investment.


The question was raised as to who was responsible for fire safety at Wolverhampton Homes and it was confirmed that there was a policy which specified how this responsibility was delegated. At the moment, the responsibility and duty of care sat with the Stock Investment Manager who was a specialist member of staff for fire safety and he was supported by specialist health and safety officers.


The Chair raised the question of training in relation to these staff and it was stated that the Stock Investment Manager (Myk Kazuba) had great support from external partner organisations and in particular Sam Bunch, a fire safety consultant from Jacobs who was an ex fire fighter and Graduate Member of the Institution of Fire Engineers (Mr Bunch also held a NEBOSH General Certificate and IOSH Fire Safety Management qualification). It was also confirmed that there was a specialist fire safety advisor within the Health and Safety Team and that this officer liaised regularly with the Fire Service.


The question was raised as to whether the officer with responsibility for carrying out the risk assessments had access to information as to where the disabled tenants were and whether the officers carrying out the training had disability access training or awareness of disability access needs.  It was stated that there was a good general awareness of disability access issues and that in 2010 a piece of work had been carried out to look at accessibility in high rise blocks and that this was continuously under review (an example of this was new signage being put up at a lower level).


Mr Bamfield also stated that the fire risk assessment procedure was very prescriptive and focused on the inhabitants in the block of flats and their ability to escape safely.   It was also confirmed that the concierge staff had very good relationships with the residents that they looked after.


The question was then raised as to the training provided to the concierge staff and that if there was a fire what their role would be. Mr Bamfield confirmed that the Fire Service would take control in the event of a fire and that the concierge staff would be on site to provide what information they had in relation to the residents. It was confirmed that the concierge staff had training in relation to areas such as the use of evacuation chairs and had some experience of evacuating residents as there had been a number of different incidents over the years such as floods. 


Mrs Roberts confirmed that separate fire safety training would be provided for concierge staff and that this was scheduled for December and would be carried out by a reputable company.  Mrs Roberts also confirmed that there had been general training on fire safety to dated and that the Manager was a former fire fighter. The role of the concierge staff was to ensure that all fire safety measures were in place.

The Group stated that it was good to see that fire checks were part of the daily routine and the chair queried whether the daily checks were monitored. It was stated that yes, the Manager monitored the checks with staff to ensure that everything was being picked up. Anyone who spotted anything that might pose a fire risk had a responsibility to report it and the concierge always had to sign off each daily check list.


The question was raised as to how much was known regarding people with disabilities living in the flats. It was thought that information was now held in relation to 80 to 90% of residents but care also had to be taken to respect tenants’ privacy.  It was also confirmed that less was known regarding leaseholders as these often didn’t want to provide the information and it was sometimes the case that they sublet the flat and this information was not available. Mrs Roberts stated that they had requested a visit to each leaseholder flat but that this could not be enforced and that any requests to the Government to strengthen powers over leaseholders would be welcomed. 


Mrs Roberts confirmed that leaseholders as well as tenants received a pack outlining what to do in case of an emergency.


A question was raised regarding warnings that had been given prior to the Grenfell fire and members of the group questioned whether anything similar had been received by Wolverhampton Home including any serious complaints or concerns raised by residents.


Mrs Roberts stated that a lot of correspondence was received but that it was generally complimentary and that concerns over fire safety had never been raised. All questions and responses were published on the Wolverhampton Homes website.


The group queried the relationship between residents and Wolverhampton Homes and it was confirmed that the Residents Association met regularly and to date no concerns regarding fire safety had been raised. There was however no complacency as residents and officers were constantly and actively looking for areas that might be of concern and policies and procedures were constantly evolving such as the use of sprinklers in the bin rooms. 


The Group considered the fact the corporate manslaughter charges might possible be brought against staff with responsibility for the Grenfell Tower and the question was raised as to whether areas such as this had ever been considered by Wolverhampton Homes and whether legal advice had been sought.  Mrs Roberts stated that the events in Grenfell would never be forgotten and that Wolverhampton Homes had a clear governance structure in place which set out responsibilities clearly and of which all staff were aware. The Board of Directors had received both legal and health and safety advise and were equipped with the necessary skills and training. Mrs Roberts confirmed that the Board were fully aware of their responsibility to protect the public and that the Board was very good at challenging officers. Mrs Roberts also stated that the Board had a Health and Safety champion who attended officer meetings and that reviews were always carried out as to events that had occurred in the previous month. 


The Group agreed that this was very encouraging information. Mrs Roberts stated that if required a set of papers from one of the meetings could be provided to the Group as an example of the work carried out along with the reviews that were done in relation to all fires.


The Group questioned the action taken by Wolverhampton Homes following the Grenfell fire. Mr Bamfield stated that the first requirement had been to complete a template sent out by the DCLG requesting information on all high-rise blocks. Mr Bamfield confirmed that this request referred to all high-rise tower block in the area and not just those that were the responsibility of the Council and as such partner organisations had be liaised with.  Mrs Roberts stated that cladding had now been checked and that she was confident that it was fine. Mrs Roberts also confirmed that the sanctuary run block in Heath Town had cladding that had been specified by the City Council before it had been transferred but that their own tests had not been carried out, it was however confirmed that there was no aluminium composite cladding. It was also confirmed that the student accommodation had been checked and that there was 20% ACM and that due to this 2 blocks had been evacuated with plans in place to have the cladding removed; there were no other blocks of concern.


A query was raised as to the fact that cladding on one block of flats had been tested but not another that had the same cladding even though the cladding had been put up at different times. Mrs Roberts stated that she would look into getting both sets of cladding tested.


The question was raised as to emergency and evacuation policies and whether Wolverhampton Homes had a plan and whether Mrs Roberts was the lead on this. Mrs Roberts confirmed that yes there was an emergency plan and that this would swing into action prior to the full Council plan taking effect.  The date of the last test of the emergency plan had been 2015 and that this had included communications and rest centres. Mrs Roberts confirmed that in the event of an emergency there would be enough beds to accommodate all residents from a tower block.


The chair confirmed that 6 out of 18 high rise block had now been tested and queried why this was the case when the advice from the Fire Service had been to test all the high-rise blocks. Mrs Roberts stated that this advice had not been provided to her directly but confirmed that every block had been visited and advise sought. At the time of the incident all testing had to be carried out by a Government allocated agency and that it was only testing ACM cladding. Wolverhampton Homes had a good record in relation to what was on all its blocks and those with mineral wool wall systems were not deemed at risk of fire.


The Chair stated that not testing was not acceptable and Mr Bamfield confirmed that the Government had now modified its testing regime and were testing all combinations of cladding. Mrs Roberts confirmed that there were ongoing in depth discussions with the Board but that on balance testing cladding that was closer to a render could generate more concern and that the best advise at the moment was to wait for the outcome of the Grenfell investigation and the recommendations from Government. 


Mrs Roberts also confirmed that there were conflicting opinions and advice regarding testing and whether existing cladding should be removed or a replicate piece tested.


The group thanks Mrs Roberts and Mr Bamfield.


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