David Montague

We got it wrong and let down our residents

As L&Q publishes a report on maintenance issues on one of its estates, David Montague explains how the problems came about and what is being done to rectify the situation
Published on 05/02/2019

It was one of the world’s greatest inventors, Thomas Edison, who said: “Every failure is a lesson learned for your strategy.”

He was right, of course. But when you’ve failed, it doesn’t always feel like that, especially if you’ve let people down who mean the most to you.

Today, we’re publishing an independent report about one of our schemes in Southwark.

I’m pulling no punches here: we got it wrong, we didn’t fix things when we should have, and as result we let down our residents.

We’ve worked hard to put things right. And we’re determined to learn lessons, however painful that is.

“I’m pulling no punches here: we got it wrong, we didn’t fix things when we should have, and as result we let down our residents”

Any service failure goes against everything we stand for – our charitable aims, our social purpose, the very reason we exist. So how did we get here in the first place?

Going back to 2016, we announced ambitious plans for growth and investment to build more affordable, quality homes – homes that people desperately need.

Along the way, we built some very successful partnerships, with the Greater London Authority, Homes England, Trafford Housing Trust and the Build London Partnership of black and minority ethnic housing associations.

And together, we are building high-quality homes and transforming neighbourhoods across the country.

In our drive to build the homes this country needs, we never shied away from complex or difficult opportunities. From the regeneration of the South Acton estate in London, to the creation of brand new towns of tens of thousands of homes in Barking Riverside or West Tey, L&Q has always been among the first to rise to the challenge.

As a result of that ambition and of taking on complex projects, we got some things wrong. We didn’t focus enough on our existing homes and delivering the best possible service to our existing residents.

That’s why we launched a new plan at the start of 2018 with a renewed emphasis on investing in our existing homes and transforming our customer service.

This included increasing the amount we invest in maintaining our homes to £200m a year and investing £150m over five years in new technology to make our service better, faster and easier for customers when they need to get things fixed.

With the benefit of hindsight, we could and should have moved faster to make sure that no L&Q resident was waiting too long for us to put something right that really mattered to them, and to put it right first time.

Some residents, understandably angry and frustrated, approached the press – and who can blame them? They had already given us the chance to sort things out on more than one occasion.

But the simple fact is that we didn’t do that. We didn’t always treat their concerns with the importance and urgency they deserved.

And when we did, we didn’t do enough to cut through the inevitable debates among a myriad of internal teams and external contractors about who should take responsibility for sorting things out and simply get the job done.

Once this came to light, we immediately issued a public apology. We notified the regulator and we commissioned an independent review of the Southwark scheme that was overseen by our involved residents and board members.

“Regaining the trust of affected residents will take time, but that is my priority for 2019”

I personally wrote to every member of parliament and local authority leader in London to let them know about the issues we faced in Southwark and with a small number of other schemes, and the action we were taking to put things right and learn lessons.

I met with affected residents and offered my personal apology. And I created and led a taskforce to oversee our plans for improvement.

Five months on, things have improved considerably. We have resolved all major outstanding repairs and maintenance issues at the schemes affected and we have made good progress on our new plan to invest in our homes and in improving customer service.

These plans are now bearing fruit: complaints are turning into compliments, and we have embarked on a new action plan to ensure that our improvements are sustainable.

Regaining the trust of affected residents will take time, but that is my priority for 2019.

What I have learned about our strategy from failure?

Our ambition to fix the housing crisis is a fundamental part of our social purpose.

But we will and should be judged by the quality of our homes in management and the quality of our service to existing residents.

These things are our passport to growth. And we must never forget that.

This article was first published in Inside Housing.