More problems beset Norwich contractors

Jon WelchMore details are emerging of problems at Norwich City Council contractor Connaught, with tenants complaining of missed appointments for vital safety inspections and staff and unions claiming a lack of materials and equipment.Jon Welch

More details are emerging of problems at Norwich City Council contractor Connaught, with tenants complaining of missed appointments for vital safety inspections and staff and unions claiming a lack of materials and equipment.

Insiders also say some Connaught staff have not been paid in full, with bonus and overtime payments missing from some wage packets.

The Exeter-based firm has been beset by problems since taking over from CityCare a month ago today.

Many stem from controversy surrounding the decision to grant it the �17.5m contract to maintain Norwich's 17,000 council homes, as part of a �125m package that also includes waste and recycling, grounds maintenance, tree works, street cleaning and electrical and mechanical servicing.

CityCare's parent company Morrison challenged the award of the contract to Connaught, and a High Court battle was only averted after the council reached a financial settlement with Morrison just days before the contract was due to begin.

About 50 Connaught staff - roughly 10pc of its Norwich workforce - were sent home on 'garden leave' during the first few weeks of the contract. It is understood all but a few have now returned to work, but fears over job security remain.

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Ray Self, 84, of Ipswich Road, Norwich, said he and his wife Rhoda, 81, had waited in on two days for Connaught to carry out annual safety checks on gas appliances at their home, but nobody turned up.

Workers were due to visit on April 7 and then again on April 23. 'I haven't had any service - it's rubbish. I'm getting no help at all,' he said.

Connaught staff say they are still missing vital equipment and supplies. One worker, who asked not to be named, said: 'I'm on the frontline, and like most of the skilled trades we're still waiting for power tools. If we didn't have our own tools which we have acquired nothing would have got done at all.'

The worker said tradesmen were no longer able to keep a stock of spare parts and materials on their vans.

'If you go to a property and there's a problem, you have to leave the property, go to the wholesalers, get the part you need and go back,' said the worker.

'Computers have been crashing so you can't get the supplies you need. There's been no end of trouble with wages and people not being paid enough. It's awful. Morale is extremely low.'

Brian Rye, regional secretary for the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (Ucatt), said: 'We have agreed with Connaught that they will issue a briefing statement to each member of staff on the current workload issues and the provision of materials and equipment.

'It is now a week overdue and we are having to press Connaught to produce and circulate it in order to remove the uncertainty.'

A Norwich City Council spokesman said: 'We are taking the concerns raised seriously and our contractor has demonstrated to us it is addressing these teething problems as a matter of urgency".

Peter Jones, chief executive of Connaught Partnerships, said he was aware that a 'small number' of gas servicing appointments had been missed apologised to tenants affected,

'The majority of these appointments have now been met and the services completed and I would like to make it clear that all services are being fulfilled well before the statutory inspection period expires. Our top priority is to deliver Norwich residents the best possible service.

'However, we are not complacent and we will continue to work with residents and Norwich City Council to build on the positive start that has been made to the contract.'

A company spokesman said problems with a lack of phones and computers at Connaught's Norwich headquarters in Old Hall Road had now been resolved. He said problems with pay packets had affected just a few people, but these had also been dealt with.

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