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Norwich City Council contractor defended

PUBLISHED: 18:30 22 April 2010 | UPDATED: 09:57 02 July 2010

Jon Welch

Norwich City Council leader Steve Morphew has defended the performance of new contractor Connaught, insisting that despite "teething problems" it was already offering a better service than predecessor CityCare.

Norwich City Council leader Steve Morphew has defended the performance of new contractor Connaught, insisting that despite “teething problems” it was already offering a better service than predecessor CityCare.

And Connaught's boss said there was nothing unusual about 50 workers - roughly 10 per cent of its Norwich workforce - being sent home on paid “garden leave” during the first few weeks of the contract.

Meanwhile, further claims have been made about a lack of vital equipment and supplies for workers, and council tenants have criticised the company for missing appointments and failing to complete repairs on time.

The Evening News revealed on Saturday that 49 employees had been on paid leave since Connaught took over as the council's main contractor earlier this month. It is understood some staff have not yet returned to work.

Insiders claimed that Connaught's new offices and depot at Old Hall Road were without computers and telephones.

One Connaught worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “Right from the start it was a complete shambles. Managers and supervisors have been moved from their normal jobs and given placements where they have no experience. There is a complete lack of equipment issued to tradesmen, ranging from gardeners sharing a spade to plumbers with no drills and office staff sharing phones and desks.”

Equipment and tools, including mowers, hedge-trimmers and tractors belonging to previous contractor CityCare are currently being auctioned off.

Council tenant Mike Holmes, 63, of Bowthorpe, said: “Last week a workman from Connaught turned up to repair the shower saying that he was not sure why he had been sent as he only repaired mixer showers.

“He left and was followed by another workman a short while later, who while very polite, was very disgruntled as he had no proper tools available, no overalls and was having to use own mobile phone. He also said that he had been to another house to look at a problem in the loft and had no ladder.”

Many of the problems at Connaught stem from controversy surrounding the decision to grant the Exeter-based firm the £17.5m contract to maintain Norwich's 17,000 council homes, as part of a £125m package of work that also includes waste and recycling, grounds maintenance, tree works, street cleaning and electrical and mechanical servicing.

The move triggered a legal challenge from Morrison, parent company of CityCare, which argued the process had not been carried out properly, but a High Court battle was averted.

Mr Morphew said: “Connaught didn't get anything like the best start, despite their best efforts. They did not get the level of co-operation and support that we would normally expect to see.

He said he had faith in Connaught. “They work extraordinarily hard and I have nothing but confidence in them. They seem to be dealing with the teething problems we anticipated. Standards of service to the city council are probably better than we were experiencing.”

A spokesman for Connaught Partnerships said it was not true that workers lacked the tools to do their jobs, and Peter Jones, chief executive, said: “The vast majority of employees who transferred to Connaught as part of our contract with Norwich City Council have now begun work and they are already making an excellent contribution to the success of this contract, helping us to deliver the best possible service for residents and businesses in Norwich.

“We would like to make it absolutely clear that it is normal with a large-scale contract mobilisation of this nature, involving hundreds of people, for there to be a proportion of staff on paid leave during the early stages whilst one-to-one consultations are completed.

“None of the issues we have experienced are unusual and they have had no impact on our service delivery in Norwich, as has been evidenced by the positive feedback we have received both from Norwich City Council and from residents across the city.”

Do you know anything more about the situation at Connaught? Contact reporter Jon Welch on 01603 772476 or email jon.welch@archant.co.uk

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