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Canterbury City Council chief executive should resign over East Kent Housing scandal, councillors set to demand

By Phil Hayes

A cross-party group is set to call on a council chief executive to resign due to his “lack of action” over a scandal-hit housing firm, KentOnline can reveal.

Councillors in Canterbury are preparing to accuse Colin Carmichael of a “gross dereliction of duty”.

They say failing "to ensure tenants were kept safe" by East Kent Housing “warrants immediate dismissal”.

City Council chief executive Colin Carmichael (12757479)
City Council chief executive Colin Carmichael (12757479)

But KentOnline understands the councillors may hold fire if the Canterbury City Council boss – whose pay packet totals up to £141,000 – ditches the firm.

The plot to oust long-serving Mr Carmichael, who oversees about 500 staff, follows revelations of missed gas safety checks at hundreds of council homes.

The scandal has already seen Mark Anderson, director of property services at East Kent Housing, leave his role.

The firm manages social housing for Canterbury, Folkestone and Hythe, Dover and Thanet councils – with each having a 25% stake in the company.

Mark Anderson who has lost his job with East Kent Housing (12690205)
Mark Anderson who has lost his job with East Kent Housing (12690205)

In total, 544 homes across the four districts were left with overdue gas safety inspections. This comes just months after Canterbury City Council agreed to annually inject an extra £215,000 worth of funding to EKH.

Former council leader Simon Cook this week called on the authority to ditch the firm.

And now a source has told KentOnline that unless the debacle is sorted out, a cross-party group in Canterbury is prepared to table a motion calling for the chief executive's resignation.

Colin Carmichael with former council leader Simon Cook
Colin Carmichael with former council leader Simon Cook

It reads: "While we respect and appreciate the work Colin Carmichael has done for this district over the past 23 years, we feel his lack of action on ensuring our tenants were kept safe by East Kent Housing warrants immediate dismissal.

“While we accept Mr Carmichael can't be blamed for day-to-day management issues, we feel his lack of action to withdraw the council from East Kent Housing once they had been shown to be utterly incompetent and dangerous constitutes a gross dereliction of duty to some of our most vulnerable residents and, with sadness, we call on him to resign."

But Mr Carmichael insists he is not able to "unilaterally" give EKH the boot.

Cantebury City Council chief executive Colin Carmichael (12757476)
Cantebury City Council chief executive Colin Carmichael (12757476)

He said: "Every council officer - from all four councils - recognises this is a very serious issue and we, with the other three councils, are fully focused on working with East Kent Housing’s Chief Executive and its board to resolve it. Tenant safety is our top priority at all times.

"I will be reporting to councillors in July with a number of recommendations on how we prevent this from happening again.

"The final decision on what happens next with regard to East Kent Housing quite properly rests with elected councillors. I am not able to take this sort of decision unilaterally."

As well as overseeing hundreds of council staff, Mr Carmichael's role also includes working closely with councillors "to provide leadership and strategic direction".

Yet the shock bid to have him removed after more than two decades suggests underlying tensions between the chief executive and some elected representatives.

East Kent Housing chief executive Deborah Upton (12709511)
East Kent Housing chief executive Deborah Upton (12709511)

EKH is one of the largest arms length management organisations in the country, responsible for more than 17,000 homes.

After KentOnline revealed Mr Anderson had left his role, chief executive Deborah Upton said the company does not comment on matters involving individual staff.

But in an earlier statement, EKH said: “We’re sorry to those tenants who are waiting for overdue gas safety checks.

Gas safety checks have been missed in hundreds of council homes (12690589)
Gas safety checks have been missed in hundreds of council homes (12690589)

“As soon as we became aware of the problem, we worked as quickly as we could to secure the services of extra gas engineers. The number of outstanding checks is falling.

“East Kent Housing has been in touch with the tenants directly to arrange appointments and are offering evening and weekend slots.

“We are urgently investigating how this situation arose and are taking immediate steps to ensure it does not happen again.”

Labour councillor Alan Baldock says the oversight is "incredibly serious"
Labour councillor Alan Baldock says the oversight is "incredibly serious"

By law, landlords must ensure their properties are gas safety inspected every 12 months. Failure to do so could lead to legal action, with the punishment being either a hefty fine or prison sentence.

Cllr Alan Baldock, leader of the opposition Labour group, said of the missed gas checks: “This is an incredibly serious oversight of safety.”

Labour MP Rosie Duffield branded the oversight “unacceptable”. In the House of Commons on Monday, she called on housing minister James Brokenshire to ensure it cannot happen again.

Canterbury's Labour MP Rosie Duffield
Canterbury's Labour MP Rosie Duffield

In a statement on Facebook she added: “Despite a big injection of cash from the council earlier this year, EKH has failed to ensure their homes are properly safe for tenants.

“I am pleased that many of the houses have now been assessed. However, many of my constituents will have been left worried and anxious about this news.

“It is unacceptable that they have been put at avoidable risk and I hope that provision is being put in place to prevent this kind of oversight in future.”

East Kent Housing Horrors

Jane Roberts complained of damp in her East Kent Housing property
Jane Roberts complained of damp in her East Kent Housing property

The missed gas safety checks scandal follows a series of worrying incidents reported by tenants.

In February, a woman in Canterbury with severe lung problems told how her council flat was ridden with black and green mould in every single room.

Another tenant in the city said he is being forced to use his living room as a larder because of a rat infestation.

Jackie Chambers says she was forced to live out of bags
Jackie Chambers says she was forced to live out of bags

Meanwhile, in Whitstable a grandmother said she has been forced to live out of carrier bags because of damp at her council home.

In Folkestone, pensioners told how their Christmas was cut short when a water pipe burst leaving their sheltered accommodation sodden.

There have been a number of fires at Invicta House in Margate in recent years, which is managed by EKH.

And concerns were raised by residents at a block of flats in Dover over a lack of maintained fire extinguishers.

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