Good News: Housing options staying in Barnet House.

Last week staff working for Barnet Homes were informed that the Housing Options service would not be moving to Barnet House.

This is a sensible decision. This service is probably the most high profile and potentially volatile work environment. Due to the brutal crushing impact of austerity those who need this service have often been refused access to services. They are desperate and very vulnerable. Last year we had a fatality. It was a tragedy and it had a profound impact on many of the staff who were working there that day. This is a service that need space for residents and their families to be able to speak to staff in a safe environment.

The space allocated at Colindale was never going to be suitable.

For the time being the service is remaining at Barnet House in which case it does need some money spent on it to make it a better environment for all that use and or work there.

End.

Barnet UNISON gives Capita Estates service the Red Card

Last Monday all of the Waste and Recycling service started from Oakleigh depot. Due to a serious strategic mistake Barnet Council sold off their own depot which was based in the centre of the borough (Mill Hill) before they had secured an alternative.

As a result a small depot was built in Oakleigh Road South (east of the borough). This depot was not big enough which meant that Barnet Council had go to cap in hand to Harrow Council to pay to base some of their services from their depot.

Workers couldn’t believe it. They shook their heads in disbelief but then just got on with the job.

The costs of operating out of the depot have become a burden that can no longer be sustained and Barnet UNISON welcomes the attempt to re-unite what was previously united.

Barnet Council is now using the former Brogans depot for the extra vehicles.

Why the red card?

Early in September Barnet UNISON reported that the lighting was not working in the depot. It seems to take forever to get things fixed in the depot. This is not a criticism of the operational management as the estate service is run by Capita.

As the date of the move back from Harrow drew close Barnet UNISON again pressed for the lighting to be fixed. The extra vehicles increased our anxiety of the risk to the health and safety of our members.

It is important to remember that the existing site is about to become a building site as urgent engineer works are about to start to stop the depot sliding down the hill into Oakleigh Road South. This means the traffic management is under increased pressure.

On Monday 4 November I was sent pictures by our members to confirm that lighting was not on. It was predictable but UNISON hoped that this time things might change.

Day after day UNISON was contacted all week, five days in a row lighting problems down the depot.

Red Card

On Friday UNISON spoke with operational management to say that this could not continue and that measures must be put in place to secure the health and safety of the depot.

Barnet UNISON has attended the Committee meetings where the Capita contract was reviewed. For a short period the Estate function was down to come back in-house. However, in December 2018 Barnet Council once again let Capita off the hook.

Barnet UNISON is demanding the Estate service is brought back in-house our staff health and safety must not be compromised.

More later…….

Good News: Street Scene service moving out of Harrow depot

Barnet UNISON will never understand how a major strategic decision like moving the Council depot was made without a viable option was available to the Council frontline services.

What happened was a classic fudge/ad hoc/make do. To put it simply it has been a disaster.

The Waste and Recycling and Street Cleansing services were split between the new depot in Oakleigh Road South and London Borough of Harrow depot.

Not only was it bad operationally it was expensive and the ongoing costs have been a constant strain on the service.

The Gritting service was also moved to Harrow and we all know what happened when we had a bad winter two years ago despite the heroic efforts of the workforce to try and make it work.

It was never going to work. The staff across all services have tried their best to make it work. The fact that staffing budgets were also cut simply added to the problem. .

What didn’t help and still doesn’t help is seeing that the Capita contracts have cashed in to the tune of £438 million since the contract started which is £165.6 million more than the contract value. Try explaining that to workers whose pay or pensions has been messed up by Capita or to the staff working at Oakleigh who have seen their branch new depot splitting like it has been hit by a minor earth quake.

What is the good news?

The good news is that the Brogans site which has been empty for a long time has been secured by Barnet Council.

This means the whole of the Waste and Recycling service is now running out of Oakleigh Depot. However we are still running Street Cleansing out of Harrow which means we are still paying rent on the Harrow site and now the Brogans site.

Depot Building works

The depot has some serious problems the subsidence has split the road and there appears to be real risk of a landslide which is something that has happened in the past. This risk was clearly sufficiently serious for the Council to arrange for buildings works to begin sometime in November this year.

Rounds changes.

As a result of the major building works at the depot there is an impact on the Bin collection service. Barnet Council has written to residents about the changes.

It is disappointing that the changes had not been run by the drivers. This mistake was made with the previous Bin collection changes.

There is nothing we can do now.

It remains to be seen if the proposed changes will work.

Our grave concerns about Barnet Council “Mind the gap” depot.

Barnet UNISON read with dismay the following report entitled “Oakleigh Depot Remedial Works” which is going to Policy and Resources Committee on Thursday 3 October 2019.

(Source: https://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/documents/s55442/Oakleigh%20Depot%20Remedial%20Works.pdf

What’s it all about?

The issue of subsidence was noted by Barnet UNISON from the moment we moved into Oakleigh depot in August 2017.

The report which is going to Policy and Resources Committee does not reference the significant involvement of Capita.

Capita Property & Infrastructure Ltd (“Capita”) provided the following report entitled: The “Oakleigh Road South Depot Phase 2 Ground Investigation & Assessment April 2015 report” and the “Soil Stabilisation report dated 1 February 2017”.

Here are the two key documents

Barnet UNISON has over the last 18 months attempted to work with Council officials to ensure safe working at the depot. However once the crack opened up across the road and the fuel tank area was splitting from the pavement, management stopped sharing vital information.

Below is a summary of UNISON requests for information.

  • August 2017. UNISON raised concerns over the sufficiency of reinforcement measures to prevent ground movement at the depot.

The Council responded that it did not believe that the reinforcement was insufficient.

  • March 2018. At a meeting with the Council UNISON asked if the Council had investigated the problem and what plans had been made for repairs. We asked for the surveyor’s report which the Council had commissioned.

We were given details on the plans for repairs and have not yet received a surveyor’s report.

  • July 2018. UNISON submitted an Inspection report for the depot which identified that the rifts in the surface had widened and deepened and extended over a larger area.

The report included a request for the relevant surveyor’s reports and asked what contingency plans for the service were in place if vehicles were prevented from using the depot should repair works be needed.

We received neither the surveyor’s report nor any information on a contingency plan

  • September 2018. At a meeting with the Council, UNISON repeated our request for a surveyor’s report.
  • January 2019. Following another UNISON inspection of the depot which noted that the fissures and subsidence had not been repaired the Council’s response was that the situation was being monitored and there was no imminent danger. UNISON requests for details of the monitoring where not met.

 

What does the “Oakleigh Depot Remedial Works” report say?

In paragraph 1.10 it states “With health and safety a priority…….” and in paragraph 3.1 it states: “Officer have been unable to identify options that have no, or lesser, impact on service. The option to do nothing was discounted due to health and safety risk.”

In paragraph 5.5.1 refers to an “Environment risk register” it goes on add “To manage health and safety risk, the council’s health and safety lead is reviewing proposals alongside operational staff. Additional health and safety capacity will be brought in if and when required.”

The reason for our grave concerns is that Barnet UNISON was unaware of any Health and Safety risks at the depot because someone in the Council had made a decision not to share this information. This shocking revelation that there are health and safety risks raises serious questions marks as to who decided not to share information with the trade unions.

Health and Safety legislation is very clear:

“Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations, 1977.Regulation 7 Inspection of documents and provision of information.

(1)       Safety representatives shall for the performance of their functions under section 2(4) of the 1974 Act and under these Regulations, if they have given the employer reasonable notice, be entitled to inspect and take copies of any document relevant to the workplace or to the employees the safety representatives represent which the employer is required to keep by virtue of any relevant statutory provision within the meaning of section 53(1) of the 1974 Act except a document consisting of or relating to any health record of an identifiable individual.”

Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974

“2 (6) It shall be the duty of every employer to consult any such representatives with a view to the making and maintenance of arrangements which will enable him and his employees to co-operate effectively in promoting and developing measures to ensure the health and safety at work of the employees, and in checking the effectiveness of such measures.”

Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations, 1977. Regulation 4A

“(1) Without prejudice to the generality of section 2(6) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, every employer shall consult safety representatives in good time with regard to – (a) the introduction of any measure at the workplace which may substantially affect the health and safety of the employees the safety representatives concerned represent;”

In light of the publication of the above report Barnet UNISON wrote to all three authors of the Council “Oakleigh Depot Remedial Works” report.

We have made the following demands:

  1. All reports/documents in relation to the ‘crack’ which identify health and safety issues are provided to the trade unions by the end of the week, including all data relating to ground movement.
  2. A weekly update meeting to take place at the depot with the trade union health and safety reps.

Failure to provide the information above will mean Barnet UNISON has no option but to contact the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

View reports click on links below

CH-SSP-UK-MGridEG-Oakleigh Road South Depot-Rev 01 Feb 17

15_04005_FUL-SITE_INVESTIGATION_REPORT-3112004 (1) (1)

 

 

Call out in solidarity for local democracy in Barnet 30 July 2019

On Tuesday 30 July 2019, 7pm in Hendon Town Hall, Barnet Council will vote on a proposal that in will restrict Barnet residents’ ability to ask questions and speak at future Council Committee meetings.

The London Borough of Barnet has a wealth of community activism which includes Barnet Bloggers (Mr Reasonable, Mrs Angry, Mr Mustard and Barnet Eye) and Barnet Alliance for Public Services (BAPS) to name just a few.

Their contributions over the last decade have largely been supportive of the services our members provide.

However, their contribution to future committees will virtually cease if the proposed rule change is passed at Full Council on 30 July 2019.

Barnet residents have responded by setting up a petition entitled “Stop Barnet Council From Gagging Residents”

You and read and sign in solidarity by clicking on this link here

https://t.co/P7sb0e3KNU?amp=1

Barnet UNISON is asking members to show solidarity by joining Barnet residents on Tuesday 30 July outside Hendon Town Hall from 6 pm onwards.

“Breathe Life – How air pollution impacts your body”

Barnet UNISON notes the dangers air pollution can have on our members working in Barnet.

We have already started discussions with Barnet Council about what can be done to mitigate the dangers of breathing in polluted air.

It is important our members understand the risks and what measures their employer can take to help both mitigate and or reduce the risk of air pollution.

The following video entitled “Breathe Life – How air pollution impacts your body” was made by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

It is a short and easy to understand video.

There is a Climate Emergency and it is impacting on all of us now. It would be wrong to ignore it. Action is needed now. Please keep up to date by ensuring you receive our weekly Barnet UNISON eNews email by contacting the branch on 0208 359 2088 or email contactus@barnetunison.org.uk

 

 

 

Colindale office UNISON H&S Inspection

 

Colindale office UNISON H&S Inspection

Background

Barnet Group to move staff and operations from Barnet House to new office site in Colindale. Move to commence June 2019.

UNISON representatives from the Barnet Group undertook a Health and Safety Inspection of the new site 12/4/19.

 


Housing Options Reception

 

Current arrangements – Barnet House

Client’s visiting Housing Options are initially held on the ground floor.

This means they can be searched away from Housing Options staff, and for security to confirm who has an appointment.

If there is an incident on the 2nd floor, clients can be held downstairs.

There is also space for client’s to wait and call Housing Options if they don’t have an appointment (as Housing Options is appointment only), although in some cases clients use phones on the second floor to contact benefit advisers etc.

UNISON notes that part of current security arrangements mean that when clients initially arrive at the building they can only gain access to the 2nd floor prior to being searched, and that the one member of reception staff on the ground floor is behind protective glass.

Current statistics on Barnet House anti-social, verbal and physical abuse incidents are too low – UNISON is concerned that there is a culture where abuse of staff is tolerated and incidents not recorded.

Proposed arrangements – Colindale

The proposed new reception has entrances straight from the street with clients queuing up and being searched in the reception area.

UNISON has been informed that there will be no barriers by the entrance, however there will be a reception desk with one or two security guards [to be confirmed], and a side room for more extensive searches.

Total security presence on the ground floor Housing Options Reception area has, as yet to be identified.

Concerns:

 

  1. As there is no protective barrier between clients and staff, clients could throw objects or liquids at staff without/before being searched.

  1. A violent client can push past security and gain access to staff without being searched.

  1. Customers in winter will not want to queue outside meaning they will be in the reception and potentially have access to staff without being searched.

  1. If there is an incident that requires security staff to deal with a violent client, there is no provision to stop other clients from entering the building.

  1. No way of stopping the flow of people to the entrance from outside the building whilst an incident is being managed.

  1. Housing Options regularly have violent clients who need to be removed from the building, there will be a safety issue in removing a disruptive client if other clients are queuing at the entrance.

  1. Housing Options clients include a high proportion of very vulnerable people, including children, who can be waiting the majority of the day for temporary accommodation – this will be unmanageable in the small space provided.

  1. Housing Options staff deal with many victims of domestic violence who may be fleeing violent and abusive partners. At the moment the proposed seating arrangements for people waiting for temporary accommodation mean that clients would be visible from the street through the large glass walls. This could potentially put both the victim of abuse and staff and other clients in danger if the perpetrator of the abuse sees them and would be traumatic for the vulnerable client.

  1. If a client doesn’t have an appointment there appears to be no place where they can call Housing Options to be triaged and assessed prior to seeing a member of staff. This needs to be resolved.

  1. General issues of safety in such a small space given that on a busy day Housing Options staff can have up to five or six families waiting to be seen by staff at any time, as well as families waiting for temporary accommodation.

  1. There does not seem to be any thought been given to the ‘maximum’ number of people that can be in the Housing Options Reception area at any one time.

  1. The Housing Options reception will be shared with Officers from Rental Income, Neighbourhood Housing, Antisocial Behaviour Officers and Leasehold Officers as the only secure interview space for staff to meet with customers. This will lead to severe delays in clients being interviewed. Staff may be tempted or feel pressurised into interviewing clients elsewhere in an unsafe environment due to lack of resources.

  1. Barnet Group Health and Safety Officers have not been given the opportunity to complete a joint inspection with UNISON.

  1. As there will be very limited space/privacy, clients visiting the interview area may be put in the position of having to disclose personal information and details which could be overheard by other members of the public, breaching Data Protection guidelines.

  1. There seems to be a lack of toilet facilities for clients in the Reception area and none in the waiting area.

Fire Safety

 

  1. Fire safety – Number of Fire Points. No fire safety documentation has been provided, as yet, in regard to the number of fire call points in each area.

  1. Disabled access – Unison request more details on this, particularly emergency procedures and evacuation protocols.

  1. UNISON is in ongoing dialogue with the Council and facilities in regard to evacuation protocol and PEEPs [see attached Appendix]

 

 

General Building Health and Safety Concerns

  1. No details available/provided of the building Temperature Control system.

  1. Toilets – at least one single gender toilet should be provided – Cubicles seem quite small for those who may need to wash upper bodies before prayer also wash hand basins are very small. Disabled toilets (public) Access? Mobility WCs should have grab aids on both sides of pan – not all users transfer from same side.

  1. Security arrangements for main building – can this be confirmed and Risk Assessments shared.

  1. Currently no provision where other Barnet Homes staff [not Housing Options] will be able to interview visitors. Lease Hold Services currently have visitors who drop off Right to Buy applications and attend RTB interviews and financial interviews. Rental Income Team, Neighbourhood Housing and Antisocial Behaviour Officers will need access to secure interview areas. Operations guidelines for these services need to be identified and fully Risk Assessed before the service is implemented.

  1. Main reception – the entrance doors partially obscured by stairs to 1st floor and a pillar, what security provision has been made to cover the ‘blind spot’?

  1. Roof garden – railings on the roof are low and easily accessible.

  1. Originally staff were advised that teams would have designated areas of work and on plans these were shaded in. UNISON has now been informed that all areas are hot desks. Does this mean that those who work from 10am will never get a desk?

  1. Cycle parking seems to be very limited – not under cover and just the metal hoop types – as the Barnet Group and the Council is encouraging staff to cycle to work more will need to be provided.

  1. Car parking Areas are located some distance from the main building – staff safety in walking to these areas needs to be Risk Assessed and shared.

  1. Car parks – need to be inspected for adequate lighting – it is unclear if any other safety measures will be put in place [such as CCTV] before the building becomes operational.

 

 

Risks

 

As there is no filter system for members of the public on entering the reception area clients will have to disclose personal details to security/reception and be overheard by other members of the public. The Barnet Group may be in held in breach of General Data Protection Regulations should a member of the public/client make a complaint.

Safeguarding of vulnerable clients visiting the Housing Options reception area is a priority – if victims of domestic abuse don’t feel safe to access council services and be seen by an Officer without the possibility of the perpetrator of the abuse seeing them then they won’t do it.

 

There is an overriding detrimental concern for Barnet Group staff Health and Safety putting the Barnet Group in legal jeopardy.

In addition, the Health and Safety of the Public could be put at risk leaving the Barnet Group open to litigation.

Staff in Housing Options have made it clear to UNISON that the proposed reception area is fundamentally unsafe.

As previously identified the recording/reporting of incidents at the Barnet House Reception is poor – This cannot continue at the new site.

UNISON is given to understand that many of these issues have been raised by staff and line-managers across the whole of Housing Options, but as yet the concerns have not been addressed.

If frontline staff are essentially expected to work in a dangerous environment UNISON will be left with no alternative other than to act on members concerns, inevitably leading to a breakdown in Industrial Relations, if the identified risks are not addressed before Housing Options reception becomes operational.

 

Recommendations

 

  1. Meaningful dialogue between UNISON, management and staff in regard to Housing Options reception to resolve the issues identified and the suitability of the Colindale site.

  1. Security provision to be identified and established, (including lines of reporting and training) and fully Risk Assessed before the building becomes operational.

  1. Public access procedures identified and fully Risk Assessed.

  1. Anti-social behaviour policy in regard to prospective clients to be produced and a zero tolerance of abuse towards staff to be implemented.

  1. Risk Assessments for the reception and interview areas, including those for violent and abusive members of the public to be completed.

  1. A further joint UNISON Health and Safety inspection in conjunction with Barnet Group Health and Safety Officers to be arranged to assess risks to staff and the public before the building becomes operational.

  1. UNISON to work in conjunction with Barnet Group Health and Safety Officers to encourage staff and managers to record/report any incidents of physical and verbal abuse. UNISON and Barnet Group H&S to co-operate, investigate cases of concern and produce joint recommendations.

  1. Safeguarding of vulnerable clients to be acknowledged and addressed contacting  the Safeguarding team at the Council about the risk to  vulnerable adults, children and the victims of domestic abuse visiting the Colindale site would be recommended.

  1. General Data Protection Regulation issues to be acknowledged and measures put in place to minimise risk.

  1. UNISON suggests that Housing Options clients use the main council reception when they first arrive, enabling clients to be filtered to the Housing Options reception once it has been confirmed that they are due to be seen by an Officer. This would significantly reduce the flow of people through the main Housing Options front entrance, It would also have the bonus of freeing up space as clients could wait in the main reception for temporary accommodation and the officers from the TA team (soon to be Housing Solutions team) come straight down in the lift to the main reception area . This would be a better solution for clients as there is a Costa Coffee in the foyer for their use while waiting to be seen.

Conclusion

Given the unpredictable nature of Housing Options operations as the tragic incident on the 2nd floor last year demonstrated – UNISON recommends that the concerns of staff, managers and Trade Unions should be fully addressed and the suitability of the proposed Colindale site fully assessed before the Housing Options Reception Area becomes operational.

 

 

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