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Powys Council ‘learns lessons’ from HOWPS venture

Powys County Council

A PROBE into the experience of running a joint venture with a private company to maintain Powys council houses and buildings will inform future decisions on any potential outsourcing of services.

At a meeting of Powys County Council’s Cabinet on Tuesday, February 27 senior councillors received an in depth report which looked at the relationship the council had with Heart of Wales Property Services (HOWPS) and what lessons could be learned from the venture.

Last year members of the Governance and Audit committee formed a working group for a “deep dive” into HOWPS.

HOWPS was a joint venture between the council and Kier construction firm which conducted repairs and maintenance on Powys’ housing stock – 5,400 homes and 630 other properties including schools.

Problems dogged HOWPS from its formation in 2017 which caused the partnership to be continually questioned by councillors.

The contract was set to run until 2027 but a break clause which allowed either party to terminate the partnership in July 2022 was invoked by the council.

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In July 2022 around 150 workers were transferred to work for Powys many of which had been transferred from the council to work for HOWPS.

The council’sGovernance and Audit committee  vice chairman and lay member John Brautigam brought the report to cabinet which recommended that: “If the council wish to form a partnership/relationship with any outside body, issues raised in this document should be considered at the outset.”

Mr Brautigam explained that this report looked at the structure of HOWPS and that another working group was looking at its performance and how the transition back into the council was handled.

He added that they were due to report back soon.

Director of social services and wellbeing Nina Davies said: “Lessons learnt from the report will be shared across all services.”

Education portfolio holder Liberal Democrat, Cllr Pete Roberts said he was “really pleased” to see this work come to fruition just at the point the council are set to “embark on a period” of significant change.

He believed that it’s important to look at how things were done so that mistakes are not “repeated in the future.”

Cllr Roberts said: “The idea of taking services out of the council but also bringing services back in from partners is going to be vital as we move forward.”

“There are some really important lessons to be learnt from this.”

He believed that this could be a case study for other local authorities throughout the UK that are tempted to outsource services.

Cabinet noted the report.

Lesson learned included:  The working group believed an independent chairman would have helped the HOWPS project right from the start.

The shift from being a council officer to a contract manager in HOWPS demanded a “different skill set” and means that there was a need to invest in staff training.

This would have “better prepared” staff for relationships and roles between contract, partnership, and joint working.

The “step in process” where the council are supposed to take over if problems are identified with the service provision – needed to be more “robust and substantial.”