Wrexham Council loses three out of four housing contractors as industry prices soar
Rising costs and demand in the building sector has meant Wrexham Council has lost three quarters of its contractors who work on council housing.
Wrexham Council’s housing department invests over £50m a year into the council housing stock. Wrexham Council acts as a social landlord with well over 11,000 housing units, and the annual investment sees kitchen, bathrooms and roof repairs replacements and improvements.
The department also refurbishes approximately 800 vacant properties per year to the department’s “high letting standard”, including the gardens.
A common theme whenever we run stories on such housing spending is readers contrasting it to the council’s budget woes and cutbacks – the works are funded by a separate ring-fenced Housing Revenue Account budget totally different from the general / capital budgets of Wrexham Council.
Councillors have been given an information report with an update on the local situation, noting that in 2018 the council tendered and appointed four external contractors. After a year, one contractor left stating their tendered rates were not suitable – noting “it was difficult to do such large disruptive internal works, with tenant’s in-situ”.The three contractors ‘resourced up’ continued and covered the loss.
In March 2020 due to the pandemic the council ceased all non-critical work and sent staff home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with emergency
responsive repairs continuing.
In June this year work fully recommenced, however some contractors required longer to mobilise and restrictions remained on sites with face coverings, social distancing, hygiene and other measures which restricted the numbers who could work in properties.
As a result work took longer than pre-pandemic, with shortages of materials along with price rises also documented, “Manufacture of building materials re-commenced and building suppliers re-opened but materials were and remain in short supply.
Plasterboard, plaster, cement, timber products such as fencing panels are in short supply and have increased in price. Increase in material prices is well documented, the ONS suggests at least 7-8% across the board but some more than others. E.g. Timber up by 50%, plaster/cement up by 30%, overall rise is suggested at 10 to 15%.”
Labour price increases are also noted, explained as being due to a limited supply of skilled labour and a “buoyant market”.
That market context led to contractors asking for an ‘uplift’ to their rates in September 2021, with the report stating, “The increase percentage of uplift request varies between contractors. Wrexham Council procurement section are working on a solution and a report has gone to the senior leadership team seeking approval for an uplift”.
Bringing the issues up to date “recently” one of the three remaining contractors withdrew from contracts ‘due to lack of profit’, meaning just two contractors remained to complete planned work.
One of the remaining contractors has asked for an uplift on rates, with councillors told “If agreement cannot be reached, only one contractor will remain in operation”.
Later in the report it appears that agreement may not have been reached as it states: “We currently have one external contractor and a small in-house team to undertake the work. Since April 2021 we have completed 994 planned jobs but we have 2595 jobs waiting to be completed, with a small number of resources at our disposal to do them.”
In response to the problem Wrexham Council are developing an in-house planned maintenance team, “We have commenced with the recruitment of a site agent to manage a team whilst using existing resources.
“We now have two plastering teams and support trades. At present the new team is small but is having a positive impact. We will need to continue with the increase of the team capacity through recruitment.”
Recruiting for that team ‘remains a challenge’, due to high demand for skilled workers and pay rates ‘considerably higher’ in the private sector.
For those wanting more details on how to apply for positions, the council are launching a recruitment drive so keep your eyes open in the gym and when walking through Eagles Meadow.
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