The Cabinet of Bridgend County Borough Council has received a report on the effectiveness of the Arbed 1 national domestic energy efficiency programme.
The work, which was launched by Welsh Government to address fuel poverty and to contribute to carbon reduction in some of Wales’ poorest areas, was carried out at more than 6,000 homes across Wales between 2011 – 2013 by a range of contractors who were commissioned by local councils, social landlords and energy firms.
In the Caerau ward of Bridgend County Borough, around 150 homes were part of the scheme in total. The council administrated the funding for 70 of these properties, and appointed a company called Green Renewable Wales Ltd as the main contractor for the work.
However, since the Arbed 1 programme was completed, numerous complaints have been raised regarding the internal and external wall insulation work that was undertaken. While the council administered funding for this work at 25 properties in Caerau, it was also carried out at further homes and funded via other sources.
While some of these complaints were dealt with at the time by the contractors following intervention by Trading Standards, the council more recently commissioned an independent report from specialists NuVision Energy Wales to evaluate how the overall scheme had met the objectives set out by Welsh Government across the Caerau ward.
Based on a sample of 32 homes, the report has revealed significant problems ranging from staining and algae forming where poorly-fitted guttering and acrylic render caused water to run down walls to the faulty sealing of service pipes and window sills which has resulted in damp and mould growth. However, the main problems appear to be largely linked to internal and external wall insulation work.
Speaking at the meeting, Chief Executive Mark Shephard said: “Irrespective of who carried it out or how it was funded, I am sorry that residents have had to put up with the impact of such poorly-executed work.
“As this report forms part of a complex overall issue surrounding Arbed, I want to be clear that the council has been dealing with different aspects of it for some time now.
“Following concerns which were originally raised by a former chief executive of the authority, our Internal Audit team conducted a thorough and lengthy investigation into all of the issues.
“This includes consideration of links between Green Renewable Wales Ltd and a former Cabinet member, and has resulted in further referrals being made to external agencies which have the appropriate authority to deal with any issues raised.
“As we are committed towards making this a transparent process, I want people to know that the council referred the matter to the Public Service Ombudsman for their independent consideration some time ago.
“We have kept other appropriate bodies, such as Audit Wales, appraised of the situation throughout.
“Furthermore, our Internal Audit department has also carried out a subsequent review of the council’s procurement and monitoring processes surrounding the commissioning of work funded through external grants, and this will shortly be reported to the Governance and Audit Committee.”
Cllr Richard Young, Cabinet Member for Communities, added: “Now that we have been able to consider the Arbed programme in closer detail, much of the work is clearly unacceptable and a major disappointment.
“As I understand it, concerns have been raised about varying standards of work carried out through the Arbed programme in a number of different areas all across Wales.
“Unfortunately, I’m sorry to note that Caerau is one of them.
“This is of course extremely concerning, especially in light of the excellent progress that has been made locally on other unrelated work which is aiming to provide residents with cheaper, cleaner energy solutions.
“The council is contacting other funding administrators to discuss the findings of the NuVision report, and we will be receiving further updates on this as the situation develops.”
The Leader, Cllr Huw David said: “I’m sorry that Caerau residents have been affected by this, and want to reassure them that the council is taking the matter extremely seriously.
“We are committed towards ensuring that it is resolved in a responsible, transparent manner, and I fully support the chief executive’s comments.
“What has been discussed by Cabinet today is not the end of the process, and further reports on the outstanding issues will be delivered in due course.”
Supported living services contracts extended
Bridgend County Borough Council’s cabinet has approved an extension to its current contracts with companies who provide supported living services for more than 113 people with learning disabilities across 49 different settings.
To enable the council to seek the views of people with learning disabilities on how supported living services can be improved, the council has agreed to extend the existing contracts with Cartrefi, Mirus and Drive Ltd until March 2022.
In March this year, People First Bridgend (PFB) began a consultation with individuals within each supported living scheme to be used as the basis for drawing up new local contracts. However, the outbreak of Covid-19 and subsequent national and local restrictions severely impacted the ability of PFB to carry out these face-to-face consultations.
A report to cabinet recommended that the current contracts be extended to allow this work to continue.
Speaking at the cabinet meeting on November 17, Cabinet Member for Social Services and Early Help, Cllr Nicole Burnett said: “I fully support this – these are vital services for vulnerable adults.
“Organisations such as Cartrefi Cymru work on a cooperative model to support older residents as well as people with disabilities, autism and challenging behaviour, and provide much-needed breaks and support for carers.
“Mirus uses a person-centred approach and works in partnership with families and other professionals, while Drive Ltd supports people with a learning disability to move out of large institutions into ordinary housing in local communities as tenants in their own homes.
“As such work empowers staff as well as those who benefit, it is important to ensure there is a continuity of service and that they are not affected by this pandemic as we go forward.”