August 5, 2021

South Ayrshire Council – A positive first year to build on

Having recently chalked up his first year as Head of Housing and Facilities at South Ayrshire Council, Construction Industry News caught up with David Burns to see how the past 12 months have been and to find out what the main focus areas will be in 2016, now that he’s fully bedded into the role.

“My main remit is to manage and maintain our 8,000 council houses,” explains Mr Burns. “I have responsibility for the day-to-day management of these properties, as well as the responsive repair and maintenance of a further 150 public buildings. I also look after the organisation of the cleaning, catering, janitorial and school crossing duties across South Ayrshire. I have approximately 1,000 staff within my team to support these various activities.”

The competence of this workforce has been vital to the progress that the Council has been able to make. Underlining their quality, several of its apprentices have gained award recognition at South Lanarkshire College, whilst one of its plasterers also achieved first place at the Skill Build Awards. In addition, the repairs service was a finalist at the APSE awards in Blackpool in December within the Most Improved Repairs and Maintenance Service category. This was based on an evaluation by APSE of statistical information submitted by local authorities across the UK.

Cruden new build two-bed bungalows
Cruden new build two-bed bungalows

“The success of our apprentices has been brilliant, whilst getting shortlisted by APSE is wonderful recognition for the work that the teams are doing,” adds Mr Burns. “The service had come in for a degree of criticism roughly 18 months ago due to poor performance levels and its financial outturn. By working together with tenants and operatives, we’ve been striving to address the issues that we’ve seen and have made significant improvements as a consequence.

“One of my first roles after coming into post was to undertake a repairs service review, so commencing a process of listening to our operatives, our wider staff and also to our tenants was essential. This allowed us to set out our vision and win the hearts and minds of the staff and the tenants. It was imperative that we let all the relevant parties know that this was the start of a journey and that we had a clear idea of what the destination was.”

To ensure that it remained on the right path, the Council had various ways of gathering feedback at all times. “We had regular meetings with our teams and we had a working group that was overseeing the service review. We now have an improvement plan in place that the team are working through. The Council has also agreed to make a capital investment in our IT systems so we can bring in a work scheduling system. That contract has just been let and will be the focus of our work within property maintenance over the next six months or so.”

“In terms of the main focus areas that we’ve looked at, from a capital investment perspective we have a major new build programme involving the development of 106 homes following the demolition of 108 low demand maisonettes. This is a £13m regeneration programme for Lochside in Ayr and 58 of the homes are now allocated, with the remainder due to be complete by mid-June.”

David Burns, Head of Housing and Facilities

In contrast to many local authorities that are still getting to grips with the demands that re-starting a major building programme entails after many years of non-construction activity, South Ayrshire Council has been gradually ramping up its infrastructure in the past few years. “The current development that we’re doing is our fifth council new build project since 2011 so we’re certainly building up the experience and continually learning from what we’ve done to improve our processes,” says Mr Burns. “We’ve developed an arrangement that allows us to work very closely with Cruden Building and Renewals on a design and build framework basis. This means we have an element of continuity in our supply chain and a contract that generates economic benefits for the local area. Through the framework we have managed to create additional apprenticeships locally and have used numerous local sub-contractors as part of that process. There have obviously been softer benefits for children in our primary schools because Cruden register their schemes with the Considerate Constructors’ Scheme. In terms of going forward with that we’re looking to continue building and investigating potential sites that we might be able to bring forward over the course of 2016/2017.

“In terms of the main focus areas that we’ve looked at, from a capital investment perspective we have a major new build programme involving the development of 106 homes following the demolition of 108 low demand maisonettes. This is a £13m regeneration programme for Lochside in Ayr and 58 of the homes are now allocated, with the remainder due to be complete by mid-June.

“With regards to our existing housing stock and the Scottish Housing Quality Standard, the deadline was 31 March 2015 and we achieved that target for all our applicable properties. This required significant investment in the final year and we carried out in the region of 700 modernisations, as well as installing heating and new boiler systems to an additional 201 properties. We put new door entry systems into 46 buildings and replaced roofs or external wall finishes in a further 299 properties.

“We’re very keen on succession planning. We have an ageing workforce so have to ensure that we can provide the support, skills and experience to future generations coming through.

“As part of our programme of Council house building, our contractor has supported our Property Maintenance apprentices to learn part of their trade on the new build site. This is giving the apprentices access to opportunities they would not get in their day to day responsive work with the Council. Each apprentice is with the contractor for 12 weeks and so far seven apprentices have benefited from this.

Properties fitted with external wall insulation
Properties fitted with external wall insulation

“The main objectives for the next 12 months are to focus on implementation of the work scheduling system and to increase the availability of new sites for affordable housing. We also need to continue to maintain compliance with the Scottish Housing Quality Standard – that’s an ongoing requirement now for local authorities and all social landlords in Scotland. Underpinning this is a viable housing business plan to ensure we can meet our day-to-day requirements, as well as our long term investment. We therefore regularly monitor and review our business plan to ensure any investment priorities or new ideas that we come up with can be delivered. To achieve a continued programme of new build requires the support of the Scottish Government with regards to affordable housing funding. The aim is to be flexible enough to tackle whatever comes our way.

“We are looking strategically at how we can increase the amount of housing we build. With that in mind, we’re due to start projects focusing on housing for older people and for people with learning disabilities due to growing demands in this area. Our first batch of new provision will include 29 bungalows over three sites and it is expected that these will start by the Spring of 2016.”

Having had something of a baptism of fire in the past 12 months, it looks like Mr Burns is sure to have an equally interesting year ahead.