Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Sutton Allotments Group Meeting Feb 2018

Following on from the emergency Sutton Allotments Group meeting called in October 2017 between The London Borough of Sutton, Idverde and the Allotment Site Reps the annual meeting was held on the 19th February at the Salvation Army building in Sutton. 

These meetings give allotment site representatives a chance to raise issues with idverde and Council Officers on behalf of their plot holders and look for joint solutions to any problems, and there have been many since the handover meeting to idverde in February 2018.

Together, the group work to develop new ideas to promote allotment gardening and improve our sites. We discuss local issues and the Site Reps are provided with occupancy details for each site

The meeting was well attended with numbers 3 - 4 times as many as the hand over meeting last February following the formation of the Allotment Site Rep Hub, and idverde placing a notice on gates and notice boards asking for plot holders to take on the role of Site Rep on sites where there wasn't one in place.

It was regrettable that senior managerial levels (the decision makers) from both the London Borough of Sutton Mark Dalzell - Head of Neighbourhood Services and Richard Burton Regional Managing Director (London & South East) for idverde were not in attendance to answer the more difficult questions from the floor, and that Bill Wyatt and Richard Kelly were not in the position to pass the questions on and get direct and definitive answers from the decision makers. This didn't go down particularly well with the audience.

Bill Wyatt - LBS Neighbourhood Services, Technical Services Manager

Bill opened the meeting - acknowledging that are a number of issues that people are concerned about and that may need resolving which is the function of this meeting. He expressed his thanks to Alan Wooldridge of Mill Green allotment who has acted as a catalyst in the recruitment of replacement Site Reps and has created a closed Facebook group so that Site Reps can communicate and discuss problems and possible solutions throughout the year and would be presenting regarding the formation of the Allotment Site Rep Association following Richard Kelly from idverde who was next to speak.

Richard Kelly - idverde Commercial Manager for Cemeteries Sports Grounds and Allotments  

Richard stated that the transition from Sutton to idverde could have gone a lot smoother and that most plot holders weren't aware of the fact that they had taken over the management of the allotments until the received their invoices. He apologised for that although in reality that information should have been on the 2017 newsletter that Sutton Council was supposed to produce, laminate and place on allotment gates and or Noticeboards as agreed at the February 2017 meeting, but never happened I suspect because the Neighbourhood Teams were in crisis management over the refuge collection which was going horribly wrong. 

Idverde are looking at electronic payments online options for next year due to the amount of manual administration required to align payments with the database of plot holders, other methods of payment would remain.

Invoicing is to be processed earlier in September so that plot holders get their invoices before the 1st October renewal date this year.

Remarks from the floor was that invoicing should not have presented as big a problem to them as they should have known what they were taking on. Richards reply was that the team that go out and win work are not the same as those that have to ultimately do it.

A suggestion from the floor was that the company needed to get their act together. Site Reps reported that many people did not receive paper copies until Christmas, that invoices were emailed to plot holders without any prior consent from the individual, in fact many did not know that idverde had taken over management and rent collection. Stella Carter from Demesne Road Allotment     

Richard explained that they lost Jackie Eldridge and that Kay took over but due to an internal restructure Kay moved over the Cemeteries and Teresa Lavender took over Allotment but handed her notice in last week!

Idverde are looking for a replacement for Teresa, however Richard has requested two levels up the chain of command that the hours be extended from 25 Hours a week to a full working week as feedback he has received from both Kay and Teresa is that 25 Hours a week is not enough.

Bill Wyatt asked if the 25 hours was for Sutton and Merton and that was conformed by Richard that it is. 

Thus the management of 36 allotment sites for the London Borough of Sutton is being attempted on 12.5 hours a week!! It's no wonder waiting lists are not being cleared and invoice chasing is still being undertaken in February.

Bill Wyatt stated that Richard took over the role of Commercial Manager for Allotments since April 2017 and has had a fair run of the year now, that the three individuals from idverde at the handover meeting and perhaps overpromised what they could provide as they hadn't quite understood what was required and what previously provided, and that is what they have signed up to do, but now Richard has gained experience, it gives him every opportunity to put it right this year. His biggest issue is getting the resource but Bill is sure that his manager Mark will place pressure on Richards manager to provide that as well, as the income from rents is down (Alan's Presentation) maintaining income is a performance indicator of the contract. 

Concerns regarding no handover for the new allotment admin person were expressed, Richard stated that Kay would train the new person on the Sutton database system.

Concerns were raised regarding the large amount of vacant plots on sites, Richard stated that idverde acknowledge that they need to work in conjunction with Site Reps to clear the back log of people that have on the waiting lists for some time. They are looking into ways that incentives could possible be offered to attract Site Reps from sites where there currently is no representation.

Alan Wooldridge - Mill Green Site Rep & Spencer Road Committee member 

Alan introduced himself and gave some background information. The council having no alternative due to budget cuts and the need to save money have contracted out parks cemeteries and allotments and have handed over the management externally to idverde

The handover meeting was held not a Civic Offices but another venue and the number of Site Reps that attended was very small. Due to the lack of support with Site Inspections that the council could provide during the transition year a number of Site Reps stood down from their voluntary posts, as they felt that they were not going to be supported in their role.

Due to a number of teething problems a number of the remaining Site Reps got in touch with each other and agreed that London Borough of Site Rep needed to communicate and for us to band together and take a more active role at the Sutton Allotment Group meetings which would now include not only council officers but obviously idverde.   

Idverde acknowledge that they are unable to provide the same or better level of service that had been provided by the local authority without the help and assistance of Site Reps, Allotment Committees and Allotment Associations.

Email communication with idverde initially there were no acknowledgement of receipt of emails and replies were taking 10-14 days or more to happen if not chased.

As the council operates a 48Hour response time Monday to Friday via the call centre and that idverde are supposed to be supplying the same level of service then it has been assumed that emails will be answered within 48 hours of receipt within the working week. This was not contested by Bill Wyatt or Richard Kelly.

Padlocks were an issue, idverde were informed at the handover meeting that padlocks were to be welded, they refused due to cost and fixed with cable ties to the chains and were promptly stolen from a couple of site. An alternative using circlips and washers was suggested by two Site Reps. The comment from other site reps was that this was not a secure fixings and the inference was that Mark & Bill Wyatt having confirmed that this was a requirement at the handover meeting should be enforcing the use of welding.   

Contract Documents under the freedom of information act were acquired for the allotment element of the contract, these were found to be as informative and as useful as a push bike is to a goldfish and had no KPI's Key Performance or Service Level Agreements within the Allotment sections.  

Newsletter It was noted that the Newsletter promised by the Council at the handover meeting which was the opportunity to inform plot holders that idverde had taken over the management didn't happen. LBS will no longer produce the newsletter and send out as previously, the newsletter will be created by the Allotment Site Rep Hub (ASRH) idverde will laminate and will send to site reps for placing on noticeboards or gates if no noticeboard available and will take it upon themselves to do this on sites where there isn't a site rep.

The original contact list had parking services as the contact details for many of the reps before the handover. After many months of requesting, idverde did get in touch with the site reps on the original list and made them aware that we are in the process of building a community group/ association with the means of communicating with each other and acting as a body as well as individuals.

Alan had visited three allotments on the weekend prior to the meeting to see if the notices that were open invitations to this meeting in an attempt to encourage Site Reps from allotments that didn't have representation where actually on the gates or notice boards. 

Buckland Way, Pybrook Triangle and  Clensham Lane were visited, the Dec Notice asking for site reps was found on each allotment. The Pylboork notice was found on Mill Green gate and another Site Rep reported that they had a notice destined for a site with no name (written in the bottom right corner of the notice before laminating) on their site.

The notice did cause some confusion when placed on sites were these is a site rep as it made it look as of the site reps didn't know what they were doing and in one case four people from a single site turned up to the meeting.

In future a return to the Site Rep and a Plus One from the site will be invited to the Allotment Group meeting.The closed Facebook Group and External face of the ASRA was explained.

Allotment Gardening Guidelines - Version 6 about to be issued but changes due to operating hours and location of keys to be agreed between all parties had delayed publishing 

Waiting Lists and Vacant Plots were looked at in a little depth, basically the conclusion is that the lists and data base is not and had not prior to idverde taking over been maintained properly.

Alan presented examples of bad administration of the Database
  • People not offered plots dating back to 2009 or further back.
  • Out of Borough Y/N flag or field not completed 
  • Offered Plot N/ Y flag not being altered.
  • Sites thought to have no plot vacant thus don't appear on the list where there have been plots vacant for the last 4 months!

A positive move to use first name and last name on the lists had occurred.
The number of people on the waiting list who could be offered a plot on the site of their choice has increased from 138 to 176 between Oct 2017 & Feb 2018

Individuals who took on a plot two years ago are still being shown as No 1 on the waiting list !

Bute Road Orchard Vacant Plot listed as plot 1 on map shown as 1A and 1B

Lost Revenue due to mismanagement of lists £8,110.56 as at Oct 2017 now £9,618.63 as at Feb 2018

Alan asked for a show of hand of all Site Reps that want to assist in reducing the lists and with accounting for the additional guest it appeared that nearly all those present at the meeting do.

The Buddy System and keeping in touch with your neighbouring Site Rep and possible sharing of waiting list where one site has too many people on it and not enough plots and the site nearby has the opposite problem was discussed.

Site Inspection - got skimmed over slightly and this is an issue that warrants more discussion between idverde, LBS and ASRH there is outline guidance on the ASRH Web site and it was discussed at the October 2017 meeting.  

idverde workflow programme was shown and whilst it was acknowledged that this is the responsibility of idverde it was produced to assist Richard in his quest to get more hours and possible even more staff as the currant 12.5 hours per week and level of service is not acceptable to the allotment holders and their representatives.

Grass Cutting was generally acceptable and had happened between March - Oct only one site reported problems where the whole main path was not being cut. 

Fencing and security Issues - send photo and marked up map showing problem to idvered 

Hedge Maintenance - Guidance to be provided by Bill Wyatt. Hedge Maintenance has either not been happening or has only been on the pavement side. Where it has been happening inside the plots cuttings have been left on plots and should be taken away by idverde. 

Trees - Cllr Moira Butt (Allotment ?) had taken a tree request through to the ultimate stage of an appeals process. Basically no money for dealing with trees shading plots and taking over plots. a large subject that has been discussed and length and is documented on the ASRA Facebook Group.  

  • Idverde should never have issued invoices via email without plotholder agreement
  • Historically via Royal Mail
  • 2018 Via Email only by agreement with plot holder.

Bill Wyatt - Offered to assist in providing venues for meeting should the Site Reps want to formalise and truly become an Association with a Charter and all the other necessary setting up and paperwork.

With the amount of people that attended and the problems in the first year it was decided that another meeting will be arranged in 6 months time to discuss progress on Waiting Lists Vacant Plots and Site Inspection and any other business Site Reps to request additions to the Agenda.

Bill Stated that "We will make sure signs go up on allotments informing people about the next meeting" the preference is for two people from each site one being the Site Rep. 

Request from the floor for evening or weekend meetings - Bill stated that the next one will be a weekday

As Sutton & idverde would have to pay overtime for evening meetings are unlikely to happen, and historically the since at least 2012 they have been during the day.

Cheam Nursery  
Q:Who is responsible for maintaining the paved area around the disabled raised beds - 
A: idverde 


That more staff with longer hours are to be provided - Richard Kelly 
Hedge Maintenance - Bill Wyatt
Is not welding the padlock to chains acceptable ? - Mark Dalzell
Date of Next Meeting in 6 months to be confirmed - Adam Brind / Bill Wyatt
Up to date map of Bute Road Orchard and explanation re 13 unallocated plots - Bill Wyatt 

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