As a councillor, I am often contacted by residents in blocks of council flats complaining about lifts breaking down. This is a particular disadvantage for tower blocks, of course. Also it can be a huge problem for the elderly and disabled.
It follows that capital spending by local authorities to replace lifts is an important item. Yet the costs vary sharply. I submitted Freedom of Information to the 32 London boroughs and asked for their spending in the last financial year – 2016/17. Some councils (Brent, Harrow, Havering, Hounslow, Kingston, Newham, Southwark, Sutton and Westminster) responded that they hadn’t replaced any lifts during this time. Others (Bexley, Bromley, Richmond and Merton) replied that they had transferred their housing stock to a housing association. Then there are some that haven’t replied yet (Barking and Dagenham, Enfield and Kensington and Chelsea).
But here are the figures I did get which are enough to give a general idea:
Barnet £27,604 per lift
Camden £35,891 per lift
Ealing £163,564 per lift
Greenwich £77,889 per lift
Hackney £88,350 per lift
Hammersmith and Fulham £125,000 per lift
Haringey £89,588 per lift
Hillingdon £149,869 per lift
Islington £96,500 per lift
Lambeth £95,636 per lift
Lewisham £110,250 per lift
Redbridge £74,368 per lift
Tower Hamlets £146,198 per lift
Waltham Forest £99,465 per lift
Wandsworth £50,471 per lift.
Gareth Lomax, of the Ardent Consultancy, a specialist in this area, tells me:
“The discrepancy between boroughs is interesting.
“Generally refurbishment of existing lift equipment can save over 30 per cent over replacement and often yield better results due to the quality of the materials used in the original installation. The taller the property, the more relevant this option becomes also, as to replace four floors of guide rails, etc. is not too onerous a task, yet to do the same in a 14 floor block would cause huge impacts on the time the lift installation is out of service, along with costs of scaffold, labour, replacement materials, etc.
“Hillingdon and Ealing (both boroughs I know quite well) are at the top of the chart, along with Hammersmith and Fulham – yet all three boroughs are likely to have fewer high-rise blocks than some other boroughs on the list. So it does appear some boroughs could potentially be paying too much for their lift works. However, this could be down to more of their stock undergoing major works while the likes of Lambeth, Redbridge and Islington have already addressed – or are due to address – their stock. Tower Hamlets, being so close to the City and with high-rise properties, is where you would expect to see it in terms of costings.”
Lomax says that paradoxically refurbishment can often result in a higher standard as well as a lower cost. This is because a replacement lift sometimes results in good quality steel being replaced with something inferior.
Replacing or refurbishing lifts represents a heavy cost for council leaseholders who have to pick up their share of the bill. Does the extra spending in some boroughs mean that the lifts break down less frequently? I am making further enquiries – although I am sceptical of finding any such clear correlation.
The huge variation in costs does suggest that some councils, including mine, are likely to be paying over the odds. Benchmarking exercises of this kind are not enough. Often all councils will be highly inefficient. At other times there will be valid explanations for discrepancies. But figures of this kind should instil some scepticism towards those council leaders who talk of spending being “cut to the bone” while behaving in a profligate manner.