Efforts to boost housing repairs in Haringey are being set back by other boroughs “poaching” staff, according to council bosses.

Councillors heard on Wednesday that a “huge demand” for repairs following the Covid-19 pandemic, plus less attractive pay schemes compared with other local authorities mean the borough is struggling to retain staff.

In April this year, the council announced it would spend nearly £5 million fixing “major and systematic failings” in its housing service. Its repairs performance was found to require “significant levels of improvement”.

It came after the Regulator of Social Housing found the council had failed to complete thousands of overdue works and that nearly 5,000 homes did not meet minimum social housing standards. The council was also investigated by the Housing Ombudsman over its handling of damp and mould complaints, which identified a series of failings in a report published in July.

An update on the council’s housing improvement plan – which includes a £2.8 million investment in the repairs service – was presented to a meeting of the housing, planning and development scrutiny panel on Wednesday (September 20).

Jahedur Rahman, the council’s operational director of housing services and building safety, told the meeting that local authorities were finding the recruitment of trade operatives “more challenging”.

He added: “We have got neighbouring boroughs offering a higher salary and poaching our staff, so we need to make sure, when we do fully complete the repairs recruitment plan, there is a pathway that makes it attractive for [our staff] to stay within Haringey.”

Under questioning from the committee, Jahedur said the council needed to bring in apprentices as more than half of repairs staff are over 55. He added that landlords across the country were “competing for a small pool of skilled staff”.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Jahedur explained, landlords could not enter properties to carry out repairs, meaning there was a “sudden influx” of work after lockdown was lifted.

The increased focus on damp and mould complaints following the death of Awaab Ishak in Oldham in 2020 had also contributed to the “huge demand” for repairs. Councils were going out to market for staff because they did not have the internal capacity, and salaries were being offered at “different levels”.

Jahedur said that, according to his understanding, Haringey was “off the London weighting” – a pay supplement designed to cover the higher cost of living in the capital – while neighbouring boroughs had “different pay models and structures in place”.

Panel chair Alexandra Worrell asked: “So we don’t offer the London weighting?” Jahedur replied: “On the red book scheme, yes.”

The red book covers the pay and conditions of local authority craftworkers who are primarily involved in housing maintenance work, while the green book is a separate scheme covering the pay and conditions of local authority employees.

Later on in the meeting, Sarah Williams, cabinet member for housing services, private renters and planning, offered some clarification. She said: “Different authorities employ staff differently, rather than them being on different pay scales.

“In some authorities, librarians will be on red book and repairs operatives will be on green book. It is a historic situation that has developed differently in different authorities, but all of those pay grades and terms and conditions are negotiated nationally.”

Jahedur said that under the council’s job grading system, the more exposure employees have to different environments, “the higher the grade is”.

He added: “So traditionally, an operative will not benefit from the same financial benefit if they were on the green book scheme because they are not meeting the required thresholds – which is why they are on the red book scheme, which is nationally agreed – whereas if they revert back to the green book scheme their salary would be significantly lower based on the way we evaluate JDs [job descriptions].”