Gardening leave for chief executive of Norfolk’s Saffron Housing Trust as regulator report reveals “serious” concerns

Adam Ronaldson, of Saffron Housing Trust, who has been placed on paid leave.

Adam Ronaldson, of Saffron Housing Trust, who has been placed on paid leave. - Credit: Archant

A housing association which manages more than 5,500 homes across Norfolk and Suffolk has been criticised by watchdogs for poor governance and its chief executive has been placed on gardening leave.

A damning report from regulator the Homes and Communities Agency into Long Stratton-based Saffron Housing Trust concluded there were issues of 'serious regulatory concern' over the way it has been run.

In June, the housing association, formed in 2004 when South Norfolk Council transferred its former council homes, contacted the regulator about a 'potentially serious failure in governance'.

It had emerged that defects in the way it was run meant some of the board members, who subsequently made key decisions, had not been appointed properly.

An investigation revealed Saffron had become aware of the issue - amongst the highest levels within the organisation - since 2011, but did not properly tackle the issue or report it to the regulator.

Since then, a properly appointed board has been put in place and steps taken to ratify and confirm all the decisions taken at previous meetings.

But the regulator has downgraded its governance rating for the association from the top rating of 1 to a lowly 3. Adam Ronaldson, the chief executive of Saffron, has been placed on paid leave while an internal investigation continues, with John Whitelock, director of new business, standing in as interim boss.

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The report by the HCA said: 'Saffron's failure to work openly with the regulator represents a fundamental breakdown in trust which has subsequently been compounded over a period of several years. 'The regulator's current non-compliant judgement reflects the scale, impact and duration of Saffron's historic failures.'

The HCA stressed the current board has 'responded positively' and is 'fully engaged' with the regulator to come up with an action plan.

Catherine Guelbert, Saffron Housing Trust non-executive chair, said: 'We fully acknowledge the HCA's comments and decision to downgrade Saffron's governance rating to G3 based on recently-identified governance issues within the trust.

'The main issue concerned the historic appointment of independent board members and the impact this had on the validity and quoracy of board meetings between 2011 and 2015.

'As the regulator has recognised, since the issues were discovered by the current board in June 2016, we have been open and transparent and have moved swiftly to ensure the situation is rectified.

'This has included taking all possible appropriate measures, including seeking expert legal advice and working closely with the HCA.'