Holding up a mirror and setting a challenge
Thursday 13th of June 2019
Michael Hill, Tpas Business Development Manager blogs about his experience attending the Central Housing Investment Consortium annual conference where he was part of a debate on 'What next for the green paper'
I had the opportunity to be part of a panel to present some thoughts, and then debate ‘What next for the Green Paper’ at the Central Housing Investment Consortium (CHIC) annual conference in Worcester. This was attended by staff and some tenants of Local Authorities, Housing Associations as well as contractors, suppliers and associated support organisation.
At Tpas we are really good at highlighting the great work that is going on in engagement – but this time we decided that it was time to play a bit more hard-ball. The main reason for the Green Paper was as a direct result of the Grenfell tragedy – and it was from that perspective I decided to focus our attention.
I attended the first session of the day looking at Fire Safety with some great speakers from Accent Homes and the local Fire Service. Some interesting points were made:
- There is frustration with overlapping responsibility with the Fire Service having a mandate to enforce rules and behaviours in communal areas, yet once it goes behind the door of a resident it falls to the landlord
- The Fire Service’s portable ladder appliances only reach 4 to 5 floors
- Keeping people safe in high rise flats is more difficult if there is a lack of quality control of contractors and alterations by residents
- Compartmentalised flat systems work well IF all the parts are done right (Walls, Floors, Ceilings, Windows and doors)
- Giving clear, regular information to residents can help them know what to do in the event of a fire. Accent talked about having an in-depth induction for new tenants as well as on-going updates
It was clear to me that in an area that can (and does) affect the lives of many people, there was a lack of confidence that we have it right. The good news is that plans are in place to try and redress this imbalance with the proposal to reform building safety regulation, but that is still a long way away. In the meantime, we have to keep building confidence, share information and continue to engage with residents to settle fears.
In my session I think I gave the impression of being hard to please. In the picture I do have the look of a bulldog chewing a wasp and it was said by Tpas Board Member Alison Inman that I might try and smile more! Fair point, but I was on a mission.
I wanted to tell some home truths and set a challenge – I wanted to shake the tree. For some it was uncomfortable and I was fairly challenged during the lunch break, but for others they appreciated the honesty. The reality is that we cannot have what we have had in the past. That’s pointless and wastes time, effort and money.
I think the social housing sector has had its fill of tokenistic engagement. Collectively I believe that we can do better than engage residents in superficial decisions about tap choices and on-hold music (these are still good to engage on by the way).
I set the challenge of involvement in fundamental strategic decision-making and asked the sector to think about real, good quality accountability and what that will look like. I stressed as you might expect the importance of making sure that tenants are on the journey as partners not as rubber stamps.
Uncertainty was the buzzword of the day. Uncertainty of political leadership, regulation, funding, Brexit, supply of materials and workforce. I was quite optimistic for someone so grumpy! I was certain that out of this Green Paper we will get more resident engagement, and the sector needs to get comfortable with that. Better quality information, being properly accountable for actions and providing that in clear unambiguous language will be the norm, as it always should be.
The challenge for residents is clear – are they up for taking that place and not being afraid of asking the naughty questions that a lot of staff don’t always like answering?
With every opportunity come responsibility for all. We all need to step up including us at Tpas. We need to continue to celebrate what works well, we need to share the good practice and help organisations find solutions that are meaningful for them and their own situations. We also need to have confidence to be honest and challenge effectively where engagement is not so consistent.
I did stress though that it is not all doom and gloom. Although constant and meaningful engagement is not as widespread as we would like, it does happen in many organisations. Some are devolving responsibility to well-resourced and knowledgeable residents and giving them the chance to hold their landlord to account. Others have wonderful on-line platforms and menus of engagement that give each of their residents a chance to influence depending on their lifestyles.
We have even got a return to staff going out and talking to residents face to face. In this digital age who thought we might get back to this fundamentally basic, yet if done well, effective engagement technique.
This has to be the norm and if it means we need a bit more tough love, then this grumpy engagement person is up for it.