Involving residents in buying stuff!

Thursday 27th of June 2019

A strange title you might wonder, but is this one any easier ‘Procurement – Time for a new approach?’

We at Tpas were invited to speak at the Chartered Institute of Housing’s Housing 2019 session on this topic and charged with giving a perspective from our members.

Fortunately as I have also been a sub-contractor to social housing and worked in housing for the majority of my life, I do have a 3-D perspective to give.

Dark Arts

First I have to be honest – the one word I have loathed for the majority of my life in Housing is Procurement. It’s one of those phrases that means very little to most and is considered a dark art for many, not least some who work in housing!

In some organisations I have worked with this seemed to be an area that struggled to engage residents meaningfully. Yes they have had involvement in selecting types of taps and flooring, but when it comes to the beefy matters of tender documentation and specifications, it’s been a challenge.

Data protection, commercial sensitivities, confidential information and complex legalities have all been cited as a reason for not doing it. I can see some of the arguments, but I don’t buy it all.

For example, Hull City Council  have had residents lead a procurement process from inception to sign-off for their laundry token system. It can be done if we commit to it.

So why now?

This is as good a time to get involved in procurement as any. We stand at a point where there is a nervousness from residents that those in housing are making sound decisions about how they spend money. But more importantly, are they spending money wisely and at the same time not compromising on things like….safety? The end is this, we have to build trust that we are making decisions based in the round rather than focusing on things such as price.

Is price unimportant – hell no, but it has to be measured against keeping people safe and getting (truly) value for every single penny.

Where do we start?

  • Language

We have to get better at using simple language. It’s not dumbing down, it’s about making it accessible for all

  • Processes

We have to simplify the process so it is easily understood. Don’t just land a 200 page tender document on a resident’s lap, agree which areas to focus on and make that understandable. It takes effort, but so does everything

  • Do what you can

Find a way in which you can engage residents, do it meaningfully and leave enough time to consider their feedback. Start small and build confidence in your staff and residents

  • Culture

A defining factor will be how your organisation buys in services – what is the ethos? Is it clear how you approach procuring services (and staff), what the significant elements are and do you tell people?

So how did the session go?

It was a great session with a clear acceptance that residents are part of the solution and that we have to make sure that we are more transparent. There is definitely a need to commit resources to properly train residents who wish to be involved in the process for those technical areas that just need deeper knowledge. I came away with a lot of confidence that things will change.

Finish on an analogy

I like to paint pictures with words. For this topic I think that we should see Procurement as a meal with a four course menu. At the moment many organisations are inviting residents to the dessert and coffee course – some residents don’t even get a copy of the menu.

Let’s make sure residents are offered the starter, main, dessert and coffee – they might even get chance to choose the venue.