Scrutiny should be seen as integral to any organisation, not a distraction.
Wednesday 24th of August 2016
Tpas Chief Executive, Jenny Osbourne discusses why now, more than ever is the time to utilise your tenant base to help you navigate through the pressures of today, next month and the coming years.
It’s a funny old month August isn’t it? Roads are quieter; Facebook is full of peoples early morning beer photos at the airport and friends with children off school are sounding increasingly more tired and desperate for September to come round.
But for me – who doesn’t go on holiday till September when all the kids are safely back at school for a new term - August is also a month for catching up, for planning ahead for events and projects for autumn and beyond and reflecting on where things are for engagement and social housing now.
And it was a conversation after one of our recent training courses on involvement for housing staff that has got me pondering this week. On scrutiny and where it goes now.
The evidence is there:
As one of the authors and instigators of tenant led scrutiny back in the early days it’s no surprise that Tpas are firm believers in the value that effective scrutiny brings to an organisation. Scrutiny has evolved over the past few years to take different forms. Tpas see, and help devise, scrutiny structures as diverse and unique as the organisations and communities themselves. Just as it should be.
We have seen the evidence time and time again of the impact scrutiny can have on the services that landlords deliver.
Improvements to complaints handling, to void turnarounds, to asset management, to ASB procedures, to money advice services...the list goes on. Time and time again tenants taking a detailed, realistic and positive approach to helping staff and senior management find ways to save money and improve the service all tenants receive.
The business case:
Take the example of our recent national Excellence in Scrutiny Award winners; Hull City Council. The Multi Storey Living (MSL) focus group came about to address inconsistencies in service level agreements, service charges and low satisfaction and engagement. As a result of the in depth scrutiny work this group have undertaken tenant satisfaction has significantly increased due to improvements in the cleaning and maintenance service at no extra cost. Tenants have been empowered to confidently take charge of services such as managing and maintaining communal land, which benefits the area housing teams. And the caretaking service has evolved with tenants coming up with an alternative solution to save thousands of pounds from the Housing Revenue Account.
All sound business benefits to drive value for money.
And let’s not forget the personal and community benefits it’s brought too in terms of increased engagement, new skills, confidence and trust between residents and the landlord.
So why, when the examples of scrutiny helping organisations meet their strategic objectives are plentiful and robust, do I hear of scrutiny being cut back or de prioritised?
Well no doubt we need to look to July 2015 for the starting point for that answer and all that has followed. A year of unparalled change. Huge reorganisations resulting in redundancies in many housing providers and cuts across many departments. We know staff are covering two or three jobs in addition to their own. New ways of digital working are trying be implemented at speed to drive down costs.
Amidst all that it’s understandable that staff are saying –“let’s put scrutiny to one side for the time being” or “It will mean involving the tenants and I just haven’t got the time right now for starting new projects or investigations into services with them” or “We are just too busy doing the day job”.
It’s understandable but it’s not the way forward.
What can landlords do?
Now more than ever is the time to utilise your tenant base to help you navigate through the pressures of today, next month and the coming years. Scrutiny should be seen as an integral positive process to any organisation, not a distraction.
When budgets are tight, staff resources are low and the pressure is high then it’s time to take a breath, lift your head up and think about how you can use one of your greatest assets; your tenants.
Tenants are the best placed people to help you seek out the efficiencies you need to deliver in your role, your department or your organisation. Ask the people who use the service – not external consultants or staff who don’t!
For most scrutiny panels they will be volunteers giving their time willingly for free. Compare that to the cost of staff, or consultants, carrying out the same research and analysis.
How can Tpas help:
And here at Tpas, we know through our work that tenants and customers are far more honest about what’s working and what’s needed when they are talking to other tenants rather than to staff or research companies. You get to the answers you need far far quicker!
For a little bit of investment in time and training you can guarantee a whole lot of return. In cost savings, in service improvements, in satisfaction, in regulatory compliance. And yes, in trust and respect.
So let’s start the “new term” with a renewed focus. Let’s get scrutiny back on the timetable and let’s see those A star results coming in.