Social housing providers are feeling the squeeze, as councils divest themselves of community services they can no longer afford. Improved collaboration is one way to survive
As the public purse continues to feel the pinch, it’s more crucial than ever for organisations to work with, rather than against each other.
This is the way to make budgets work harder and ensure that, in these times of economic difficulty, our society doesn’t suffer in the longer term.
Finding ways to cut budgets whilst avoiding a detrimental effect on services or standards is a daily struggle for most businesses today, be they public or private. One area where this is particularly challenging is in the delivery of social housing within the UK.
This topic was the focus of a recent roundtable debate, attended by social housing representatives from across the North West of England. They had all come together to talk specifically about efficiency.
But the discussion, initially about individual cash-saving initiatives, quickly took a different turn when it came to how Registered Providers work in conjunction with local authorities.
There was a general consensus that, in recent times, local authorities have become more reliant on landlords to pick up specific services that they can no longer afford to maintain, such as anti-social behaviour prevention schemes. For the providers left to deliver these services for free, there are many negatives.
There are the obvious financial implications of having to fund these critical community services, in place of local authorities. But there is also the concern that, as providers pick up the loose ends, the schemes and projects that they are delivering often don’t have set objectives or key performance indicators in place.
In short, because councils are not paying for a service, they do not necessarily set measurements against these initiatives – and providers are following suit.
It emerged that these ‘efficiency’ measures are actually leading to some services becoming ineffective, and that they may be having a detrimental impact on homes and communities.
So what’s the answer? We all know that budgets need to be cut, but there are ways that solutions can be sought without lowering standards. Key to this is genuine collaborative working and thinking, which involves looking at the bigger picture.
For example, there is a lot of money at central government level which communities and organisations currently do not receive. Funding for employment and training programmes is one such area. At present many groups are not making bids for this cash or are not even aware that it exists.
To ensure disadvantaged and hard to reach groups and communities don’t bear the brunt of the economic situation, organisations must be working collectively to maximise all that is available to them.
Employment and training highlights the many ways that organisations can work together effectively. Registered Providers have a genuine understanding of the wants and needs of people in their local communities and engage with them on a daily basis. They are likely to be aware of and have direct contact with tenants who currently are not in employment or training.
They are also likely to know about job vacancies amongst their suppliers; for example, providers of services such as gas servicing, planned maintenance, environmental works and void clearance.
In this instance, Registered Providers can bring together ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ and then work with local or central government to leverage public funding streams that give these activities financial backing and support.
Whether organisations are public or private, in the current climate it is essential that we all think commercially – and do not accept that the tried and tested ways of doing things are always the best.
By thinking differently and working in partnership, it is possible to ensure we are as efficient as possible, but without compromising on standards or performance.
Mike Brogan is chief executive of the regeneration consortium Procure Plus