Repairs and maintenance is the largest area of expenditure for housing providers.
Alongside rent levels, it is also the top issue influencing customer satisfaction. Landlords want to get it right but they also want to make it efficient. This can be a fine balancing act. But housing providers can have better quality services for less.
It’s about understanding the value of a service, not just the cost. As Kate Davies of Notting Hill Housing recently commented, it’s about recognising what true partnership is about and what each partner brings to the table.
This is especially valuable in the wake of the recent housing white paper and upcoming housing association deregulation measures to be implemented this year.
The first stage in achieving this is stepping back to look at the bigger picture. This helps ensure the service delivers the outcomes the client requires.
Crucially, this should take into account a client’s wider aims for a community: jobs, investment, skills, training, public realm, infrastructure, etc.
“The solution must surely be in the efficiencies offered by developing partnerships with trusted providers”
A direct labour organisation can help deliver some of these outcomes – local employment, investment, skills and training opportunities. However, a DLO also represents a significant investment, which can be a risk – particularly in a era when housing providers are seeking to become ever more efficient.
Building large, standalone fixed costs is a high risk for any organisation. What do you do with those costs when the stock has all been improved? What happens to the cost of the service?
Without a doubt there is a role for DLOs, but we all know on its own this isn’t the answer.
Partnerships and ‘social return’
The solution must surely be in the efficiencies offered by developing partnerships with trusted providers that have a track record of delivering. That partnership must have the skills to look across a housing provider at its asset base and identify opportunities to alter the approach and improve the outcomes.
In addition to delivering better services, a further benefit of a more rounded appreciation of a housing provider’s needs is the ability and commitment to invest locally for the long term.
In some instances this may be a contact centre; in others a relationship with local suppliers and enterprises. This maximises the ‘social return’ on investment and generates apprenticeships, jobs and helps foster greater community cohesion.
If we have learned anything in the past few years it is that there is no one permanent solution to deliver excellent outcomes for tenants and residents.
To adapt an old cliché, it’s great to know the cost of a service but dangerous not to know the value it brings.
Nick Sterling is managing director of Osborne Communities