Social housing does not stay still for long.
Changing government policies and six housing ministers in seven years has resulted in housing associations’ flexibility being severely tested.
This creates a ripple effect throughout our business plans and often leads to new demands being placed on contractors, because ultimately we are defined by the quality and quantity of the housing we provided first and foremost.
A clear example of this is the way in which we now procure contractors and consultants for development work.
As reported in Construction News earlier this year, JV North – a consortium of 11 housing associations spanning Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Nottingham and Preston – has launched a four-year £180m framework.
For the first time since the consortium formed 10 years ago, this has been divided in two: work valued at £1m, and jobs under £1m targeted at SMEs.
While this is just one approach providers can take to frameworks, what universal requirements are UK housing associations looking for from contractors in 2017 and beyond?
The answer is multifaceted. First and foremost, we want contractors and consultants to focus on cost certainty.
“The standard of housing associations’ work in the past decade has improved beyond recognition”
JV North will invest £335.5m by 2021 to build just under 3,000 homes in the Homes and Communities Agency’s Shared Ownership Affordable Homes Programme. Of this major investment, £87.3m will be drawn down from the HCA so our members have a financial model to the tune of £248.2m.
Our financial plans are tighter than ever before due to the impact of the 1 per cent rent reduction, the lowering of government grant in recent times and the significant challenge of social rent.
Quality and quantity come hand in hand.
The standard of housing associations’ work in the past decade has improved beyond recognition due to economies of scale during procurement, and this has to keep improving.
One of the reasons we have opened the framework up to SME builders is so JV North members can further invest in their local economies – and that means more than just financially.
To do so, we want contractors that have a robust approach to corporate social responsibility and training, supporting our diverse communities and neighbourhoods at a micro level and creating apprenticeships with genuine career prospects.
Open partnerships and collaboration are vital too. As a consortium, the sharing of knowledge and market intelligence plays a key role in our success.
If contractors can deliver all this, they will have very happy customers who have a great appetite for home building that is now rivalling the industry’s best in terms of output.
Nigel Wilson is chairman of JV North and chief executive of Wythenshawe Community Housing Group