Friday, 19 September 2014

Power to the people

From: Can we fix it?

The procurement of contracts for repairs and maintenance work is often fraught with difficulties.

For the outsider looking in, it can seem a murky world full of dodgy dealings where the principal concern is to make it as cheap as possible.

For those on the inside looking out, there is the struggle to get value for money while ensuring all parties are content.

Only last year we saw how damaging the wrong sort of contract with the wrong sort of contractor could be for tenants, landlords and hundreds of staff.

As Connaught fell, so too did the confidence of housing associations, councils and – most importantly – tenants.

I know from personal experience how bad it was as my partner and I took days off work to wait for various repairs, only for nothing to happen.

I also know how helpless we felt and how frustrating it was, having to vent our anger at someone down a phone line, knowing full well nothing would be done.

Not long after Connaught fell, councils and housing associations began spreading their contracts wide to minimise the risk of taking another hit again.

This made good business sense, but how involved were tenants in these decisions? Not much one would suggest.

That is why the agreement between Network Housing Group and contractors Rydon and Axis Europe seems to be a step in the right direction.

The London housing association has said it began looking for a new R&M team as a number of contracts began winding down.

Instead of going through the same old motions, the landlord engaged with residents finding out what they wanted, and then devised a system whereby each bid for the work was judged 60 per cent on quality and 40 per cent on price.

This contract also takes into account the experiences of the tenant as there will be financial penalties if they are unsatisfied.

This tenant first ideology must be one that others pick up on.

If it is, perhaps there will be a shift in how contractors battle one another to win jobs by upping the stakes on tenant involvement rather than knocking down the price.

It will be interesting to see where this goes.

Readers' comments (2)

  • F451

    True Alex - indeed it's probably the next best thing to in-house provision, using a partnering approach to increase satisfaction. Just imagine what could be achieved in scale values if the initiative for improvement did not have to wait until the next contracting session.

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  • I agree Alex, and I believe there is a (slow) move in this direction across social housing. I am working with a council just now who are using Vanguard systems thinking principles to completely redesign their repairs service, including tendering for a smaller number of contractors to deliver the service on the basis of what matters to customers - do the repair when I want it done, do it in one visit, do it to a good standard so it doesn't fail, and ultimately reduce the level of reactive work through understanding assets and moving towards more planned maintenance. They and others are realising that engaging with tenants and what matters to them will reduce costs as well as improve service.

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From Can we fix it?

Alex Wellman takes a look at what’s going on in the social housing contracting sector 

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