Paul Crawford, chief executive of Liverty – formed through a merger of Knightstone and DCH – considers the ingredients for success in bringing two organisations together, and explains how Liverty plans to create new homes and jobs in the South West
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What was the impetus behind the merger which created Liverty?
In early discussions we recognised that Knightstone and DCH had a shared goal: to make a transformational investment in the South West by step-changing the delivery of new affordable homes.
We are confident that our combined financial strength and capability will enable Liverty to develop 15,000 new homes of all tenures, with a projected capital investment in the local economy of at least £2bn in the next decade. This includes an annual development and property investment programme that sustains 6,500 jobs in the building industry and supply chain.
Once the decision to merge was made, what were the most pressing issues to be addressed?
From the point both boards agreed ‘in principle’ to explore the business case for merging in detail back in May 2017, through to agreeing the final business case to merge in December, our most pressing issue was ensuring our staff, residents and stakeholders were clear about what we wanted to achieve, understood the drivers for merging and how they can play their part.
Ensuring staff engagement remained consistently high was vital. We are delighted that engagement is higher than ever, with our people really excited about the future and the role they will need to play in delivering Liverty’s ambitions.
Our people have been essential to our proposals, and pre-merger we have ensured we have collaborated on procuring IT, service and system design so that new ways of working are planned and customer service improvements are underway ahead of merger.
It was also important that our customer voice came through loud and clear. We asked customers the extent to which they agreed with the statement “that by coming together, we would be able to strengthen our ability to continue investing in new and existing homes, services and communities”. This garnered more than 2,100 responses from our customers living in homes from Gloucestershire to the Isles of Scilly, with a large majority agreeing with why we wanted to come together to do more.
What advice would you give to other organisations seeking to complete mergers or forge new partnerships?
For me strategic ambitions have to align, so that there is every opportunity to create a shared vision going forward. DCH and Knightstone had complementary visions, values and a shared social purpose. There will always be differences, but my advice would be to focus on where you have shared culture and values rather than where you are different.
Openness and trust is key, with the ability to speak and share opinions at any level. By tackling those issues head on and ensuring your business plan matches this you have a greater chance of success.
Be prepared to embrace change but be mindful that people can react differently to it. At Liverty, the role of our senior managers has been crucial in making sure our teams are supported in adapting to new ways of working, new colleagues and different working environments. And learn from each other, taking the best approach from each partner.
How do you broadly view the state of play with housing in the South West currently? What are the most pressing challenges for housing associations and local authorities?
While the South West is a beautiful place to live and work, for many people housing remains the most pressing challenge. A long-term under-supply of new homes and a housing shortfall has led to spiralling costs of homeownership.
For many people, buying a home is becoming increasingly unrealistic.
You only have to look at the recent National Housing Federation Home Truths survey to see the gap between wages and house prices here. The average house in the South West costs over 10 times more than typical earnings.
Meeting the housing challenge is key to the long-term social and economic success of the region. Liverty is collaborating with 10 of the other largest developing South West associations in Homes for the South West, an influencing group focusing on investment to address the various housing challenges in the region. We focus on four main challenges: land, skills, planning and infrastructure. I’m proud to serve as the group’s chair.
Unlocking and securing land so that we can build homes faster and at the right price is key. We see planning and infrastructure improving. But one of the most challenging issues is skills. We know there aren’t enough contractors available to build the homes we desperately need so skills, apprenticeships, new ways of building and modern methods of construction are key issues that will need to be worked through if we want to meet our housing ambition.
In a year’s time, how do you anticipate the creation of Liverty will have impacted on the South West region and on your tenants?
Liverty is now one of the UK’s largest housing providers with more than 36,000 properties, 70,000 customers and the capacity to develop at least 15,000 new homes in the South West over the next 10 years.
In a year’s time we expect our unrivalled investment plans for the South West to be gathering significant momentum. We will be building a resilient pipeline of development opportunities to deliver our growth ambitions.
In a year’s time, service integration and service design will be well advanced and very much aligned to our service vision. We’ll have made demonstrable progress in creating a compelling service offer for our customers. That will sit alongside progress in implementing new technology, and new ways of capturing and using data to inform service design.
Crucially, our success will contribute to the prosperity of the region. By growing we can create more opportunities for local people, as well as delivering the homes needed by so many.
Paul Crawford has worked in property management and residential development for the past 27 years. Prior to being appointed as chief executive of Liverty, he held the position of group chief executive at DCH for nine years and was managing director at Sovereign for five years.