A case for inspections?


By Alistair McIntosh, CEO, HQN

Is it time to bring back inspections? That’s one of the ideas in the Green Paper. So far, it’s getting the thumbs down at our meetings with HQN members. The only person in favour of it we have found is one of the guys that used to run the inspections.

Now, I can see why folks don’t want to go back to inspection. They were expensive to get ready for. And I don’t think they would have stopped Grenfell from happening. But I would ask you to think again about the case for inspection.

We will probably wind up with league tables of some sort. Who gets to top the table? It will be those that do best on performance indicators. What’s the problem with that? There is a worry that people will game the PIs. Yes, they will tell lies to look good. I’ve lost count of the number of times a CEO has said to me our PIs are correct but our rivals seem better by cheating. How do you sort this out? By going to the landlords and checking their figures are right.

Some services are hard to get PIs for. You’ve got to visit an estate to see if it is OK. That’s a lot better than looking at pointless numbers on a screen.

Then some landlords have a tougher job than others. If Universal Credit is all over their area that might be the reason arrears are going up. Or they could be swinging the lead. How do you get to the bottom of this? Once again you have to go and look see. It’s the only way.

So, if you want fair league tables you need inspection or something like it. That’s the only way to get to the bottom of things. And if you tie funding to quality you’ve got to get the judgment spot on.

How should the inspections work today? I’ve been looking at the peer reviews of councils run by the LGA. It’s all we’ve got to go on. The teams are top notch and the judgements seem fine. But I don’t like all the jargon they use. These reports are not for the public. And one lesson from Grenfell is we need to keep the lines of communication open. So, how about this? Why not get the national tenant body to run the inspections? I’d give them the money to bring in technical experts to work in teams with residents to go in and take a rounded view of a landlord.

Now what sort of technical experts do we need? The Green Paper wants us to be more professional. Who can disagree with that? We need better engineers to build the homes and design out fire risk. Of course we want sharper surveyors to keep the homes right. And we need highly skilled managers to deal with the sheer variety of people in our homes. I do have a question about this though. You have to say there is a crisis in professionalism in this country. Take a look at all the high-profile audits that have gone wrong. These auditors are the same people that will be checking your PIs. Do you trust them? An army of housing professionals and surveyors seem to have missed big safety issues. Have they got better? Will they stay as sharp if the pressure comes off?

Inspection would make these experts look over their shoulder. And that’s no bad thing. It does me good. Of course the customer is always right. But I would ask our members to think again about the case for inspection.

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