Category Archives: Governance & boards

We’re still not taking safety seriously: So here’s what to do

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By Alistair McIntosh, CEO HQN

It’s getting on for two years since Grenfell. So, what have we done about it?

To cut to the chase, this is what Judith Hackitt said about us at the time: first of all, we didn’t know enough about our homes. But we certainly didn’t let that get in the way of cutting costs to the bone at every turn. It’s a pity we’re not so hot at listening to folk or keeping them safe.

Have we sorted this all out? No chance.

The RSH is still having to step in when landlords are lax on fire safety, gas and lifts. And associations are taking homes from builders that are not up to scratch. You’ve got to meet those targets after all. While we are on with that numbers game, Kit Malthouse says that he is fed up of being the complaints department for his local associations. What is the root problem here?

I don’t think the desire is there to fix safety. Why do I say that? Private finance came along. What did we do? We went out and got top notch finance directors. You’ve got to hand it to them. They’ve pulled in lots of cash to see us through anything Brexit throws at us. Well done.

Associations were told to get commercial and build loads more homes. We did what we did on finance. Yes, those development directors are pushing up the numbers. Of course that’s a good thing.

So, we know what to do. When there’s a problem you go out and find people that can fix it. And, crucially, you give them a seat at the top table. You make them directors. We’ve not done that with safety. You don’t see too many directors that can spend all their time on this. Yes, it gets added to other jobs but that’s not the same thing.

You have to fight for safety. If the finance director won’t pay for works you’ve got to stand up to them. So you need to be of the same rank. And money is not the issue anyway. There seems to be no end of money to blow on Emperor’s New Clothes, change-things-for-the-worse IT fiascos. When the development team pleads with you to take some lousy homes to hit their bonus, just say no. And you can only do that if you are round the same table.

When you come to think of it, isn’t it astonishing that your safety team seldom gets to vet new schemes? Housing managers don’t have much of a say either. And when you do get the handover papers, they can have more holes than a Swiss cheese. Then there are the endless battles between the award-winning builders and the poor sods that have to manage and live in the homes. Not to mention the MPs who are spending more time on sorting out new homes than Brexit. Maybe that’s why Theresa can’t get a decision out of the blighters.

So it’s time to appoint directors for safety. That’s what we do when we give a damn. The Bank of England knows this is the best way to get things done. That’s why they are insisting that banks and insurers put a senior executive onto climate change. And there is a lot of cross over. NICE are saying we should not build homes near main roads and the government’s climate change advisory board wants to get gas out of homes.

There’s a lot to do for a safety director. Sign one up now. Don’t wait to be told.

All on Board: Delivering Good Governance in 2019

By Roger Jarman, HQN Associate

HQN is running a series of events which are putting governance under the spotlight.

I attended the first in the series in London on Wednesday 27 February. The event was largely attended by officers rather than board members, although some delegates wore two hats – being officers of a particular housing association and board members of another/others (like me).

Peter Walters ran the half-day session. He has a wealth of experience in the management of housing associations, both as a chief officer and as a board member too. Most recently, he fashioned the merger that created VIVID Homes in Hampshire.

His style encouraged discussion and participation from the delegates who were keen to share their experiences of the governance issues facing their own organisations.

There is a lot packed into a three-hour session. I came away with some pithy headlines that helps to encapsulate what governance means for housing associations today.  Remember – as I will – the ‘five Ss’. These are:

  • Strategy – for the short and long term
  • Scrutiny – formal oversight of the decisions made by the executive team
  • Stewardship – being aware of the board’s role as a custodian of the assets and values of an association
  • Support – constructive challenge of the executive as well
  • Stretch – being ambitious but also managing risk

There are also the four ‘sights’ – Oversight; Insight; Foresight; and Hindsight.

Board members should bring these matters to mind as they work with their executive teams to ensure their organisations achieve their aims and objectives.

We heard what a good board looks like – and a poor board too. We looked at structures, the recruitment and retention of board members, appraisal systems, induction methods, the residents’ voice, the effectiveness of board meetings, engaging board members between meetings, and the role of the Regulator (including preparation for IDAs).

This is not rocket science. But getting it right is not easy. Peter’s inclusive style and wide ranging knowledge will help executives and board members alike get to grip with the governance of their organisations in these challenging times.

Places remain on each of our ‘All on board: delivering good governance in 2019’ events taking place across the UK. Links to all the upcoming dates can be found below: