CiH: ‘Working together to break wind for yet another year’ (hold onto your £11,500 inc VAT)

These must be desperate times for the Chartered Institute of Housing (CiH).  They are losing membership, losing revenue and in my view are bereft of innovative ideas. 

Interestingly though, their consultancy wing is launching what they refer to as:

 Working Together™ to break new ground in Repairs & Maintenance

The stated aim of this scheme is: 

 To work together, sharing practice and innovations, to find the solutions that can be promoted to the sector as the ‘next’ best practice.

Anyone remember CiH’s project last year called ‘Getting the Basics Right’ ?  No, neither do most people.  Interestingly, neither do CiH.  They have just put out a survey asking people how it was for them.  I think there is a methodology flaw there.  Asking for feedback one year after the launch? Why wait for a year? The feedback should be frequent, iterative and interactive.  Still, it filled a speaking slot at the 2012 Annual ‘bash’ in Manchester.   So that’s OK then.

This latest ‘wheeze’ appears to be built on the same wrong-headed idea as the last one.  However, this time CiH is expecting ten organisations to each pay £11,700 including VAT to them for the privilege of taking part in on what will become yet another talking  shop.  It could probably be called, Borrow your Watch and Tell you the Time.  In addition, they charge you for the privilege and are more than likely to introduce you to some of the CiH’s big contractor friends. They will tell you how great they are and why you should give them shed loads of money.  Great work.  The offer is this:

 The Opportunity

The project commences in September 2013 and is restricted to just 10 participants. Running for up to 12 months, we will be responding to the intense interest in understanding and capturing the elusive formula for generating a successful, effective and efficient repairs service experience. Taking some of the principal building blocks of proficiency in repairs, CIH will lead participants in examining the very best approaches, lessons and learning to help you be an effective, discerning and inclusive client, providing ever improving value and service excellence.

I am sure this latest development alludes to the fact that CiH ‘Getting the Basics Right’was a flop; as many, including me, predicted at the time of its launch it would be.  Or is this latest ‘wheeze’ merely a cynical ‘money for your old rope’ gimmick?

You know, it really is little wonder CiH membership numbers are falling so quickly.

Let’s look at each project theme in turn, which we can compare with the CiH Charter of Mediocrity launched last June.  Very similar indeed.   Someone should tell Grainia.

Becoming an intelligent client with enhanced control over the repairs process, acquiring accurate information on true costs and repairs performance; integrating repairs and maintenance activities with wider asset management programmes so they become complementary; training and appointing high calibre professional staff in a well-led and empowered client team; designing the service around the customer and constantly seeking out better value.

Note the basic premise here is that you will become a ‘client’ and learn to be intelligent. How patronising.  Client of whom I wonder? It all sounds very ‘motherhood and apple pie’ doesn’t it?  I can almost hear Greensleeves playing in the background.

Working with tenants and residents to determine the priorities for repair and service standards: shorter completion targets; faster appointments; insight into individual needs; energy conservation; designing the service around the customer to provide expanded tenant choice over things like appointments and fittings and keeping customers fully informed about the progress of their repair.

Shorter completion targets are promulgated as good.  Targets make people cheat.  They are never good.  Good staff members are turned in to liars to pretend they have met their stupid targets.  It is shameful.  Shame on you CiH for advocating this.

Expanded tenants’ choice over appointments.  That will mean we will give you two selections of appointments that don’t suit you. 

Establishing the right business process and a complementary ICT system that supports total visibility of all repairs for managers and customers, allowing an unfettered end to end flow of repairs in line with service standards; identifying and understanding the customer journey and engaging staff and partners in shaping the business process; application of systems thinking to leverage improved value and lower transaction costs.

Let us be clear.  What does the CiH mean by Systems Thinking?  Do they have any particular approach or methodology in mind?  I will be watching this VERY closely to discern if any theft of intellectual property is being committed. 

The IT referred to will be demonstrated to the ten unfortunate organisations by one of the big contractors. “This is what we can do when you give us your contract”.  There will be all sorts of bells and whistles, most of which will make your service worse.   Housing organisations really do need to avoid this.  Seriously, you do.

Evaluation of competing business model options designed to reduce costs and optimise value delivered: application of individual job pricing through the schedule of rates or overall price per property; the competing merits and relative efficiencies of traditional contracting, direct employment, joint venture or managed service.

Oh dear. Well, there we have it. This could be a direct lift from a Mears electronic ‘flyer’ to housing senior executives I saw a few months ago.  It really is almost word for word.   

Procurement consultancies love schedule of rates or overall price per property because it allows them to evaluate PQQ responses.  I have written about this before.  It removes the smaller or medium size enterprise from bidding for contracts so the big contractors fight it out on a suicide bidding contest on price.  The SoR or Price per Property incentivises the big contractor to use the cheapest materials in repairs and maintenance so they extract more profit per job.  Oh, and another thing. – when the cheap materials break or wear out quickly the big contractor get paid again on a SoR or PPP to back and fix it.

 Investment in technical innovation that can deliver added value, tenant safety and sustainability: using people and property profile information to plan for successful outcomes at the first visit.

This means people will be brought in to ‘hoodwink’ you to buy / fund PDAs, Dynamic Scheduling Software, Standardised ‘Best Practice’ big badge software. You will be advised to sign up to contracts with ‘best practice’ IT providers; you may even be introduced to them in ‘learning’ (selling) sessions during the course of the ‘Working Together to Break Wind for a year’.

Selecting and appointing the right contractor to deliver improved service standards and drive down repairs costs; reducing the high costs of contract procurement through standardisation and a shared approach; or developing the in-house DLO with strong links to residents and promoting an effective customer service and performance improvement culture which brings a wider community impact.

Ah ha. Note the highlight here appointing the right contractor. Who could the CiH mean? The basic flawed premise here is that repair costs will be reduced through procurement where people standardise and share services.   As anyone who has been subjected to the reality of this nonsense knows, real costs, short and long term, will go up not down.  The service experiences of tenants will be much poorer.  I know of one housing organisation disentangling itself from this nonsense right now.  It has been a costly and terrible experience for them.  

Critical evaluation of partnering: Has the Partnering ethos created lazy clients and weakened capacity to lead and drive service improvement? Is there a genuine incentive for contractors to secure client loyalty given the lack of flexibility and room for manoeuvre clients have in procurement? Do industry claims to have engineered better through Partnering hold water? What does smart client-led partnering look like?

Here again the premise is that you are a client of somebody.  What if you do it for yourself or want to?   The CiH want you to be tied in to some large contractor.   The story promulgated here goes further by saying if you don’t give the contractor more leeway to ‘screw you over’ through procurement, why should they bother trying to help you? 

I know of no credible industry claims to have engineered better through partnering.  Engineered what exactly in partnering?

If anyone is duped in to signing up for the ‘Working Together to Break Wind for a year’  to obtain smart client-led partnering it will look like how to get more tears for less effort.

Performance Monitoring: benchmarking distinctions between performance quartiles are so narrow that the difference can sometimes have no discernible impact upon the tenant experience. So what’s the potential for developing a new approach to performance measurement and monitoring, setting performance improvement targets and establishing peer to peer comparisons? Shouldn’t the data recorded reflect our collective learning about what customers really value about public services and what aspects they often report as needing improvement?

Let us be clear about one thing.  The data going in to the so-called performance quartiles is nothing to do with what a tenant experiences.  It is about having someone in a head office department trying their best to make the organisation look good.  So the quartiles compare concocted figures with other concocted figures.  I have seen enough over the years to KNOW that most of the ‘data’ is highly dubious in terms of veracity.

 So CiH wants to research a new approach to performance measurement and monitoring by using exactly the same old failed and flawed techniques as before?  And let us continue with a newly labelled benchmarking club.  Really, you just could not make this nonsense up.   Sadly some senior people will buy this claptrap.

Promoting individual tenant responsibility for maintaining their home in good repair and collective responsibility for participating in decisions on how best to commit resources.

We all know what a failure the Grant Shapps initiative on tenants doing their own repairs was; so, let’s not go there.  Tenants will be given no real collective responsibility for deciding how to commit resources.  They will be administered some form of questionnaire by people, with a loaded agenda and told to select from a range options, none of which they would choose themselves if they had a REAL choice.  Great.

An integrated approach to planned maintenance that combines responsive repairs with extending component lifecycle and timely renewal when they are about to fail.

They must have been getting tired when they wrote this section.  Anyone know what this mumbo jumbo means?

Elevating the status of repairs and maintenance as an exciting and dynamic career choice, attracting young people with potential to a recognised part of the professional housing discipline.

The message here is that the CiH currently think that the status of repairs and maintenance as an unexciting and non-dynamic career choice.  Thanks, we love you too! 

No wonder CiH is losing members so fast.

So, what is the alternative then?

Senior leaders would do more good by going and examining their own organisations by following operational work from the front line all the way back to their own desks.  If undertaken truthfully the journey will be both scary and enlightening.  What you then do about it is your choice of course. 

There is a better way.

Senior leaders; if you are prepared to get your own hands dirty and get out to see what is actually happening in your own organisation, you can lead a proper change.  

Real leaders will get out in their business.  Others will have their Process Improvement Teams sign up for ‘Working Together to Break Wind for Yet Another Year’

And what a shameful waste of tenants’ money that will be.


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How to get a Council House and the reality of Choice Based Lettings (CBL)

how to get a council houseYou may have been one of the many viewers who, like me, watched the recent TV programme about how to get a council house.  Like many other people, I watched it because I have an interest in social housing matters.  When it was on air, I received texts from colleagues saying how awful it made social housing look.  I replied that it made dismal viewing on so many levels.

The scenes it portrayed, of desperate people seeking help, bidding again and again for properties, sometimes for many years and being treated like numbers in a lottery by an uncaring system were shocking to anyone with an ounce of compassion.  Clearly the employees of the two local authorities involved were as much victims of a Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) driven scandal as the housing applicants.  Although, it must be said, some of the senior leaders did themselves no favours in how they communicated their view of the current situation, particularly to applicants for a property. 

For those of you who don’t know, CBL is a costly and ineffective means of bidding for a social house owned by either a housing association or a local authority housing service.  It involves applicants having access to an IT system to allow them to bid for a house.  It costs local authorities and housing associations an exorbitant amount of money to maintain, service and respond to these IT systems. Many applicants find them complicated to use and the electronic application screens unfathomable. 

One housing organisation I know spends £1.8 million each year just to service the fallout from the CBL computer system.  The fallout includes the time spent by housing officers answering phone calls about why applicants have not been successful and the time they spend taking groups of applicants out to viewings, many of whom turn the property down when they see the physical condition of the property.

During the last decade social housing landlords were bullied by the DCLG  to adopt CBL schemes as ‘Best Practice’.  It was an example of the ‘bastardisation’ of a successful Dutch idea that was put forward by the ‘bright young things’ in Whitehall trying to give their minister the word ‘choice’ to ‘sell’.  Choice was, and still is, the Whitehall fad of the time. 

As the programmes showed, the senior leadership of housing organisations had little idea of the negative financial and operational impact for their own organisations of acquiescing to DCLG’s bullying in adopting this scandalously wasteful CBL approach.  Sadly some do now. Too late.

Senior leaders now facing the financial impacts of significant governments funding cuts have realised their organisations can no longer afford these extremely wasteful CBL schemes.  Discussions are underway in many housing organisations to quietly drop CBL.  DCLG know it is a failure.

The real tragedy is that decent people, social housing applicants, are treated like they are a serious inconvenience because there are too many applicants for too few properties.  “They have no real choice; they choose what we give them” to quote one of the senior officers interviewed.

The delusion applicants are fed is that they have a chance of being placed in a property when, due to their circumstances many have no prospect of being housed in the social housing sector.  It is not unusual to have 12,000+ people on a housing waiting list with only 500+ families housed each year.  How unfair is that?   The housing supply is simply not there.  

Shame on you DCLG. 

Senior leaders in social housing organisations need not absolve themselves in this either.  The ‘Nuremburg Defence’ will not work.  Stating they did not have the understanding of the impacts, or if they did, the moral courage ‘to tell the emperor he has no clothes’.  As one senior housing manager put it to me “It would have been bad for one’s career to have done so”………..    

Still; no senior person in DCLG or housing association will be looking to apply to live in a social housing property. 

So; that’s OK then……..

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Same circus; different clowns

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PDAs (Pretty Damn Awfuls) – Part of the Great IT Con

Isn’t it interesting how people queue up to buy the latest IT gizmo? This is especially so if they are perceived or promoted to be ‘best practice’.  Much damage has been done to social housing operations and budgets over the … Continue reading

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Lucky Tim

I read in the press recently that Tim Leunig of the London School of Economics has effectively burnt his bridges with the Chartered Institute of Housing (CiH) and the National Housing Federation over comments that the costs of attending their … Continue reading

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Tenant Scrutiny – an Opportunity to Drive Real Improvement

Have you ever noticed how when one ‘junket’ stops another one starts?  And usually it’s the same people who reappear labelled as something else. Well, as we all know, one of the best things that Eric Pickles has done since … Continue reading

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Repairs charter – more of the same blather from CiH

The Chartered Institute of Housing (CiH) Repairs Charter has been published at the annual squandering of tenants funds event aka CiH Housing Conference 2012.  At least they moved the venue to give hostelries in Manchester the opportunities to benefit from … Continue reading

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