Involvement, Service Delivery and Culture
This is a version of the speech given by Phil Morgan at the Homes in Sedgemoor Tenants Day.
Good morning! Can I firstly say a biog thank you to all of you for attending today. The clock is ticking: we’re going through a time of change, a time of improving accountability and a time for taking opportunities. The concept of the Big Society is still under dispute as something that is real or not but the three expectations set out – the right to know, the right to challenge and that government, in its widest sense, should work for people are all ones that tenant and resident involvement can share.
In this presentation I set out three key areas – why local matters, expanding the ways in which tenants are involved and the importance of linking that with improving service delivery. These all matter to tenants here as elsewhere. You’re now part of a ALMO, seeking funding to improve your homes to a decent standard. As part of that you’re looking for improved services and today is part of your work on your local offer and annual report.
Throughout the last twelve years that I’ve been working with tenants and landlords there have been a number of recurring messages. One of those has been the importance of ‘local’. We all want our neighbourhoods and our communities to be successful. ‘Local’ is a true motivator as it’s very real to us all and supports improvements that people can really see first hand.
The concept of local offers or standards came from tenants. In setting what became the TPAS Tenant tests we looked at what that meant for tenants. They were clear they wanted to set priorities that mattered to them. They wanted the landlord to deliver on those agreed priorities, and for that delivery to be measured. Having measured that delivery tenants wanted benchmarking to see how well their landlord did against other similar landlords. Finally they wanted tenant scrutiny of performance to reinforce the importance of this with the landlord.
Local Offers represent a realisation of much rhetoric around ‘localism’ – instead of talking about it many millions of tenants are now seeing these offers put in place capturing their priorities.
So what is the X-factor? Drawing on my work over past twelve years there are three X-factors.
Firstly the culture of the landlord is key. Countless times I wrote reports from TPAS conferences where the first point said this baldly. Where landlords ‘get it’ everything else follows more easily. It needs to be there at Chief Executive or Director level, reflected in Boards and Councillors, and through staff, contractors and tenants. Sometimes people set out on a journey – getting the culture right is merely that – and if you’re just starting then it can be daunting. But if we’re serious about improvement then that journey is crucial.
Secondly involvement needs to be opened out. The traditional route of involvement through a single point of contact is dead. Instead landlords and tenants find a wide range of ways to involve tenants such as today’s conference. That is as it should be and allows tenants to choose how they want to be involved rather than having to ‘fit in’ with whatever had been given.
Finally involvement is for a purpose. That purpose is about improving service delivery. I recall an ALMO Board meeting where two reports were received: one on the Delivery Plan and one on the Involvement Plan. The two barely mentioned each other. Increasingly those new structures of involvement relate to service delivery. The use of tenant inspectors and mystery shoppers is about improving the reality of delivery and sharpening accountability. There are tenant groups, panels, forums and voices. Fun days, tenant conferences and open Days. Improvement panels and Scrutiny Panels.
At times it’s easy to forget that housing is seen as an exemplar about involving users of a service in that service. The pace of change has been profound.
We must also learn to love Victor Meldrew. Instinctively I don’t like complaints when I, or my colleagues, have been on the receiving end. I want to be defensive, make excuses, protect my colleagues and avoid the embarrassment of admitting I might have got something wrong. But on the other end I could successfully rant about GNER and their complaint form with no date required on it – and guess what they said they couldn’t refund me as I hadn’t put a date on. Or the local tram service where they simply lied to me about my complaint. Complaints allow us to learn and improve – as the housing minister put it “tenant need to have their complaints resolved”. However as my research into recent inspections has shown complaint handling is variable and the poorest landlords, perhaps unsurprisingly, handle complaints the worst.
We also need to learn from each other. I’ve just been appointed to the Board of Wulvern Housing. I’ve been learning about their approach including the Big Brother van where tenants can say what they really think about their landlords service. I went to the New Charter Tenants Conference last year in their offices where hundreds of tenants attended – some for the entertainments whilst other took part in more detailed session. But it allowed New Charter the ability to talk and engage with a lot of tenants and find out their views and their willingness to be involved further.
One Vision Housing have trained resident inspectors. They review services and report directly to a Tenant Scrutiny Panel supported by Service Review Groups. In
Hull City Council, where I worked with 100 tenants last year on the Standards on Anti Social Behaviour and Repairs & Maintenance, they have a
Last year MORI issues a report on involvement and satisfaction. Perhaps unsurprisingly it came to the conclusion that when tenants were involved and that involvement made a difference, their satisfaction levels soared, When that involvement was trivialised and didn’t make a difference it dropped like a
Over the years many tenants have got involved. Without them I would not be here today. Shortly you will be seeing awards for involved tenants. David Bowie’s “heroes” says ‘we can be heroes, just for one day’. Today they are heroes indeed, but not just for one day. Their contribution makes a difference to their neighbourhoods, communities and families. We all benefit from that contribution.
In all of this there is no silver bullet, no magic single route of involvement that resolves ‘tenants’ into a black box. It’s about an approach that draws upon the culture of a landlord, the diversity of involvement and linking that involvement to service delivery. I started by talking about a time for change, a time for improving accountability and a time for opportunity. Today is your time and your opportunity. Take it!