Thursday, 9 October 2014


If you do the Twitter thing, follow me at @hotpixUK
or LinkedIn here

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet up with Barry Marlow, who I follow on Twitter. It was the first time I had met him in person and he was good enough to treat me to a few pints (of diet Coke) in the Wolverhampton hostelry, where we met.

Barry is an interesting chap, does work as Critical Friend, you might have caught his blog or on Twitter @BarryMarlow  He spreads new angles on possible ways that the social housing sector can think and work, through the CIH.

Like me, he grew up in 'council housing' and remembers the times when his parents, like mine, put the rent in a jam jar, for collection every fortnight by Dave (the 'Rent Man'), popping around with a few spare dog biscuits in his lumberjack jacket pocket, if followed by feral hounds on the estate. I can identify with Barry, he's a good bloke, extremely enthusiastic about seeing social housing develop and evolve.

We both agreed that the glory days of social housing, seem to be behind us. The landscape today is very much changed and it's a bit fruitless to constantly hope we might go back to the past. Subsidy to develop is going to be smaller and continually harder to obtain. RSLs need to look at the PRS and take what we can learn from it, without losing sight of the reason we are here. IE the social purpose of providing homes for the vulnerable and low paid. In addition, making our contribution to neighbourhoods and communities. Campaigns like SHOUT are all very well, but let's not miss the obligatory reality check. Without a social housing Tardis, we will not be going back in time anytime soon. If we could, we should probably fix some of our historic mistakes, not bring them forward to our time.

I work with many organisations, large and small. Some of the ones that are doing outstanding things in their areas and communities, really think commercial yet act socially. This is a difficult trick to pull off. Witness the outcry and backlash of comments in InsideHousing, when RSL x declares profit y. Even when the word 'Profit' is replaced with 'Subsidy', contributors generally go for the jugular. Lets face it, we are in a time when our organisations are going to need a war-chest. Maybe that is a more apposite term, we should be using?

When I have had the chance to chat to housing's luminaries such as Paul Tenant and David Orr, they are usually agitated about the current climate we have to work within, but urge that we work within it to grow and thrive.

One of my big interests with Barry was what some of the new initiatives were and how IT and tech could assist in making it a reality. Lack of CRM or lack of a 360 degree view in CRM modules loomed large. In this blog, I have banged on about how sometimes we fail to get even the most basic info accurate. Funnily enough Contact data accuracy was one of the subjects that Abigail Davies quizzed me on when I completed my ACIH presentation, about 7 years ago. By the looks of things we have not actually moved that far forward since.

Another of Barry's big ideas was that of the neighbourhood seen as a 'Social Business'. To explain, we all understand the idea of the 'Housing Officer Patch'. IE the number of geographically adjacent homes that generally will be managed in an arrears sense. IE Income in the real world. For repairs, a different team look at that expenditure. For ASB & Tenant Participation, possibly two more teams.

Now, we can relate to the idea of a neighbourhood having bad payers, deprivation, high levels of ASB, abandoned cars, lots of repair activity, maybe related to build types and other issues. What if a single 'manager' was responsible for all of these things. Her/His job could be to manage the patch as if it was a social enterprise? They take charge of what they spend, how income is spent, getting residents involved etc. The principle is not much different to managing a small commercial enterprise, like a corner shop.

Our ideas of 'Living Wills' and 'Asset Sustainability' could be telescoped down into a number of neighbourhood patches. The manager would get to know the terrain, residents, problems, challenges etc and ultimately we can spend to best effect and really bring change to our communities. The manager would be expected to do this role for some time, in order to really understand what is being managed. They could be rewarded for reducing ASB and Repair spend, while increasing rent collected and overall satisfaction and participation.

From an IT viewpoint, where a fairly modern Housing Management System (HMS) is in use, the reporting & monitoring, should be very feasible. Barry frequently encounters IT being the speed-bump in the road, as I do. When I see it, I am generally being engaged to drive a steam-roller over those humps. I would not be surprised if in the future, Barry & I my collaborate to open up systems to support these new ways of thinking.

I would be interested as ever to hear your views on this line of thought. For some, it will be very controversial. Is thinking more commercial to reach better social outcomes admissible, or not?

Related Post: Afraid to embark on business change? Staying still might be more dangerous.


You can link with me on LinkedIn here - It would be great to connect !

Babybird - CornershopBabybird - Cornershop.
(c) Tony Smith, Acutance Consulting 07854-655009

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