Go Big or Go Home?

Front Cover Photo

Photo – ‘Flats’ – By Andy Doyle 

Is it time to accept that as a sector we need to go big or go home? Well that largely depends on your viewpoint. Long term I believe the sector will reduce in terms of the number of organisations out there, some through choice but for others it will be due to external factors. There are many things to consider when merging, not of all them good. And as has been previously noted many tie into how we as a sector see our future selves as to how we go about evolving our businesses.

Big isn’t automatically beautiful, but small isn’t always pretty either.

A golden opportunity, or a golden goodbye?

For some mergers, partnerships and strategic alliances are needed for growth. These are a bit like your mates who veer from relationship to relationship, never fully stopping to assess whether they are happy in and of themselves/are financially viable. For others it’s about ensuring that they can get a decent goodbye package and sod off to the South of France to sip Pinot Noir in their twilight years. These are your mates who disappear when it is their round, but are happy to soak up the booze from other people’s turns i.e. they are penises (always get your round in folks, to not do so just isn’t cricket). Increasingly getting safety in numbers is the more common reason. Given the recent policy developments it is hard to disagree with such a move. But as Tony Stacey and Tom Murtha quite rightly point out, big doesn’t automatically mean beautiful. Though small isn’t always pretty either, context is everything.

Freedom, within a framework

An Ivory Tower? Or a good vantage point?

One of the arguments against large organisations is that they are too removed from the communities they are expected to serve. I agree with this, but only to a point. Just because you are big doesn’t mean you haven’t got local roots, but it requires faith in your regionally based offices and staff. Many large organisations operate in hubs, drawing together towns, cities and even Local Authorities that have little connection outside of the needs of the business. The key here is to avoid confusing grouped areas for housing management/operational reasons with local connections. Regionally Worcestershire & Herefordshire are next door neighbours with a fair amount of history. However, people in Worcester don’t really care about what is going on in Hereford (and vice versa). Choosing to merge the two together for the customer magazine wouldn’t be wise. Elsewhere you need to ensure that you give your organisation enough flexibility and independence to be adaptable, but without hiving off into different sub-orgs. with distinct cultures of their own. Not so much one nation under god, but one organisation singing from the same darn hymn sheet. Or to quote a colleague on how they manage their staff – freedom, within a framework – is needed.

Stagnation is regression

Size isn’t everything

You can be extremely resourceful and adaptable with a relatively small portfolio. Anyone with even a passing interest in Housing and Technology will no doubt have come across Halton Housing Trust. Whilst not always right and/or perfect, the step-change in their approach to operating must be applauded. As must their openness in sharing their learning/experience. They typify what you need as an organisation. A board and executive team that are open to change, are flexible, adaptable and proactive. Of course there are downsides to being on the small(er) side of things. Policy changes can have a more significant impact (proportion wise) if risk can’t be spread through a (secure) diverse portfolio. Accessing private finance to build can also be tricky, as for getting access to Government grants good luck! For some this has been seen as giving such organisations a free hand. And whilst the sector might not view small HAs as needing to evolve, develop or even build I would challenge that assertion. If you do not grow and/or develop your organisation how can you expect it to survive and thrive? Stagnation is regression. But as long as you are agile, open to new modes of working and developing your business you can thrive.

Substantial rationalisation of organisations is likely

It takes all sorts

Ultimately substantial rationalisation of organisations is likely within the sector particularly at the smaller end of the scale. Whilst niche co-operatives and BME Housing Associations might remain, in the long term a move to a sector below 1,000 organisations is likely. Whilst I try to remind myself that it takes all sorts; for the type of efficient, professional and effective sector that is needed to survive in the long term. For that I can only see smaller number of organisations existing. Time to buckle up.

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Nunquam Securus Via (Never the Easy Way)

I’ve always joked that as a sector that if there was an easy and a hard way of doing things to get the same result, that we pick the harder option every-time. Like someone with an unhealthy set of masochistic tendencies we tend to choose self-flagellation. Though I guess sometimes it’s because we don’t know what we don’t know and find comfort in doing things the way we’ve always done them. It’s time we broke that cycle.

As you’ve probably guessed from previous posts I have no love for the vast majority of what this Government (or its immediate predecessor) has done Housing Policy, or Welfare Policy-wise. Though in the interest of balance, the Blair/Brown Governments were pretty crap as well, they tolerated social housing, but Policy was just as fragmented back then as it is now.  Of particular concern, more recent initiatives/areas of Policy that aren’t utterly counterproductive (e.g. the principle of Universal Credit), have been swamped by an utter shite-storm of ideologically driven reforms (e.g. the reality of Universal Credit). Belief has repeatedly trumped evidence and as a man of science, not faith, I can only feel concern when that occurs. But this be the land, time and space we currently occupy. Howling to the wind won’t make a damned bit of difference. Don’t get me wrong, I have howled to the moon and back, anyone who has read even a couple of my blogs will know I don’t tend to hold back on passion, or swearing. But ultimately I’m not looking to change policy (not through this blog at any rate), just highlight to people what the sector does, where it is heading and the current policy climate.

However, as a sector, we need to do more and whilst some are attempting to do just that (Homes for Britain and SHOUT come to mind) we need to be a bit smarter in how we go about things. This Government does not care about how much we invest in communities, it doesn’t care that we are acting as a welfare state within a welfare state for many of our customers. It’s not getting politically battered for that. Where it is getting hurt is in the number of homes being built and the affordability of them. It’s why they are so pissed at our surpluses not (in their opinion) getting put to good use (i.e. being used to build homes). It doesn’t help that our go-to line is “give us money and we will build homes for poor people who can’t afford it and/or aren’t economically active”. That may play well with progressives, but to the conservative with both a small and big ‘C’ it’s like mocking their favourite brand of humus. They take personal offense to the very idea. If you haven’t already I would strongly recommend reading the Policy Exchange‘s various attempts at writing about housing. Whilst a similar experience to eating quinoa (i.e. utterly unfulfilling, and slightly perplexing) it will give you an insight into how this Government is thinking. It is no good brushing up on your French when the other person speaks Russian.

Ultimately, we still haven’t mastered the art of influencing the opinion of the public, or for that of Government (at least no consistently). Unless you state your argument repeatedly, simply and in as many places as possible you are not going to get anywhere. I am as guilty as the next chap in terms of entering into overly technical arguments, it muddies the water. Whilst this may result in a moral victory, it won’t stick in the minds of the general population. What David Cameron is a master at is sound bites, take his”bunch of migrants” statement for example. Stink caused, fuss created, message received and understood. As a sector we need to have just as clear (if less repugnant) message, and stick to it. You might look a bit like Ed Miliband but the message will get through. Just got to herd the bunch of cats that this sector is and we’ll be tout sweet.

Problem solved, well probably not as shown today by Jeremy Hunt, just because you have public opinion, evidence and a professional body on your side, it doesn’t prevent the Government from just going ahead and doing what it wants regardless. Still, no harm in trying.

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5 Types of Co-Worker That Drive You Nuts

Whether you love it or loathe it work is something us mere mortals just have to deal with. However, there are a few types of work colleague that make a mundane job mortally offensive. Below are those culprits, hint if you don’t recognise any of these you’re probably one of them.

1 – The Talker

Whether it’s first thing as you stumble bleary-eyed, pre-coffee (bastards) to your desk. Or last thing at night when you’re desperately trying to close things down in a vain hope that you might see your significant other before you go to sleep. At that exact moment this sod will chat away as if there’s no tomorrow. More often than not it’s about the most inane shite ever (like their kittens/kids/Liverpool fc). Akin to an alert Meerkat they perk up at noise, looking to join in any conversation going. Annoyability 4/5.

2 – The Jobs Worth

Ever needed access to something that would make your working day just a little less balls-achingly difficult? This person will ensure you don’t get it unless you’ve dotted every ‘i’ and crossed every ‘t’. Conversations tend to go as below.

Spawn of Satan – “I see you’ve worked in repairs for 5yrs and you want access to the latest repairs report?”

You – “Yes”

Spawn of Satan – “I’m sorry you haven’t completed the mandatory online training on what constitutes a repair. Or wrestled a bear one armed whilst dipped in honey, I can’t give you access until you do BOTH those things.”

You – “What the actual fudge?”

Spawn of Satan – “Data Protection, sorry.”

You – “That makes no sense, DP isn’t even relevant here!”

Spawn of Satan – “I don’t make the rules…”

You get the gist…
Annoyability 5/5.

3 – The Show Off

There’s no two ways about it, this guy/gal is a dick. Typically an Audi driver, suit sharper than a professional grade kitchen knife. They talk the talk, rarely walk the walk but like a Peacock you sure as hell know they are there. Whether it is boasting about a recent business success or the ‘mental’ night they had out over the weekend they will story top you at every opportunity. Probably work in a sales-focused position or the part of finance where people are allowed personalities. Annoyability 4.5/5.

4 – The Top and Tail-er

The ultimate bullshitter, always just about to finish off that work you asked them for 3 weeks ago, never knowingly completed anything on time, always ready with an excuse as to why they’ve managed to avoid doing their sodding job. Perennially involved in asset management of some form or another. A walking HR nightmare around non-work appropriate jokes. Redeemable features include their generally affable air and the ability to tell an entertaining story (aside from when explaining why they’ve done sweet FA). Annoyability 3.5/5.

5 – The Nice Guy

Probably more an issue in UK based offices where we’re more accustomed to grumpiness and are naturally distrustful of consistently nice people. Aside from a habit of laugh talking, where every sentence dissolves into laughter, with scant regard for the general tone of aforementioned convo, this person is actually really sound. Just. Too. Nice. Annoyability – Dependent on mood.

So there you have it, if you can avoid those lot in your day to day endeavours you’ve done well. Roll on the weekend.

You can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.