We need a new approach to co-regulation, the Government isn’t interested and increasingly nor is the regulator. More’s the point, as greater freedoms are given to Housing Associations, neither are they (for the most part). In short, the current approach isn’t going to carry on working for much longer.
A lament, of sorts
I have always been mildly amused by Co-Regulation. It is a fuzzy term, not helped by a largely stagnated approach that is deeply embedded within the sector. Customer Involvement, Engagement, Scrutiny and in their combined incarnation, Co-Regulation have underwhelmed; considerably, consistently and with little sign of improvement. From midday meetings that only the old, infirm and at leisure can attend, to scrutiny sessions that play lip-service to their required role. A situation that does a disservice to the highly engaged customers and staff members involved and the untapped potential they have to deliver improved services for customers and HAs alike.
Current state of play
For the un-initiated/borderline comatose, Co-Regulation since 2012 has been concerned with:
- Giving customers the opportunity to influence and be involved in the scrutiny of performance/recommending improvements
- Supporting them to take the aforementioned scrutiny opportunities
- Help set up, support and respond to tenant panels or their equivalent
- Provide timely and relevant performance information in a form agreed with customers to enable effective scrutiny
- Produce a bloody annual report
Do we need customer scrutiny?
I would argue that if you have the below, the need for customer scrutiny, in its current form, is greatly reduced. Because, aside from giving organisations a warm fuzzy feeling that they are doing the right thing, a significant reason why customer scrutiny is currently needed lies in ineffective self-governance. Solve those issues and, potentially, bye-bye to a large chunk of the need for customer scrutiny. So the theory goes.
Key things for organisations to consider having:
- A strong board (not always a given, I will grant you) that is independent of the Executive Team and can both strategically guide the organisation and hold Senior Staff to account.
- A Performance Management Matrix/Framework/Overview that clearly states responsibility and accountability for Performance Indicators and Key Performance Indicators.
- A robust Customer Feedback programme providing lead (and not lag) indicators of dissatisfaction, one that is tied into an effective service improvement programme.
- The ability to quickly, efficiently and effectively identify areas for improvement in terms of performance and implement relevant solutions.
A better focus
Do not believe for one moment that I’m against independent, customer centred scrutiny, far from it. At a time when a number in the sector are looking to significantly change what they do (we’re at an impasse, not a goddamn crossroads) such input may be key. But in many cases I believe better impact could be had with a change to the focus of customer scrutiny, namely:
- Either give customers real power to hold staff members to account on legitimate performance issues or ensure they have a senior staff sponsor who can.
- Broaden the base of involved customers (easier said than done, I know) because whilst most customers frankly don’t care about the way the organisation is run as long as their repairs are done promptly and correctly and they are left alone, there is an untapped resource in customers that needs to be fully utilised.
- Refocus on what is to be challenged – consumer standards, contract management, procurement or the strategic direction of the organisation.
- Make better use of technology (that old chestnut) why hold a meeting when performance information can be viewed by an interactive dashboard?
- Fully match service standards so that they mirror internal reporting i.e. within reason report externally what is reported inside the organisation.
Whilst some measures may be seen as ‘business sensitive’ there is no reason why, in the spirit of openness and honesty, housing associations shouldn’t be more forthcoming around what they publish. Particularly if a sector-wide suite of indicators could be agreed (I can hear the arses clenching as I type this). But instead of an annual report that no-one cares about, or quarterly performance standards that no-one reads why not try something different?