Smooth Operator: Hot tips for ALMO integration success
To retain an ALMO or not to retain an ALMO – that is the question facing many councils and their decision makers. We have previously discussed the options available to local authorities thinking about the future of their housing stock and how an ALMO can add value. Here we look at where an authority has an ALMO and has decided to bring it in-house.
Our views are based on our work with local authorities and ALMOs, including our recent reintegration of the housing management service in the London Borough of Ealing. We offer some practical tips to make the transition as successful as possible.
When thinking about integration, the process is key to success. The usual rules for good project management apply. You need to be clear about the purpose, as it will influence the process. Is the integration intended to be low-key, with minimal change and conflict? How does this square with the inevitable requirement to maximise savings and possibly reduce headcount? If speed is paramount, or there is an immoveable deadline, this can make the process more expensive.
We think that the ideal requirements of success are:
- a consensus of political support, or at least no significant opposition
resident support (not just a positive result from the test of opinion, but a real belief amongst key resident influencers that it will be good for the locality)
- local authority corporate board buy-in
- a strong lead from the Council sponsor (e.g. an Executive Director or the Chief Executive)
- a decent and pragmatic working relationship between the ALMO’s board and executive team, and the Council’s key Members and senior housing management.
Like it or not, there has to be some project infrastructure to help ensure success. Apart from the sponsor, there needs to be a project manager; direct involvement from corporate services as well as the strategic housing client; a sounding board or consultation body that includes members, ALMO board members and possibly resident representatives if not already covered by the ALMO . There also needs to be an equalities impact assessment, risk register and detailed project plan, including communications.
Depending on the size of the ALMO, the project plan may need breaking down into workstreams – e.g:
- HR – TUPE considerations, managing temporary staff during the transfer, the need to follow organisational change procedures, liaison with those parts of the Council “receiving” ALMO staff, union liaison
- Finance – very close budget monitoring to minimise risk, set up a new chart of accounts, ensure financial systems access and processes are seamlessly handed over
- Legal/Governance – managing the wind-up of the ALMO board and the limited company, consideration of board member indemnification, development of a termination agreement
- Procurement/contracts – novations, extensions, new procurements to be ready to start from day one post-integration, ensuring control and proper documentation
- ICT – local ALMO systems are switched off or integrated at the right time, the ALMO website is closed/merged, financial systems are modified to accept the post-ALMO housing structure, document management systems are adopted/adapted
- Accommodation (if relevant) – physical staff moves, car parking, building leases.
So the integration process can be complex and time consuming, but the value of its careful management is obvious. No-one wants to see a dip in the quality of standards in a front line service such as housing, which can easily happen during a period of radical change.
And a large number of staff are going to be anxious and uncertain over a period of months – some with good reason, as their jobs will be disappearing or at least modified to a significant degree. Many of these staff will be senior managers. To maintain morale, minimise risks and hopefully help with buy-in to the changes, the integration should be handled fairly, without undue delay and as transparently as possible. Keep it focussed, keep the momentum up and you’ve the best chance of a smooth transition.
Tim Willis is a Director at Altair