We know that the sector as a whole faces immense challenges and uncertainty in delivering services within the current operating environment. This has led to an increase in merger talks for some as a response to pressures on value for money and delivery of services.
But merger is not the only route and twelve BME Housing Associations have been looking at another viable alternative – collaboration and joint working.
This collaboration initiative kicked off last January when the Chairs of the HAs held a joint meeting. Altair prepared a presentation highlighting the unlocked potential in the sector, which could be realised through closer working. The diagram below shows the collective position of the group:
Over the past year we have looked at three areas where we believe our collective buying power can make a real difference in cost and potentially the quality of services. These were joint procurement, employment services and learning and development.
For the joint procurement, we have identified utilities and legal services as areas where we can work together to achieve savings. For the employment programme, we have agreed to pilot a bespoke brokering service for six months in three London boroughs where we all operate. The pilot will provide support to tenants to find employment opportunities. The learning and development project includes staff training and a mentoring programme, which has been scoped out and the training providers identified. This project also has an ambition to work with mainstream providers to develop the future leaders of the sector as well as attract new entrants into the sector.
On 25th July 2016, we launched our report titled “Collaboration: The art of the possible”, which showcased both our achievements to date and the lessons learned. Among the attendees at the launch were the Chairs of the HAs, and Steve Douglas, from Altair and David Orr, CEO at the National Housing Federation as guest speakers.
We were encouraged by David’s exhortation to ‘own our own future’ and by our chairs’ encouragement to be bold.
As well as charting our journey, the report also reflected on the lessons we have learnt from the process of collaboration. The most striking finding of the report is that for collaboration to be effective it takes time, commitment and not least compromise to be achievable. And it takes trust. We know that others have been interested in our progress over the last 6 months, and we are thankful to those organisations who have already embarked on collaboration projects, from whom we also learned a great deal.
This project has been built on a shared vision across the boards and executive leadership of the housing associations involved. We are proud to have achieved a level of trust and understanding between the group that will hopefully allow us to work together to realise real benefits for our residents and local communities, and to respond to the challenge to truly unlock our potential.
However, as a group, we recognise that we must not rest on our laurels and we do not underestimate the commitment that will be required to make the project a long term success. We will continue to build on this commitment and enthusiasm built so far, to implement the projects. Now that we have established a genuinely agreed approach to joint working, we believe we can seek out other opportunities to achieve greater value for money in the future. And we are happy to share our learning.
Gina Amoh is the CEO Inquilab HA and Chair of BME (London). For more information about the collaboration, please contact Gina on 0208 607 7777.