Tips to Help Build Bridges

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With five devolution deals agreed to date across the North of England and a further six bids in the pipeline, the funding landscape for housing is set to change.

Partnership working has never been more important in maximising available funding in order to deliver ambitious development plans and optimise service to customers in challenging financial times.

Altair’s recent report, Building Bridges, produced in conjunction with the Chartered Institute of Housing, addressed some of the issues surrounding partnerships between Local Authorities (LAs) and housing Associations. More importantly it also included a number of examples where these are working effectively.

But what about other strategic partnerships?  We will all have read headlines in the press regarding failed outsourcing contracts and insolvent contractors. How can LAs and other housing providers harness the benefits of outsourcing but minimise the risk of a failed partnership?

Many organisations believe that they have the skills and expertise to work in effective partnerships but in reality we often find that at best, there’s a willingness to make it happen but without the right approach to support it.

Where LAs are bound by the Public Contracts Regulations, the added complication of formal tender processes is often thought to hinder the ability to select an optimum partner and to agree a deal which works well for both parties.

In our view this needn’t be the case and some of our tips to establishing successful partnerships are listed below.  These have been developed from our experience of working with a number of public and private sector organisations in the housing arena.

  • Be honest with yourself – understand and admit your strengths as an organisation and your limitations. Use these to identify areas which might be delivered better through a strategic partnership and where you might need to up skill to work in an effective partnership.
  • Identify the ‘sacred cows’ – whilst it may be a good idea to seek solutions from the market, your own organisation needs to understand in advance the areas of the service where you and your customers would accept flexibility or new ways or working and those where you need to be prescriptive.
  • Engage with the market – Procurement legislation allows engagement with potential partners in a number of ways, prior to and during some tender processes. It’s crucial to understand what’s acceptable, viable and desirable from your partner’s perspective, in order to structure an opportunity that will be commercially and strategically interesting for them.
  • Understand the commercial drivers – too many contracts fail as a result of underestimating the budget, so-called suicide bidding and unrealistic expectations from buyers. Understanding your partner’s drivers is vital in establishing a relationship that works.
  • Be realistic about timescales – Getting it right not only takes a fairly lengthy procurement process but also needs strong upfront planning and a mobilisation timeline that doesn’t scare bidders off. In our experience, anything less than 12 months is likely to be problematic with 18 months being much better!

If you are a LA in  the North of England or anywhere in the UK –  please contact Sarah Parr to discuss how she can help on 07766 563068 or sarah.parr@nullaltairltd.co.uk