To bubble or not to bubble? The December dilemma.

What a year! The COVID challenge started in March, continued through the summer with a bit of respite allowing us to move around and take some holiday be-it at home or to limited places abroad, and finishes with a significant festive season challenge – which bubble should you join? Who may you have to exclude from your bubble? Or, is it better to stay in splendid isolation? A difficult decision and a few I know are choosing not to make it just yet as it plays on emotions – keeping loved ones safe whilst wanting to be slightly selfish at the same time. However, clinically reasoned, it must be a risk-based decision that is bound to upset some and make others very happy.

Musing on this, my mind leapt into a parallel scenario; the same but different challenge applies to boards and executive teams all the time. But at the moment it is particularly challenging. The forward agenda that requires prioritisation, good quality data and a detailed understanding of the risks involved, both in the decision making but also if decisions are deferred. I refer to some of these below:

  1. Investment in new build vs. existing stock. Not only does this give you the argument of ensuring that your existing customers are safe and live in a decent affordable home, but how do you as a board ensure that you cater for the needs of future customers and keeping your part of the bargain in solving the ever-growing housing crisis?
  2. The question on how investment in new build is funded and how to subsidise this continues. How will funders react to the new shared ownership model? What does this do to your business plan? How can it be stress-tested?
  3. Building safety is always top of the agenda, not only the investment required (and for some this dwarfs other calls on finances) but also the scarcity of skills which is causing significant problems for the sector and escalating fees and salaries. And the ‘grow your own’ model is some way-away. Collaboration between organisations must be one route to be explored.  
  4. Where does investment in sustainability fit? It now falls within the 30-year business plan, but what is the strategy and how much will it cost? Another call on resources, which are getting tighter all the time.
  5. Following the effort made in the spring to understand in more detail your customer base, what should you do now? Do you continue to deliver the much-needed community services that you did during lockdown #1, or do you start to work with partners and agencies to hand over this aspect of the work?
  6. And then there’s the new code of governance, the gap analysis to be done and we have just the tool in the newly launched Digi-ScoreBoard, digesting the white paper (our excellent round-up can be read here); and not waiting for legislation but starting to ensure that you are fit for consumer regulation (why wouldn’t you?), the new information requirements, inspections (extended IDAs?) and scoreboards. Not forgetting the ever-present value-for-money.
  7. Finally, and to be completed before the end of December, the ombudsman self-assessment.

A quick scan of these, (and there are plenty more that are not on the list), is enough to give boards and executive teams a headache, and it makes the Christmas bubble dilemma a much easier problem to solve.

As you would expect of me I also thought I would take this opportunity to do a quick review of what we have been doing at Altair.

The team have been busy supporting boards and executive teams through a variety of new challenges over the last eight months. We have had several themed roundtables to share insight amongst Chairs, CEOs, and governance leaders from across the sector, and the successful launch of Alt:Shift to bring expertise and support from outside the sector to challenge the housing sector’s way of thinking.

To help RPs tackle the green agenda, our Sustainability Team led by Annabel Gray have produced several thought-leading articles and guidance. The report from our sustainability survey will be released in the new year and set the stage for some significant changes ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November 2021.

Through a new partnership with Digi-Board, we have expanded Altair’s smart governance solutions to offer Digi-ScoreBoard to RPs which is a simple and efficient method to review, improve and measure the effectiveness of boards and will also help boards and executives understand the gap they have to close to be compliant with the new Code of Governance. We have also launched Altair’s Aptitude tool, a digital tool to assist the monitoring of board skills and succession planning which adds to our digital governance suite, please do watch the video which explains it in more detail.

Town centre regeneration, Brexit risks and development appraisals with podplan have been a focus of our Property Team, as well as policy development and our continued focus on main-stream development, asset management and the building safety work undertaken by our technical team.  

We are delighted to have worked with so many clients this year and exit 2020 in a strong position, able to continue to support you through the key challenges ahead, and whatever else 2021 has in store.

It only remains for me to say thank you for supporting us throughout this difficult year and may I wish you a good festive season in whichever bubble you choose to form. Stay safe and see you all in 2021.

Fiona Underwood, CEO