Brent Housing Partnership / Housing Management Transformation
The paper provides an update on the progress of the BHP / Housing Management Transformation. This is to assist the committee in taking on the functions that were carried out by BHP‘s Audit Committee by providing them with background to key current issues in housing management.
Troy Francis (the Council’s Head of Housing Management Customer Services) provided the Committee with an update on the transformation of the Housing Management function provided to the Council’s Tenants and Leaseholders. He specified that the report detailed the actions taken since the management agreement with Brent Housing Partnership (BHP) had been ended in April 2017 and then brought back under direct control of the Council in October 2017.
Mr Francis explained that the Housing Management Transformation Board, which consisted of both Brent Council and BHP officers, had been formed to oversee four key objectives on the housing management transformation and delivery of services (outlined under paragraph 3.2 of the report). Members heard specific details on: the progress made on recruitment as several senior managers had now been appointed; and the incorporation of housing requirements into the Council’s procurement of a new Customer Relations Management (CRM) system. Mr Francis stressed that the change within the past year had been challenging, particularly due gaps in management capacity and extensive levels of staff turnover. However he specified that the new operating model was still planned to go live on 1 July 2018 after a wide-ranging consultation with relevant stakeholders. Conrad Hall added that the report had been produced for the Council’s Audit Advisory Committee to fulfil the monitoring role previously fulfilled by BHP’s own Audit Committee.
A Member noted that Brent was not unique in bringing Arm’s Length Management Organisations (ALMOs) back under direct Council control and questioned if any comparisons or benchmarking had been undertaken with Authorities in a similar position. Troy Francis responded and stated that the Housing Management Transformation team were aware of the need for strategic alignment and would seek to draw upon both internal and external expertise throughout the transition process. Carolyn Downs (the Council’s Chief Executive) added that BHP had benchmarked performance in various areas (such as voids and customer satisfaction) and had continued to do so since housing management services were brought under the Council’s direct control. She explained that the performance data was now being recorded more accurately by the Council and that, although this might mean that the new statistics appear less positive initially, it would enable performance to be monitored more efficiently going forward. It was felt that it was presently too soon to benchmark with similar Authorities or organisations but this could be assessed in six months to a year‘s time.
(Councillor Davidson joined the meeting at 7.00pm.)
Questions also arose on whether there would be any financial risk to the Council if certain properties needed to be refurbished to a higher standard, and whether any subsequent budgeting problems might arise from this. Carolyn Downs stated that financial due diligence had been undertaken before the transfer of properties and that there did not appear to have been any wide-ranging financial risks. She noted that issues on fire safety had obviously needed to be addressed in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and that the Council had undertaken fire safety checks on all of its high rise tower blocks. Members heard that the additional costs for the planned fire safety improvement works had recently been approved by Cabinet.
A Member of the Committee noted the levels of staff turnover as part of the transformation and expressed surprise at the proportion (45%) of agency staff within the service. It was questioned if the Council aimed to reduce this level and ensure more staff members were permanently contracted. Carolyn Downs explained that the Council wanted as many staff on permanent contracts as possible. She said that Brent had immediately sought to regularise contracts of BHP staff and offer permanent contracts to agency workers during the transition. She outlined that whilst many staff members took up this offer, a lot of staff also chose to move on and the recruitment process remained ongoing to bring the service up to full capacity in time for the launch of the new operating model.
The plan to deliver £1million in savings for the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) was referenced and it was questioned what the rationale behind this figure had been. Conrad Hall stated that the original Cabinet decision to bring housing management services back in-house was predicated on the potential for the Council to make savings. He ran through the potential avenues for this, such as: savings on back-office or administrative costs; a reduction in senior management costs; and an array of Company secretariat functions no longer being necessary. Troy Francis added that investments in technology, such as through the procurement of a CRM system, would also assist with the realisation of efficiencies.
It was RESOLVED that the report be noted.