HQN blog: Hobson's choice – Is the new Value for Money Standard a step forward or just a load of jargon?

I’ve got to say I like the new VfM Standard. Why is that? It’s because you have to show that decisions lead to optimal benefit. Now we could do without the phrase itself. It’s true that it sounds like something out of a self-help teach yourself business tape that you’d buy at the motorway services. But it is a much needed shift. Let me explain why.

In too many places the standards of report writing have hit rock bottom. They are the worst I’ve ever seen. And the consultants are no help. Do they really not grasp that the RSH sees their same tired repetitive reports with the same options everywhere? It is Tippex that holds these reports together not logic.

A lot of the time I see reports that get bludgeoned through boards. You get one option pushed by someone who is lazy or on a crazy mission. When the money was flowing this was fine. But right now a lot of ill-judged adventures are coming to light. That’s why the RSH is acting. One fine day their luck will run out and a loose cannon will bring the whole sector to a juddering halt.

Optimal benefit is code for telling us all to write better reports. In the interests of calling a spade a spade this is what that RSH wants to see:

  • Clear criteria for taking decisions: Are you in the right markets? Do you act in line with your values? Or do you bend the values to let you do whatever is in fashion? Can anyone follow why you did what you did?
  • Proper examination of options: There are rarely times when there is only one way to go. So why do so many reports give you Hobson's Choice? Why do boards put up with it? Lousy thinking sticks out like a sore thumb. Take a look at the Form Follows Function toolkit for Placeshapers. It tells you how to do an option review that passes muster. And it’s free.
  • Fact, facts and more facts: We need a proper analysis of the pros and cons of all the options. What will they cost? What can go wrong? Let’s have no more hit and hope guesses at what you can sell homes for. And we know all the tricks for shifting figures around to make plans stack up. Don’t kid a kidder.
  • Facing up to things: Is it time to merge? Are there some things you can’t do anymore? Is that Byzantine group structure your lawyer sold you bonkers? Act now! A stitch in time could save nine.

Here’s my last tip. Remember you are playing chess not draughts. Think about what happens next. Serious people that matter are now asking questions about the merits of associations selling homes for as much as they can get away with. All it does is make affordability worse. This will turn into a big reputational problem. That is a certainty.

And as for the associations that started the war on outbidding each other for 106’s. Well done guys. You just wrote Blackstone’s business plan for the UK housing market. Yes siree Bob you gave them the idea.

As a Greek friend’s grandmother said – dip your tongue in your brain before you speak. That’s as good a definition of optimal benefit as I’ve heard.

By Alistair McIntosh, HQN Chief Executive