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If it ain’t broke….
The HCA’s consultation on new ways to do VfM is at an end. What do we make of it? Everyone will support it strongly. After all who in their right mind could be against VfM? That would be daft. But will it change anything? I have my doubts.
The paper begins by saying that the VfM push has been a success. Has it? The HCA does not put forward any evidence one way or another. I’ve read most of the VfM returns from associations – the good, the bad and the ugly. Yet I am none the wiser. Whether the reports are long or short most of them just aren’t very good. Why do some lead to downgrades and others do not? Your guess is as good as mine.
We have plenty of data in housing but a shortage of good data analysts. So, we are not learning the lessons of VfM so far. This is a flimsy base to build from. The HCA should spell out what they don’t like and say how their proposals fix things. An outright ban on hagiography in accounts would be a start.
The HCA needs to look at the Hackitt review of building regulations and fire safety. It has a lot to say about VfM. The report lifts the lid on value engineering which does not provide value and has very little to do with engineering. Instead, it is mainly about getting cost down come what may. In fairness the HCA has been good at demanding stock data at IDAs and making sure that spending is in line with needs. But what happens the rest of the time?
Some of you will remember that the HCA was set up by an idiot called Grant Shapps. Judith Hackitt is not an idiot. So, she goes off in a different direction. He abolished a national voice for tenants, she wants to put it back. Where is this going? The Green Paper will place tenants on centre stage. The story goes that we need a VfM standard because tenants have no power. But what happens if that’s no longer the case? I go to meetings where the tenants have read the accounts and rating agency reports on their landlords. And that’s what fuels their questions. Give tenants the data and enough of them will use it. That’s the key to VfM. Please put a stop to cloak and dagger anonymous benchmarking. We are not the secret service. Tenants pay for performance data, so you have no right to keep it from them.
Let’s not forget VfM isn’t just for the tenants we have now. We need new homes in the right places. And lots of them. That is why the Minister waved through a rent hike. The new approach to VfM must make sure that every penny of that goes on building new homes not feathering the nest. If it doesn’t it’s curtains for us all. The HCA needs to be brutal here. If Mr Ashby does leave, it's time to bring in Luther on this one.
On a brighter note everyone seems to agree on the metrics we should be using. Mind you they do look an awful lot like the old ones. Maybe the Christmas spirit is working its magic. But there are a few bear traps. If costs of major repairs go up or down that is meaningless. You need to know how much the landlord should be spending before jumping to conclusions. And giving equal weight to building homes for sale and those for social rent catches the eye. Will a national tenant body swallow this?
My beef with the HCA is more about the quality of the writing than the content. What does this mean? “Registered providers must ensure that optimal benefit is derived from resources and assets and optimise economy, efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of their strategic objectives.” It scores zero on the Flesch readability scale. If no one can understand it then no one can comply with it. Why not just ask simple questions like?
– How many homes do you need in the area?
– How many homes of the right sort could you build?
– How many did you build? Did you get a good deal?
– How much money do you need to spend on your homes?
– How do you know that?
– How much did you spend? Are you sure the prices you paid were fair?
– Can you do more on your own or should you link with others?
Time and again Theresa May uses the long questions asked by Jeremy Corbyn as a way of wriggling off the hook. The HCA should keep it simple and stick to the point. It’s what their teams do in the IDAs. So why do they ditch this clarity as soon as they come to draft a standard. For some reason the HCA is driving with the handbrake on. Let the Green Paper release them.
By Alistair McIntosh, HQN Chief Executive