Value for Money – here we go again

The HCA is having another stab at VfM. Just like a bad penny this keeps on cropping up.  Why? Well we need a new rent deal. The only way to get that is to wage a war on waste. What do we want to be able to say? Look at us – we use every penny wisely. So give us some more. And in any case it is just tough to prove you are VfM. There is no shopping around. So the HCA is stepping in to try and make sense of it. Will they get it right this time? We will see. Here’s five points to watch out for.

1. Stick to the knitting while putting your nose to the grindstone

You might as well put Alan Sugar in to chair the HCA. He is scathing about the antics of his apprentices. And the HCA is just as wary of some of the ideas associations are coming up with. You can expect a right good going over if you plan to do anything other than housing. That’s the catch with the new rent deal. It’s to pay for housing not flights of fancy. That’s why the new indicators focus on how many homes you build and how much you spend keeping the homes you already have up to scratch.

2. No close season for VfM: Annual exam out – continuous assessment in

Yes the annual report has gone. But do not put your pen down. You will need it more than ever. The HCA wants to see how you drive VfM the whole time. Of course they will test for this during their IDA visit. VfM needs to be always on your mind not something you turn to as the leaves go brown.

3. The board is in the dock

The bar for boards just keeps getting set higher and higher. It’s the job of board members to get on top of VfM. You set the goals for the association. Then you make sure you do what you say you will do cost effectively. Yes that means looking at the pros and cons of merger and other deals. And batten down the hatches. The Minister will be looking on eagle eyed to make sure his rent deal doesn’t go into the pockets of the top brass.

4. You are going to be squeezed as a lemon is squeezed – until the pips squeak

If you have spare cash or you are not borrowing as much as you can – expect trouble. There will be intense pressure to make the most of your assets. In the bad old days you could put off planned maintenance to get you out of a tight spot. But the tragedy at Grenfell put a stop to this.

5. Saddle up the Pushmi-Pullyu

The powers that be tell us there will be “no leniency” on stress testing. That means you will set tight financial limits. And you won’t cross these on pain of death. On the other hand the VfM push is about straining every sinew to build and maintain. Of course you can do both. But there will be real tensions.

What’s my message to board members? Of course this is daunting. For some of you it will be the last straw. But don’t throw in the towel please. On the bright side there are no new requirements at all. The rules are pretty much the same as they always have been when you scrape away the gloss. And the dilemmas have always been with us. Maybe they are more sharply drawn. At the end of the day the HCA just wants you to show your workings so they can explain themselves to Ministers. It was ever thus. Good luck!