Landlords promise to control costs in line with public spending squeeze
Social landlords have vowed to cut costs and root out waste to meet tighter government controls on public spending.
Barbara Thorndick, chief executive of West Kent Housing Association, told the Chartered Institute of Housing's annual conference that the sector must show that it can “do more with less” if it is to continue attracting government funds.
“Profligacy and waste must be rooted out, but this must be done in a spirit of partnership not blame,” she told delegates in Harrogate on June 22. “We should see it as an opportunity to get us back on track.”
Ms Thorndick, who is about to switch jobs and become managing director of West Kent Consulting, said the association's policy of refurbishing homes when improvements are necessary, rather than after a set period of time, has reduced its annual maintenance budget by 12 per cent, or £1m. It is also saving annually £1.35m through partnering contracts.
She warned organisations against fixed rate loans, and said bonds did not always represent value for money, as interest is payable from day one, rather than when funds are needed. “Managing big finance well is crucial to saving money,” she said. “If you get it wrong, it's extremely costly.”
Peter Morton, chief executive of Sheffield Homes, said the sector must take a “reality check” and recognise where there are inefficiencies, such as staff absenteeism. “We are not looking for hand outs, but joint solutions with government,” he said.
Sheffield Homes, an arm's length management organisation, has received the maximum of three stars from housing inspectors on three occasions since 2004. During that period, it has centralised its repairs service and contracted out rent collection. “An organisation cannot stand still,” he said.
The management fee it receives from Sheffield Council has been cut by £3m to £38m since 2008, leading to 250 posts being lost. The latest round of redundancies was announced in March, after staff voted against a pay freeze.
Matthew Taylor, chair of the National Housing Federation, told the conference: “We have to show that every pound that's sent to us is best spent with us.”
Too often, he added, the sector became bogged down with discussions on issues such as grant rates. “We need to make more than a case for housing,” said Mr Taylor, a former Liberal Democrat MP. “We have to show that we are the best investment and have the flexibility to do things innovatively and better.”
At the conference on Thursday 24 June CIH will present the housing minister Grant Shapps with the Housing Pact, the sector’s priorities for government. The Housing Pact will also spell out what the housing sector can offer in terms of providing more affordable housing with less public money, improving the nation’s housing stock, cutting carbon emissions and reducing the NHS bill.