Maintenance service transformation that delivered over £3million of sustainable cost savings
Rochdale Boroughwide Housing Association (RBH) is the UK’s first tenant and employee co-owned mutual housing society, with over 13,500 homes throughout the local area.
They endeavour to provide better places for their members, tenants and employees to live and work. Drawing on the area’s rich co-operative heritage, RBH’s unique model places members at the heart of decision-making, allowing everyone to enjoy a sense of security and belonging.
RBH (as an Arm’s Length Management Organisation – ALMO) took over the management of the Council’s former Direct Labour Organisation from its creation in 2002. It had previously been part of the Council’s Housing Services Department.
Since then the service had developed to be very customer focussed and responsive, delivering a high quality service.
But it was not very performance focussed and suffered from low productivity. There had also never had any kind of benchmarking process in the organisation.
The level of service provided came at a high cost, which was increasingly looking out of line with peer housing associations who were taking a more commercial approach to their repairs services.
Economic challenges and the drive for improved value for money (VFM) in the sector meant that providers were taking different approaches to service delivery, either through in-house teams or outsourced arrangements.
During 2009, the Council began discussions with RBH and its tenants over the long term future of social housing in Rochdale. Whichever option was to be chosen it was clear that having a repairs team providing demonstrable VFM was critical to the future success. Ultimately, it was decided that ownership should transfer to a new form of mutual housing association, co-owned by tenants and employees. To secure this transfer the Council needed to get agreement from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).
For this approval to be granted DCLG were seeking assurance that the repairs service that would be offered by RBH would offer VFM comparative to other housing associations with the reduced costs forming part of a newly approved Business Plan. This gave a significant imperative to increase the commerciality of the offer and deliver cost savings.
Vantage carried out a strategic assessment for RBH, presenting the organisation with a number of options for the internal maintenance service. This included showing what good models looked like relevant to their specific circumstances.
We worked with RBH to change the relationship with the repairs team, creating a more engaged culture. This led to the setting up of a Repairs Engagement Group which helped to improve the dialogue between the team and management.
People became more willing to come forward with their ideas on how things could be improved whereas before there would have been suspicion. Now the repairs team is helping to drive and implement change.
Other key changes included:
- Removal of employee ‘pools’ (geographic, operational area or team structure) that were creating artificial constraints on effective deployment of resources;
- Introduction of mobile solutions, e.g. to schedule work;
- Removal of paper systems that were not cost effective and significantly impacted on down time;
- Introduction of a clear performance management framework, leading to an increase in productivity.
In total, more than £3m of sustainable cost savings were delivered.
The changes made resulted in a reduction of 41 posts (largely reduced through voluntary retirement and redeployment).
Perhaps most important of all, the work carried out by Vantage enabled RBH to satisfy DCLG that it had a value for money repairs service, contributing to the successful approval of the Transfer.
“We could not have achieved sustainable change on this scale without external support and challenge.
Tony Bryan and the team ensured that long held norms and outdated practices were highlighted and robustly challenged.
If it had been easy, we would have done it ourselves.
Vantage helped to kick-start a culture change, creating the opportunity for a better culture to be nurtured.
There was a very real possibility that our internal maintenance team might have ceased to exist. If our service had been market-tested, we would have lost it. In order to achieve what we did, we had to make significant cost savings.”
Rochdale Boroughwide Housing Association