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From The CEO – Top Down Levers

Friday, 11 January 2019

In this second post about my first year as Reside’s CEO, I want to talk about what drives change and improvement in our sector.  I spent an interesting few years of my life working at the National Audit Office leading their performance measurement practice. At one point I was involved in publishing a study on the levers available to Government: regulation, policy, public performance tables, the targeting and restriction of programme spending, legislation (if you have the time to get it through), and – sometimes – the ability to sanction.

We sometimes see Government as all powerful. But the levers they have at their disposal are actually not that many and they are all, by very definition, top down. They also tend to not to be adaptable to context, which doesn’t mean they are unhelpful necessary, but can make them limited.

A year ago, in my first week as CEO, I emailed the Regulator of Social Housing (then called HCA) to introduce myself, eager to form a positive working relationship with my regulator. One month later I finally received, an albeit apologetic response, but the first actual conversation I had with the regulator was to tell me they were scheduling our In-depth Assessment (IDA). Not a ‘welcome to the sector,’ or an invite to a workshop on applying the regulations to achieve excellence, or even a link to the best-practice guidance gleaned from IDAs from history.

Having passed the threshold of 1000 units in 2016, an IDA wasn’t an unexpected notification for us. Its imminence was, in part, the reason for my arrival. As a small organisation going through a steep learning curve, the need for a broader range of skills at board and executive level had become evident.

Our actual experience of the IDA was professional, intelligent, and fair – if perhaps a little skewed towards risks related to other organisation’s lease arrangements recently in the press, and with an acknowledgement of their own slightly nervous learning curve for organisations without a large amount of owned stock. And we were pleased with the outcome of the IDA, achieving a fully compliant rating for our governance and viability from the Regulator of Social Housing.

I’m alright with proportional regulation, it keeps us honest, but it seems a shame to me that the remit of the regulator was about viability and governance and not about our tenants.

I came from the world of health and social care and whatever faults there may be with the regulation regime of the Care Quality Commission, they do champion the end user. And the end user is actually who we are all here for. The CQC collect satisfaction results, have experienced experts involved and manage a rhetoric of outcome-focus alongside process reviews.

The mood music is, of course, changing in the Government’s Social Housing Green Paper, A New Deal for Social Housing, but be careful what you wish for. There is certainly some reasonable debate about whether regulation and league tables are effective levers of change.

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