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Central Training and Consultancy sponsorship feature

‘The trick to making this thing work is to be completely honest.’

In the past 2 years we have worked with the Boards of around 20 Registered Social Landlords in Wales, and have found one of the most useful tools for driving governance improvement is the Governance Assessment Process (GAP). Developed by a third sector specialist, The Governance Forum, it draws together best practice standards from across sectors to provide a graded, benchmarked assessment of current governance practice and a clear prioritised action plan.

Rooted in self-assessment against rigorous standards (graded to be realistic) it enables you to:

  • Provide evidence of good governance and continuous improvement
  • Demonstrate an independent element in your self-assessment
  • Show improvements over time and through benchmarking with others.

Several well established Housing Associations have found the tool useful. Earlier this year a new Community Mutual bravely decided to take the plunge only 6 months post transfer! Jen Barfoot, Chief Executive of Tai Calon, recounts their experience:

‘Tai Calon knows that Governance is important, not just from its own perspective, but also from the point of view of the regulator. Welsh Government are very clear through the published Delivery Outcomes document, which supports self-assessment, that good governance is a critical area for all Housing Associations and Community Mutuals across Wales. That is one of the reasons we chose to sign up early to the Governance Forum’s assessment process.

The process was challenging and thought provoking. It was facilitated by Patricia McCabe from Central Consultancy & Training, who supported a (lengthy!) conversation between the Chair, Phil Crozier, and myself. The trick to making this thing work is to be completely honest. The conversation highlighted some very obvious areas for immediate improvement, and a range of areas where we could usefully improve in the longer term.

We were delighted with the outcome, which was a reasonable assessment of where we were at the time, and a substantial and ‘SMART’ action plan. We will use this to ensure that when we ask the Governance Forum to reassess us in a few months’ time we will be able to show our commitment to continuously improving governance throughout the organisation. Our Senior Regulation Manager attended the Board meeting at which Patricia presented the findings, and was pleased that we had taken such decisive early action to ensure that governance was given a high priority for action in our new organisation.’

How do social landlords ‘measure up’?

Social landlords are under scrutiny like never before. This is linked to some confusion across the political spectrum about their purpose, role and activities. From the Right, some suggest social landlords are responsible for over-concentration of worklessness and benefit dependency. And from the Left, some have accused social landlords of being indistinguishable from private landlords and disconnected from their communities.

In fact, many social landlords retain their commitment to disadvantaged communities, seeking to transform the lives and life chances of local people. The National Housing Federation quantified the community impact of housing associations in England as £0.5 billion annually, which is invested in employment and enterprise services, education and skills, well-being services, measures to tackle poverty and financial exclusion, safety and cohesion and environmentalism.

It is becoming more important for social landlords to justify their role as ‘social purpose’ organisations in a turbulent operating environment and to aid communities bearing the brunt of austerity measures. That’s why Central Consultancy and Training and the Human City Institute (HCI), a social and economic policy ‘thinktank’, have come together to develop a means of exploring whether social landlords do indeed ‘measure up’.

A range of ways to measure the impact and cost-effectiveness of social purpose organisations has been developed recently across the Third Sector. We are integrating aspects of Third Sector Social Audit and Accounting and Social Return on Investment (SROI) methodologies to develop a wide-ranging but flexible approach to assess performance beyond the usual financial and housing management KPIs. Our approach still measures these outcomes, but alongside wider investment activities, community impact, deeper socio-economic impact, the extent of a localised service, environmental performance and carbon footprint, equality and diversity and the general provision of life chances. Measurement of the ‘social dividend’ from improved cost-effectiveness is central to the approach.

Tenant and stakeholder perspectives are key through the creation of audit panels, for which we have developed training and support, to oversee the development and publication of a set of Social Accounts. Along with their financial accounts, social landlords will have powerful tools to demonstrate their cost effectiveness and delivery of their social mission.

We are currently ‘piloting’ a major Social Audit and Accounting project for a group of social landlords and are using this to refine our methodology and to develop modules that other social landlords can adapt to their unique needs and those of their tenants and communities.

Kevin Gulliver is Director the Human City Institute humancity.org.uk

For further information please contact Patricia McCabe, Central Consultancy & Training

Tel: 0121 643 4745/3745

Email: [email protected]

Web: www.centralconsultancy.co.uk

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