A renewed focus on saving the £!

I write this as we all hold our collective breath waiting for the outcome of the general election. So forecasting what may happen in the coming months and years is even more of an art than a science than it usually is.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats emphasised fairness in society and everyone's right to a decent home in their manifesto's; the Conservatives put greater focus on home ownership with more distribution of power from the state to citizens and local communities.

We also know that if Labour is re-elected we can expect reform of the local authority Housing Revenue Account and the opportunity for greater freedom for Councils in planning and financing landlord services. But this will come at a significant price as they have to service additional debt as part of the deal. Conservative and Liberal Democrats also espouse greater freedom for local authorities but we can be confident that their proposals too will come at a price.

What we can be sure of, whatever the complexion of the new government, is that there will be a period of severely constrained public expenditure as we seek to reduce the debt burden created during the recession. All politicians are reticent to open themselves to allegations that they may be cutting public services so the flavour of the election campaign is to suggest that such cuts can be achieved painlessly. This begs the question of why such expenditure reductions may not have been made previously but at the root of this claim is a belief in some quarters that reducing bureaucracy can save hundreds of millions of pounds.

Social housing landlords are also in the early stages of the new regulatory regime established by the Tenant Services Authority. It is no real surprise that one of the six TSA Standards is Value for Money.

Whatever the merits of the arguments about the scale of 'red tape' savings there can be no doubt that systems and procedures tend to grow incrementally with new controls and arrangements being introduced to meet new problems and with little assessment about the potential to remove existing but possibly outdated controls or procedures. Some organisations have a rolling programme of review but with day to day pressures those arrangements often fall by the wayside. Then when the internal auditor arrives to look at a particular area as part of a routine programme there is consternation when weaknesses are pointed out. Some organisations rely on such audits or specially commissioned work to update their arrangements. But personally I have always found that there is a natural tendency for some auditors to add to controls and complexity in the interests of probity and transparency and that the impact on the ultimate customer may not be at the forefront of minds!

So there are considerable potential benefits from a root and branch examination of policies and procedures to test whether they are lean and remain fit for purpose. An independent external view with a strong focus on service delivery for customers and stakeholders can pay dividends in terms of effectiveness and the potential for stretching finances. As an example, in the London Borough of Enfield PMCDE are currently working closely with the Private Housing team, bringing key skills in management, customer focus, processes and systems, all designed to produce a more effective and efficient service.

At the end of the day we all have to play our part in improving efficiency and delivering value for money. For if we don't achieve that, not only will we continue to leave politicians with the opportunity to criticise, but services will deteriorate and consumers suffer. This will also contribute to the UK economy going through significant deterioration bringing with it additional challenges in the shape of higher interest rates and costs which would further weaken our services.

Key Points:

Everyone's right to a decent home in their manifesto's, Councils planning and financing landlord services, Tenant Services Authority, Social housing landlords, audits or specially commissioned work, strong focus on service delivery customers and stakeholders,Enfield Private Housing team, skills in management, customer focus, processes and systems, efficiency and delivering value for money.

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