Welcome! What we are going to cover in this workshop today..
We are going to tell you about our journey in scrutiny and co-regulation at Spectrum and the lessons learned along the way! We are going to tell you about why our partnerships are so important to us and how we have made them work.
We are a Housing Association Resident Scrutiny Group based in the South East. We work in an association with 18,000 homes spread across several counties. We have been going for 5 years now. But as a starting point, let’s look at what scrutiny all about.
Now for a little bit about where our Scrutiny Group is today and how our Scrutiny Group works ….
What is the Spectrum Residents’ Group? The Spectrum Residents’ Group or SRG is a resident scrutiny group made up of 12 resident volunteers. The SRG receives training and support to scrutinise all aspects of Spectrum’s business – housing services and any other area we want (such as Development - building new homes). The SRG also acts as an advisory group and a link between residents, staff and the Spectrum Housing Group Board. We feed into business and improvement plans and other strategies. SRG members get involved in Board and senior recruitment. We scrutinise the decisions of our Board to make sure that Spectrum always puts residents at the heart and takes their views, needs and priorities into account.
How does the SRG undertake scrutiny? Each year SRG members set a programme of activities to robustly investigate particular business areas. Usually where performance or resident satisfaction has fallen below acceptable levels. We review how things are done and make recommendations to ensure residents are getting the best service possible and money is being wisely spent. Spectrum gives us access to relevant staff and information in order for us to scrutinise and assess services and understand how the organisation is performing. Members of the SRG have signed up to a Code of Conduct to ensure that Data Protection, confidentiality and other regulations are met. We are supported by Spectrum through training, the payment of out of pocket expenses, the provision of IT equipment and the help of two members of staff (a staff facilitator and someone who carries out our secretary role).
How does the SRG undertake scrutiny? (cont’d) We define our scrutiny role as providing a ‘critical friend’ challenge to the Board. The impartial SRG members lead and own the scrutiny process but do not duplicate the function of the Board or Audit Committee. We work cooperatively with them to drive service improvement and increased accountability to residents. The Board retains ultimate responsibility for the success of the organisation, but responds formally to SRG reports and recommendations.
Our journey – (the early days) We used to be four separate Housing Associations. In March 2008, we came together for our first joint residents’ conference. A speaker from CIH told us about a new idea called “resident-led self-regulation”.
We liked this idea so much, that residents wanted to set up a group-wide scrutiny panel. We set up a joint steering group made up from residents from each of the 4 H.A’s. This group would plan what the new scrutiny group would look like and what it would do.
We held competency based interviews and set up the SRG Scrutiny panel in July 2009 but there were some big lessons learned at this stage…
The lessons learned on our journey.. As we were moving from 4 associations towards a Group structure and a completely new resident involvement model, it was a difficult time. Some of our residents did not want to let go of former structures and did not like the idea of competency based interviews to get onto the scrutiny panel. They felt that some residents had earned “the right” to a scrutiny panel place.
However, we stuck to our guns and the decisions made by the steering group, which were based on a wide scope of resident opinion. We selected people for the scrutiny group strictly based on their ability to meet the skills needed for the role.
Also the steering group had decided to stay true to CIH guidance and not allow anyone who came on to the scrutiny group to be part of Governance structures. This is important because in order to be truly independent, scrutineers must not be put into a position where they are asked to scrutinise or challenge another body of which they are a member.
A small number of tenants lobbied against this and as a result management allowed the following: Residents already serving on representative structures in each H.A will have an equal opportunity to apply for membership on the group. Using this open recruitment and selection method will allow each H.A to consider diversity issues against their resident profile and stock holding.
This caused us problems as we ended up with tenants on the scrutiny panel, who were also Board members and involved in other Governance structures. We had to unpick this several years later in a project we called HORIZON in 2012.
What has gone well.. We are pleased to say that from the outset, the scrutiny panel has had enormous support from the Spectrum Board and staff. We have been granted an “access all areas” pass to undertake effective scrutiny. The partnership between us is based on mutual trust and respect. We have agreements in place to deal with joint working and conflict should it arise. We have an annual budget of £30k and can bring in an independent advisor/mediator if we need to.
Serious detriment We also have a formal serious detriment agreement in place with our Board. Board will immediately mobilise and carry out an investigation if the scrutiny group believes that there is a potential of serious detriment to residents.
Now for a little piece of film…. Add in SRG part of the Involvement DVD
What the SRG has done to date? Year 1 - the SRG scrutinised Spectrum’s approach to Value for Money and made recommendations which were adopted by Spectrum. This included a recommendation that vacant property inspectors were introduced across Spectrum to ensure high re-let standards were met and that vacant properties were promptly allocated. Year 2 - the SRG scrutinised one of the most important services to residents – Housing Management. The assessment found that it is a good service where strengths outweigh weaknesses. The Housing Management service also has a high level of tenant satisfaction and resident involvement is embedded across the Spectrum Group. Year 3 – the SRG scrutinised Spectrum’s approach to Equality and Diversity as well as a number of other areas of service.
Year 4 and 5 Year 4 We carried out Resident Newsletter Scrutiny –saving the organisation over £45k. We scrutinised a Stock Transfer which was one of the largest ever in the South East. We scrutinised our Housing Management (Operations Restructure), to check that the quality of service to residents had not reduced. The SRG also hosts two Resident Seminars each year. This year (Year 5) we are scrutinising the ‘New Tenant Experience’.
Our partnership with the Board – scrutiny of Group Board decision-making
Our scrutiny group has a mandate to scrutinise the entire business which includes scrutinising the accountability of the Board. We used to do this by examining Board’s decision-making retrospectively, in that we would audit 6 random Board decisions that had been taken over the course of a year. (We choose decisions with direct relevance and interest to residents.)
Our objective was to assess to extent to which the Board had taken account of residents’ views, needs and priorities in the decision-making process. The Board received feedback about how they could improve on the accountability of their decision- making processes overall. Now the Spectrum Residents’ Group, is able to scrutinise decision-making as it takes place by being spectators at Group Board meetings. We are invited to witness the process in real-time and then submit a feedback report. We use a template to guide us through this scrutiny which is available for you to take away along with some of our other literature. We think the partnership the scrutiny panel has with our Board is quite ground-breaking – especially as it is to the extent that the Board expose their own accountability to scrutiny.
What do our Board members think? “The success of Spectrum’s co-regulation partnership between the Group Board, the Spectrum Residents Group (SRG) and the Spectrum Community Forums works is, in no small part, down to the relationship built up between the SRG and the Board over a number of years. This has now developed to such an extent that it is able to carry out its scrutiny role with thoroughness and also with clarity about its independence from the decision making processes of the board and the Community Forums. The respect, trust and openness established by the members of the SRG with the Board means that SRG members are able to conduct ‘live’ scrutiny of board decisions by attending meetings and giving constructive feedback to the board.”
Resident Leadership at Spectrum The Spectrum Community Forums are part of the Governance structure. They are resident-led local boards with delegated powers for decisions and some budget responsibility. Whilst the SRG has a group-wide “access all areas” focus, the CFs zoom in on neighbourhood- level housing services, monitoring quality and performance and holding Spectrum to account for improvements.
More information? If you would like any of our SRG reports or information about Resident Involvement at Spectrum Housing Group, please see us at our conference display stand or contact: The Resident Network Team on 01983 824262