Alan Long: The housing sector needs to take scrutiny more seriously
Following the report from the independent scrutiny board on Mears’ performance as a housing provider, executive director Alan Long discusses why the housing sector should be taking scrutiny more seriously.
Scrutiny is a word which is often bandied about – people say more of it is needed and companies which fail are decried as having not enough of it.
Let me be clear about what I think scrutiny means in the context of the housing sector.
It is about residents, Government and Local Authorities being able to clearly see how a company is performing when engaged in public contracts or contracts which deal in any way with their homes.
For the past 15 years, I’ve been trying to get scrutiny to work at Mears in a way which compliments the scrutiny already provided by our housing association and local government partners. It’s a difficult balance trying to match different governance structures whilst asking residents to commit their time and effort to check in on how a company is performing.
I’ve seen the sector present issues to residents that are nothing to do with the aspects of work which would most compromise their safety, happiness, and wellbeing but on cosmetic engagement exercises. Whilst well-meaning this type of scrutiny doesn’t uncover issues which might be worrying or embarrassing for a company to then try to resolve.
When the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny (CfGS) proposed a radical new way of scrutinising Mears’ work I have to say I was a little nervous.
An independent chair who used to be responsible for housing at the Government Department would understand the sector and how it works. A strong panel of Mears residents selected by the CfGS and paid for their time and involvement would create a potential panel of critics. And with the right to directly hold our PLC Board to account and to issue a public report without our involvement could be a very risky strategy to prove that resident-led scrutiny works.
However, I’m delighted to report our new approach has worked extremely well and I am proud of our board members – and grateful to them for coming up with a report which rightly highlights what Mears does well, where Mears needs to do more and welcomes our hard work over the pandemic. They have engaged across our business and raised issues which perhaps weren’t on our own agenda. Terrie Alafat has been thoughtful, challenging and has used her experience to train and develop board members to challenge us where we need to be challenged.
Mears now needs to do our part to ensure that we take everything the report has said and figure out how we best implement it.
Scrutiny can’t be recorded and then left to gather dust – the hard work for Mears and the board has just begun.
I look forward to working with them over the next year.