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Opinion: Will the value for money standard really deliver value for money?

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Opinion: Will the value for money standard really deliver value for money?

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing

Housing association to share rent payment data of 36,000 tenants to help build credit history Housing association to share rent payment data of 36,000 tenants to help build credit history

By Alistair McIntosh, chief executive, Housing Quality Network

We have learned our lesson. I think everyone will meet the value for money standard next time. Does that mean we will get value for money? Who knows?

There are two big tests. We need to be on top of our return on assets and need to have a firm grip on costs. Let’s look at each of these.

I think that everyone will be able to work out their return on assets. They won’t all do it in the same way. So you will not be able to pull together any sort of a league table. It will be tricky to come up with a figure for the sector overall. It could be a classic case of one step forward and two steps back.  That is the least of our problems.

Why is there such a fuss over VfM? Number 10 is driving this whole thing.  They are not all that bothered about how you work out your return on assets. What do they want to see? They want you to sell off your high value homes and use the money to build lots of cheaper homes. I don’t talk to many landlords that are as keen on this idea as Number 10. This is the heart of the argument on VfM. You can put in a perfect VfM statement and still be out of step with the government. 

On the face of it we should have an easier time of it on costs. It looks like you all work out and compare costs in much the same way. Does this mean that it is easy to see who is too expensive? I’m not so sure.

You can make allowances for some factors that lead to high costs. If you work in London or provide a lot of care then your costs will of course be higher than others. The HCA looks at all of this every year. In the end they throw up their hands and say they just cannot explain why costs vary by so much. I am not sure that the next VfM statements will shed a lot of light on this.

Did you spot that some of the landlords that are in trouble on VfM actually have low costs and high rates of satisfaction? How can this be? It may well be that they are guilty of a few technical breaches of the standard. But are we putting the cart before the horse?

It’s hard to get to the bottom of this. We don’t all measure quality in the same way. And some landlords do move their benchmarking data about to fit the story they are trying to tell at that point. This makes it tricky to see who really sits where. Can we get better at this? Yes I think we need to try harder at being consistent.

Some say there is a better way forwards. They want to look at social value. It’s the thing that marks us apart from private landlords. What’s the problem here? You’ve guessed it. We cannot agree on how to measure it. And some of the ways it is done look a bit far-fetched. You get huge values put against run of the mill actions. Did you see the one that said teaching kids to play Ping-Pong is worth £750,000? They learn to count which helps with getting a job and they run around a bit which is good for their health*. When we get it right social value will be a big help. It could catch the eye of a future government.

But what about the government we do have now? Where will we be this time next year? I am sure that everyone will meet the VfM standard. Will we be able to prove that we are VfM? I think it will still be a confused picture on costs and quality. It is unlikely that we will sell off the high value homes in the way that the government wants. What will Number 10 do next? They don’t need to do anything.

Have you seen the arrears going up due to welfare reform? Have you seen the predictions for impairments under the new accounting rules?

These will have a much bigger impact than the standard.

VfM starts now.

*I made this up – the real examples were worse!

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