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Cosmopolitan: It’s like déjà vu all over again

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Cosmopolitan: It’s like déjà vu all over again

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Regulation

'What's in the box?' 'What's in the box?'

By Alistair McIntosh, chief executive, Housing Quality Network

At last we can read the full report into who did what at Cosmopolitan. First of all you have got to say thanks to Sanctuary for sorting the mess out. But will this report put a stop to future shenanigans?  No. It is like déjà vu all over again.

I looked back at the 2006 report by the Housing Corporation that drew out the learning from problem cases in those days. The recommendations from 2006 and this year are more or less the same. Perhaps the only difference this time is that there is not a cheery foreword from the chair of the regulator saying that “I am  ...pleased to introduce this third volume of our Learning from problem cases series...I hope that you enjoy reading this publication even though it sets out 19 series of unfortunate events...”.

Let’s just say that those were different times.

All this leads me to ask the big question: Why do we never learn from problem cases? I cannot pretend to have all the answers but here are some thoughts anyway.

Life at an association can go from being far too easy to far too difficult in the blink of an eye. One minute it’s all under control. You have money in the bank and the HCA is whistling a happy tune. Then Jeremy Beadle pops by to remind you about a dodgy lease. A whistle blower tells the feds that gas servicing is kaput. And Mark Carney gets house prices under control just as you are trying to sell your biggest ever development programme. Good luck!

It’s a bit like being a goal keeper for a top team. A lot of the time you have very little to do. But you can’t doze off.  The other team will break through at some point so you need to anticipate where their shots will come from.  This is why the HCA is telling you to think about all the problems that could hit you at one time and train yourself to deal with these. That is good advice. Lots of associations (and ALMOs) are doing this now.

But the problems seldom come from the landlords that take advice and think things through. It’s the have-a-go heroes that you need to watch out for.

I still do not think the HCA has enough staff to spot these characters and stop them in their tracks. What would I do? I would recruit a group of top ex-chairs and chief executives and give them a bit of freedom to roam. They could start by looking at the VfM statements. What they say, and don’t say about an association can tell you a lot.

In skilled and experienced hands this could open up some very useful conversations. The statements cover everything from high level finance to day to day repairs so you’ve got the chance to nip some problems in the bud. It would help the associations and help the HCA. And the HCA will need a life line one day.

When they do their own stress-testing I bet they think about what would happen if two or three associations hit the rocks at the same time. It is hard to see how they would cope. So prevention is much better than cure. One small housing association that no one knew much about caused huge problems for all of us.

This time it’s not enough to write an essay about problem cases. We do finally have to learn from one of them.

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