Collaboration between local authorities and housing associations has been around as a topic since time began.
We are, after all, natural partners. There is a significant overlap between the people we work with and the challenges they face. Yet despite the numerous excellent examples of where collaboration works brilliantly, deep partnerships still remain relatively uncommon. We’ve been determined to find out why that is.
March saw the launch of the New Local Government Network publication A Design For Life, supported by Peabody, Capsticks and Moat. The basis of the report was to look at the practicalities of collaboration, leading to honest conclusions about why they remained infrequent and whether or not the barriers – both real and perceived – could be overcome.
Somewhat perversely, it seems that the drivers themselves can form a barrier of sorts. Though they vary greatly, one of the main drivers often cited for collaboration is the mitigation of costs. We’re sympathetic to the budgetary pressures that councils face and so it makes sense to co-operate where we can save some money. But proving the value of collaboration in monetary terms is not always straightforward – especially where social value is concerned. Without an effective and convincing method of measuring savings, the perceived effort can easily outweigh the perceived gains.
In my view, it is time to expand the range of factors that lead us into joined-up partnerships, guided by two overarching drivers: greater efficiency for providers, and superior support for end users.
Firstly, efficiency is not the same as saving money. Collaboration based around cost mitigation tends to be time or programme-limited, after which, we can too easily go back to the way it was before. Efficiency, on the other hand, is enduring. An example might be sharing information on households impacted by under-occupation rules versus a longer-term agreement on data-sharing with the aim of identifying residents at risk of arrears. I would argue that the former may be useful for a limited period of time, but it would not vastly change the way we work. The latter, however, would force us to look for more effective ways of measuring, collecting, supplying, and evaluating data on an ongoing basis.
Secondly, our administrative structures must not only be approachable, but they must be responsive to what our communities need. Many housing associations are moving towards a more holistic approach with the aim of influencing outcomes beyond bricks and mortar. In people’s daily lives, problems are not tightly contained within agencies or departments; they are interdependent and often mutually-reinforcing. So as important as the physical home is, the creation of thriving communities depends on a range of joined-up services that bridge policy areas such as employment, healthcare, and education.
If we agree with the notion that people and communities face problems that are not tightly sealed within departments, we also need to sign up to the notion that greater collaboration will help us span these issues.
The past ‘go-to’ driver of cost-mitigation is no longer enough; we have to be driven in providing a better level of support to our residents and customers. In order to achieve this, we have to become more efficient in the way we distribute our resources.
Clearly, there is a great deal more that we can do both for both current and future residents. But only by working in deeper partnerships will we deliver the coherent, personalised, multi-agency approach needed for people and communities to prosper.
Elizabeth Austerberry is chief executive at Moat
Column sponsored and supplied by Capsticks