The tenant Board at Bushbury Hill EMB have been pursuing stock transfer for at least a decade now, so no-one could accuse them of rushing into things. However, the very small window for the current stock transfer programme means that things are currently moving at a very fast pace. The Board has had a long time to work out what it wants to achieve with transfer, so it was not necessary to have a long and protracted partner selection process. Choosing a transfer partner has been breathless for all concerned, but a choice has now been made and I’m confident it is a good one.
Blind Date or Invitation Only?
There is no requirement for tenants using the Right to Transfer (RTT) to hold a beauty contest when choosing a potential new landlord; the choice is theirs to make. Assuming they want to join an existing housing association then it open to them to decide on a partner and proceed from there. As discussed in an earlier blog, for tenant groups with few resources, getting a partner on board at the start my be the best way to make the RTT possible and there is also scope for housing associations to approach tenant groups with an offer.
However, there are clearly benefits to introducing some competition to the process as potential partners are likely to make their most generous offer. The decision we had to make was whether to have an open process, or to invite selected HAs to take part.
Our Board decided to go with the “invitation only” approach. They wanted to be sure only to approach organisations that were a) relatively local and b) that they would be comfortable working with. There was also a consideration of time and resource pressure; it would have been hard for a small organisation to cope with an “all comers” process. It was hard enough with six invitees, if we’d had to field enquiries and visits from many more it would have been quite disruptive.
The assessment would have become unwieldy with more participants. Board members had to analyse and consider each 30 page submission against our requirements. It would have been a big ask of volunteers to do this for many more potential partners in the short time we had available. Once the written submissions were assessed by the Board, this produced a short list of two who were invited to take part in the final stages of the selection.
Showcase to tenants
The next step was a showcase event giving tenants the chance to see what each potential partner was offering and to ask their own questions. We held this event on a Saturday as this meant the majority of tenants would be able to attend, even so I was a little worried no-one would come. In fact we had a respectable turnout and those tenants who came seemed to find it a useful exercise. One thing I was surprised about was the length of time most tenants spent talking to the two organisations, having taken the trouble to come, they wanted to get the most out of it.
Crucially, in order to make it meaningful for the Board, we asked attendees to complete a simple response sheet, telling us what they liked about each potential partner and any other comments. Without this feedback the showcase would not have helped the Board in the selection process. In fact we had lots of really good feedback from tenants, mostly positive about both potential partners.
One tenant was upset that he was not personally involved in the entire partner selection, but it would have been impractical to say the least to have a selection panel of c.1200 tenants. To assess detailed and technical bids was hard work for our experienced tenant Board members, there would be no sensible way to include all tenants in the same way.
Prior to the final decision, the Board visited each of the potential partners to give them an opportunity to demonstrate some of their good work on the ground. These visits were very pleasant and gave the Board the chance to meet more staff and tenants from each organisation.
It was quite tricky for them to make the best use of these visits as they needed to show things which would be relevant to Bushbury Hill post transfer. It is fair to say that one visit was a lot better at highlighting the added value that would be available to Bushbury Hill from joining that organisation. This wasn’t make or break, but it showed the benefit of really focussing your message on what is most important to those assessing the bid.
Presentation and interview
This was the last stage in the process and along with the written submissions, carried the greatest weight. Board members set the interview questions and scored the answers, it was really important to them to make clear that this was a tenant led process .
For the presentation the Board asked the potential partners to consider how to help BHEMB address the social and economic challenges in Bushbury Hill in the long term. This is pertinent because the homes are now in pretty good shape and will remain so if transfer goes through, but the other challenges that face our community remain. We also asked how they would try to deliver a “Yes” vote in the transfer ballot – we’ve never been through it, they have, so we wanted to have some good ideas and a clear plan for involving the community
A note on scoring
There are lot of ways to do this, in the end we decided that whilst each Board member would score individually, the final score for each element or question would be a consensus score. This is more involved than simple averaging, but the downside of averages is that outliers can significantly affect the results. With an agreed score, people have to opportunity to discuss different views and analysis. We had some questions where one person scored 1 and another 5, by allowing each to explain their reasoning any misunderstandings could be identified and the group could work through to reach a consensus. No scoring system is perfect, but I think this method produced fair and accurate results.
I don’t know what the final discussions were as the Board took this decision with no officers present. They had two excellent options, so there wasn’t right or wrong option. They chose Wrekin Housing Trust as their stock transfer partner.
WHT’s proposal was excellent and offers:
- long term security of tenant control in Bushbury Hill,
- an excellent financial offer,
- added value in terms of new services,
- will help us address social and economic challenges
- provides new homes and stock diversity
- opportunities for BHEMB to grow
All we have to do now is win the ballot…