Embracing the future through joint working
“Joint Working” is a collaborative arrangement made between the public and the private sector, according to Housing Partners customer, Tendring District Council’s ‘Housing Services A-Z of Jargon’. The private sector is increasingly enmeshed with the delivery of public services and these collaborations can allow for cross-sector skills exchange and the development of robust, future-proof organisations.
Canny public-private partnerships in the social housing sector can take shape in a variety of forms, including homebuilding, community planning and engaging placemakers, or building and adopting software for operations, compliance or income management. When public services organisations engage with the private sector, they have the opportunity to put social purpose as a lead deliverable for those companies.
“In boom periods, tensions between joint venture partners are often brushed under the table as the profits roll in. In tighter economic climes, the choice of partner becomes ever important.”
The leading reason to embark upon one of these partnerships is to gain the best cross-sector expertise, taking advantage of the different skillsets each organisation brings to the table. From technical know-how to deep customer understanding, the success of public-private partnerships relies on the recognition and celebration of each party’s strengths.
In the case of software delivery, housing providers have historically, often been underserved by ‘one size fits all’ products that have failed to explore the specific needs of the sector. Indeed, Rhodri Thomas, Income and Communities Manager at Taff Housing, explains his thought process upon being approached to work in partnership on the development of our income management system, AIMLogic: “It was a perfect opportunity to build something that works for us without having to buy ‘off the shelf’ where you just have to take what you’re given.”
In 2018 the biggest single change to homeless legislation in over 40 years came into force. The Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) was introduced, drastically overhauling homelessness policy and as a knock-on effect, increasing the workload required of local authority housing teams. In response to these changes, we teamed up with the National Practitioner Support Service (NPSS) to develop a software solution that would become the flagship module within our Housing Jigsaw suite: PRAH (Prevention Relief Accommodation Homelessness.)
The software integrated the NPSS Flowchart with case management software to track outcomes and prompt action in line with the HRA. The role of NPSS in the social housing sector is to speak for and support the very people that Housing Jigsaw is designed to help – and with NPSS themselves involved in an advisory capacity with what the HRA would mandate, they were in a unique position to assist us in answering the sector needs. Through a partnership built upon vastly different skillsets, Housing Jigsaw PRAH has streamlined many of the new processes required of local authority housing teams and using the Flowchart, has ensured that they remain compliant with the Act. Moreover, the software continues to be built according to the needs of the sector and what those using the solution require in order to carry out their duties.
Gay Lloyd, Principal Housing Officer with Wychavon District Council explained the benefits of a technology partnership with social housing delivery: “For me, it’s not about the cost, it’s about Practitioners and an IT company working together; that’s what’s different. It’s very unusual to be able to influence a system, usually it’s just handed to us – we’re in a unique position here.”
The diversity of customer segmentation and the duty that local authorities and housing providers must offer is broadening. On ever-shifting terrain, solutions built for those working in this sector must be agile and responsive; software cannot not stand still in this environment. Working with local authorities and housing associations, we build products designed by and for the sector. London Borough of Hillingdon “likes the commitment” we have to our customers and listening to their specific needs by “accepting enhancement requests and regular development. There’s no ‘get what you’re given’ model and Housing Jigsaw continue to work with us to shape the system in this ever-changing environment.”
In the case of AIMLogic, the inception of the product stemmed from a round-table event that we hosted with social housing providers. Director of Income Maximisation at ForHousing, Justin Freeman describes the day as: “A really fruitful conversation and one of the things that rapidly became apparent was that all the organisations represented around the table had very common issues that they were trying to resolve in response to prevailing sector problems.” Joint working to serve a social purpose does not have to be limited to the realms of private-public partnerships, but private entities with social purpose can engage with one another, benchmarking against their peers and pooling resources.
When companies merge and partner in the corporate environment, the driving factor is to create more value by matching financial and operational services to gain efficiency. Although these are bottom line considerations for all housing associations to remain running, cost reduction strategies and new projects must be performed with residents at the heart of a partnership’s delivery. Housing associations and local authorities have a special leverage to put social purpose in the forefront of the UK’s housing sector delivery over the next decade.