Carrots, Sticks and New Approaches

Elliott Brooks is assistant director for housing at Dacorum Borough Council and spoke to Construction News this week and talks about Dacorum Borough Council and Osborne taking partnership up a level.

The construction industry delivers many successful projects, but too often this is at the cost of the client / contractor relationship.

This can mean little trust, expensive claims and no long-term relationship.

At Dacorum Borough Council, we wanted to do better than this for our 10,500 tenants when we procured a new contract for our housing repairs, planned maintenance and empty homes service in 2013.
“We wanted good value, but we also wanted ideas”

Three years on and it is almost the second anniversary of our 10-year contract with Osborne.
Although the relationship has not been without its moments, I am proud to say that we now deliver a better service for our tenants and have generated savings and additional income of £1.8m since July 2014 that has all been re-invested in improving the service.

So how have we done it?
Clarifying objectives

First, we worked with residents and elected members to determine exactly what we wanted. In our case this was to realign our housing investment to focus more on planned investment than responsive repairs.
Second, we were open with the market about our expectations. Yes, we wanted good value, but we also wanted ideas.

We held discussions with contractors and engaged in a competitive and two-way dialogue – uncommon in this part of the industry – once we had decided our shortlist.

Osborne Property Services was the service provider that best understood our aspirations and bought into our vision of a total asset management approach.

Crucially at this stage and through the procurement approach we used, both parties were able to determine the positive behaviours we believe are essential to a successful, long-term partnership.
This really helped build trust early on – one of our most important achievements, meaning any problems have been jointly addressed and quickly resolved.

Third, in addition to the normal contract key performance indicators, we added a higher layer of ‘key strategic indicators’.
“We ensured there were carrots as well as sticks in the contract”
These included hitting the KPIs, but also the integration of IT systems, engaging with tenants on service delivery and an ‘open book’ approach to financial audits.

While Osborne has at times found these targets challenging, it has so far delivered and our tenants are very happy with the service, with a 98 per cent customer satisfaction score.

Positive approach
Fourth, we ensured there were carrots as well as sticks in the contract.

A crucial area is the commitment to a 50:50 efficiency gain share on savings beyond the tendered work rates.

This positive approach has encouraged Osborne to invest in the community with a dedicated contact centre, creating many local jobs, and to invest in our shared IT, transforming the quality of our property data and consequently the decisions we take.

We are continuing to work hard with Osborne on developing the service.
An upgraded IT infrastructure has just been implemented and our new InTouch software allows customers to contact us how they want, when they want.

Our approach may not be traditional, but it has delivered results and not just for Dacorum Borough Council and its tenants, but for Osborne as well.

Elliott Brooks is assistant director for housing at Dacorum Borough Council and this article was featured in Construction News.