Delivering for customers beyond COVID-19

Gavin Cansfield, chief executive

Chief Executive, Gavin Cansfield

Throughout the COVID-19 lockdown, we have done everything possible to ensure our colleagues can continue to help customers to remain comfortable in their homes. This has not always been easy, but we have been determined to support our communities in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and neighbouring areas.

We have been working with local partners to plan how we will emerge from lockdown, how we will change and target services we deliver, including to those vulnerable people who remain shielded. Our new business plan commits us to build 1,500 homes – 90% of which will be affordable – by 2024. We remain on track to deliver this, but are working with our building contractor and developer partners to ensure our sites ramp up again safely.

Beyond COVID-19

No-one can predict what the immediate future will look like, history has some lessons but it will be different in many ways from what we knew before. As a social housing provider we exist to help people who are struggling to find a place to live and to stay comfortably in their homes, so that they can live the life they choose.

To this end, I wanted to update you on our performance against our key targets over the past 12 months. We measure our impact and effectiveness in many ways, but our four key areas are:

  • Customer effort and trust
  • Finance
  • Colleague trust
  • Development

These measures are at the heart of helping ensure we deliver our five-year business plan objectives of providing good services, being a well-run social business, delivering more homes and being a place colleagues love to work.

Stretch targets

The targets we set ourselves each year are stretch targets. This means we deliberately set the bar high, in order to push ourselves harder. While we haven’t achieved all these measures this time, we have achieved more than the previous year. We continue to move forward and are in a really strong place to deliver on our commitments to communities. So how did we do and what is next?

Customer effort and trust: Our effort target for 2019/20 was 4.5 and we achieved 3.2 as measured by real-time customer surveys (a lower score is better). Last year we did 4.3 and 4.2 prior to that. Our trust score target was 7.2; we achieved 6.3 (a higher score is better). The previous year we achieved 6.6 and 7.2 the year before that. We hit our target for effort but dropped below the target for trust. We are carrying out further analysis to understand more about this and will turn this one around. We can see that when we do well, we do very well, however when things aren’t straight forward for our customers we don’t do as well as we should with taking ownership, maintaining contact and getting things resolved quickly for them. We are making some immediate changes around our handling of complaints and looking at how we manage things more effectively through case management, with workshops planned with colleagues in the coming weeks. 

Finance: Our target was to achieve a 33% operating margin. The audit of our financial results for 2019/20 is yet to be completed, but it looks like we will achieve a slightly lower than expected margin this year. This is largely due to COVID-19, meaning development completions were delayed and also some asset sales were completed later than hoped.

Colleague Trust: Last year we achieved 75%, up from 69% and 67% during the previous two years. Our target this year was 77% and, based on a colleague survey run at the end of 2019, we achieved 76%.

Development: Last year we achieved our target, delivering 123 homes against a target of 120. This year our target was 180 new homes and we achieved 113. Again, the COVID-19 outbreak hit our plans, as building sites were closed meaning 40-50 homes were delayed. Work on these is now resuming and they will be handed over shortly for customers to move into their new homes.

We have made huge progress in significant projects over the past year. This includes our first regeneration scheme (a £20m investment in John Barker Place in Hitchin), which remains on track and will see work on the first step – the new children’s play area – begin in mid-June, with homes and shops to begin later in 2020. Other notable developments include at Stotfold Football Club, with the first phase to relocate the stadium completed earlier this year. In the next few weeks, we will start building 62 affordable rent and shared ownership homes on the club’s former site.

We are determined to continue this positive momentum and are discussing with investors raising funds – around £50-£60 million – to finance further development and keep increasing the number of affordable homes we build.

In many ways COVID-19 has changed life forever, yet, many of the previous challenges remain. Old or new, we are clear that we will ensure settle delivers for our customers.

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