By Andrew Kilpatrick, director of assets, Caledonia Housing Association
As we embrace post-pandemic life, social landlords as well as focusing on building new homes are also putting repairs and maintenance of existing stock at the top of their priority list. This drive to make significant improvements to tenants’ homes relies on key partnerships with contractors.
We had to postpone some investment during the pandemic and are now playing catch-up by investing more than ever before in the maintenance and improvement of our housing stock. The Caledonia Group this year alone will be investing over £8m improving more than 30% of our existing 5,500 homes, however this will be challenging as we deal with a perfect storm of supply chain issues, including availability of materials and resources, leading to spiralling costs.
Whilst we are weathering the storm, as a landlord and client, we recognise that in order to deliver this investment we need to have robust long-term contracts in place with trusted contractors and suppliers to partner with us to improve tenants’ homes. This process of good relations starts with clear client requirements, a fair procurement process and negotiated contract terms.
With this in mind, quality as well as cost are key factors in our procurement process. Our network of contractors plays an integral role in our asset management, and we have a policy of introducing quality as a prerequisite when selecting contractors, looking in detail at the expertise, approach, and contractors’ ways of working, as well as the price.
We also want to make sure any contractors who have responded to a tender have done so in a way that is sustainable for them. We have already seen a price rise of over 10% for kitchens, bathrooms and windows, and other raw material costs are also still on that upward trajectory.
Experience tells us that prices seldom come back down, therefore it is important for us that we choose contractors who are building sufficient resource into their initial responses to the tendering process. There is also an imperative on us to be a good business partner. Last year, 175,000 people left the UK construction industry. We can see there is a shortage of contractors and the current boom in the construction industry means that the clamour to respond to tenders is no longer a reality.
Furthermore, tenders may only have a short shelf life due to cost volatility. We therefore need to be responsive and agile as social housing partners to get the best deal and service for our tenants.
Our asset management team and network of neighbourhood officers are the main contact points for tenants with regard to the work in their homes. However, once appointed, the contractor is also providing a service in Caledonia’s name.
We therefore have to trust our contractors crossing the threshold into our tenants’ homes to uphold Caledonia’s values and play a significant role in the successful delivery. We want our tenants to feel comfortable about contractors being in their home and, whether they are replacing their kitchen, bathroom or heating system, our reputation is in their hands.
Our aim is therefore to create long-term partnerships. Ideally, we want our contractors to understand how we do business and be sensitive to the needs of our tenants and their families.
At the same time, we need to understand the pressures contractors are under themselves, and the difficulties that they encounter in managing our expectations in an incredibly challenging environment. This requires us to work closely together as we constantly manage all projects – from small refurbishments to larger capital improvement programmes.
On the ever-increasing number of priorities on our asset management teams’ to-do lists, fostering partnership and building positive relationships with our contractors is crucial to delivering our ambitious investment plans.