Digital Marketplace on the G-Cloud 11 framework agreement

Digital Market Place

SDS ProVal, Sequel and HomeMatch software is now also available via GOV.UK Digital Marketplace on the GCloud 11 framework agreement.

The GOV Digital marketplace is a government website that organisations can use to find cloud software and services.

Buying through this framework means you can save time and the associated costs of entry into individual procurement contracts. Many organisations can use the Digital Marketplace as an alternative to the tender process since there is a standardised set of information from each supplier provided on the portal. This information is what is typically requested in a tender for cloud-based software.

One of the other benefits of using this service is that SDS will be able to work more closely with customers in the pre-sale process than would be possible using a traditional tender arrangement.

The G Cloud 11 framework is an agreement between the government and SDS where both agree to follow the terms of a formal procurement process as described in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU). 

Three SDS products are available on the GOV.UK Digital Marketplace: SDS ProVal to appraise the feasibility of schemes; SDS Sequel to project manage the delivery of those schemes; and SDS HomeMatch to manage the conveyancing of the homes in those schemes. This means our customers have a simpler route to procure our brilliant software to develop more affordable homes.

“We are pleased to offer our software on the Gov.UK Digital Marketplace to enable more customers to manage their risk while helping to solve the housing crisis.” CEO Phil Shelton.

Local Authorities: Getting the right housing delivery team in place

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Local Authorities: Getting the right housing delivery team in place

If you’re a Local Authority that has decided you want to start doing housing delivery for yourself, you’re going to need the right delivery team in place.  You may have existing staff with related skills, but if you haven’t directly delivered any housing for a few years, it’s highly likely that those in-house staff will struggle to get up to speed confidently and competently without a lot of support. Your current internal procedures and financial regulations will also probably need overhauling to suit the activity and give your team a clear fit-for-purpose structure within which to work.

Different Local Authorities decide to develop houses for various reasons.  For some it’s to increase the supply of all housing or only affordable housing, for others it’s to diversify housing stock, or it could be for income generation.  Your reasons will be tailored to your local circumstances, and you should get an approved strategy in place to articulate those. Your intentions and purpose will influence the most suitable methods for delivery.

One option would be to use the expertise of a partner organisation, which could be a nearby Local Authority that’s already delivering, or more likely a partner Registered Provider with a suitable track record to act as your Development Agent.  If you take this route, it’s recommended that you have an empowered and experienced member of staff on your team who can coordinate the client function. They would act as the interface with your Development Agent and administer a Development Agency Agreement that sets out the scope of the service, standards, fees, etc.  

The benefits of Development Agency are that you don’t need to retain an expensive team and the ongoing costs associated with it.  You get direct access to experienced staff with all the right tools already in place to support you in your aims. The downsides are that it’s harder to build internal capacity if that’s your longer-term aim.  It may also be difficult in some geographical areas to find a Registered Provider willing to allocate some of their resources to generating housing that won’t belong to them. If you have your land and can share the new housing generated with them in suitable numbers, then that may well prove sufficient incentive.

If you aim to have an in-house team and deliver directly in your own right, you should be comfortable that you’ll be creating sufficient numbers of new homes to make this worthwhile.  The costs, or an appropriate portion of the costs, of such staff, can be capitalised to the schemes they are delivering. This means that you don’t need to allow for a drain on revenue funding if your team are fully employed in delivery.  Of course, the new homes they create will generate revenue too. Setting your financial parameters and using an appropriate scheme financial appraisal tool will allow you to calculate economic impact over the development period and after the homes go into long-term management.

It may well make sense for you to share a specialist team between yourself and neighbouring partner authorities to share costs and create more favourable economies of scale.

Getting the right staff in place will quite likely be a challenge for all sorts of reasons.  Assuming you don’t have current experience in housing delivery, there’s no shame in accepting you won’t necessarily know what kind of people with what kind of skills you need.  

Perhaps you have a contract with an employment agency you could call upon.  Be aware though, that if you don’t know what you need, they will need to be a pretty specialist agency to correctly interpret your requirements and find you the right type of people.  Getting the recruitment right is crucial to your organisation’s success, so investing in some consultancy assistance here is highly advisable.

There are a limited number of people out there with the right skills, and the sector, in general, hasn’t been good over the years at training people in this specialism.  Having transferable skills is great, but this is a niche activity with added layers of specialist compliance. If you get things wrong, there can be some heavy prices to pay with the risk of reputational, financial and regulatory damage.  

You may also come across salary and benefit package issues.  Development staff are well remunerated for their skill set, and within a Registered Provider, these roles will usually come out pretty high up the salary rankings.  More often than not, they’ll also get a car allowance. You’ll need to find out what the current going rates are in your area and work out how you will be competitive as a potential employer.  Local authorities have a much better pension scheme on offer, so that’s worth emphasising. A good pension scheme is worth having. You might also offer flexible and home-based working opportunities, paid professional memberships, generous holiday allowances, training and CPD opportunities and so on.

Now let’s be frank … amongst many Registered Provider employees, Local Authorities seem to have a reputation as a less attractive place to work.  You may be up against this reputation, deserved or not! So, you would benefit from selling yourselves as the great, dynamic, groundbreaking, worthwhile organisations that you aspire to be!  

Many development staff went into the sector because giving something back to the community motivated them, and they enjoy being part of creating something tangible.  A lot of them have been through several major restructures and mergers, which can, of course, be very unsettling. They may have started their careers delivering bespoke schemes on a small scale, but now find themselves churning out large numbers of S.106 affordable housing requirement units where they have limited input and not much room for imagination.  Perhaps they started in the sector working for a fairly small housing association with a few hundred or a few thousand homes and now find themselves working in a very corporate environment with tens of thousands of units. Their work drivers are likely to be very different in that larger organisation, where ‘big finance’ has a major influence on development activity.

Contrast this with working for a Local Authority.  You’re going to be delivering homes within set geography, so the chance to know your area and the people you serve  … and potentially a lot less travelling! The proportion of S.106 affordable housing numbers in your portfolio may be a lot lower, and by contrast, your work could well be a lot more varied and creative.  The money you’re spending on new homes is less likely to be coming from bond finance, so the ‘big finance’ drivers that now prevail in Registered Providers fall away, which could mean a less bland workload.  You can deliver schemes purely because they’re what is needed in a locality, rather than because they’re needed to feed the machine. It might be easier to balance a programme of schemes with some money-spinners that cross-subsidise some less financially attractive proposals.  An attractive selling point as an employer could be all the reasons why Local Authorities are the new Housing Associations!

If you’re still struggling to recruit the right people, never be tempted to settle for the not-quite-right people, or the downright wrong people, just because they’re the only ones that applied.  Recruit for relevant experience, proven track record and attitude. If they don’t tick those three boxes, then they’re not going to get you where you want to be regarding delivery. It would be much better to get in interims and specialist consultants with experience at a strategic level until you can find the right people.  Those same interims or consultants will probably be able to help you find the right people. They should also be able to up-skill a handpicked selection of your in-house staff with transferable skills and an interest in your development aspirations.

Now a note on where to advertise roles.  Most development specialists are actively seeking a change of job are most likely to go to Inside Housing as their first port of call – on their website and in the weekly magazine.  LinkedIn and social media are also ideal places to post job adverts and ask people to share. Use any liaison or partnership meetings with Registered Providers and Local Enterprise Partnerships to let people know you’re recruiting. Wherever you advertise for staff, ensure the benefits of working with you and your organisation are clear.

If you’ve come across people that know what they’re talking about, informally invite them to apply, or ask them if they know of anybody who could be suitable.

When putting together an interview panel, you need at least one person involved who knows housing delivery inside out.  This is a specialist field, and it would be effortless to ask the wrong questions, not recognise the subtleties of a right answer, or be unable to uncover just how much experience someone has through probing.  You need to find out how your candidates are likely to fare working within a new team where some of the rules are not yet written. Depending on your development strategy, there could be a need for razor-sharp negotiating skills, the ability to broker flexible yet regulatory-compliant solutions, or a call for out of the ordinary due diligence.  Risk management will be critical, especially as development is capital-intensive.

Once you have one or two experienced people in place, you may want to consider growing your talent pool in this area.  New entrants to housing delivery in the social sector have been limited for some years, and there appears to be a decreasing number of people to choose from.  Running an in-house bespoke course is an option, or a mentoring programme using experienced professionals. This presents an excellent opportunity to grow an area of expertise that could be marketable to other authorities who aren’t as far ahead as you.

By the time you’ve got your team in place, you’ll want to retain them.  Regular reviews of progress in a lively culture which values continuous improvement make for an attractive place to work. As is getting new homes delivered at the same time as minimising the bureaucracy of decision making.

Author; Fiona Astin

Selling Shared Ownership Today in the Local Authority Sector – Part 1

Selling Shared Ownership Today in the Local Authority Sector - Part 1

As the renaissance of development activity by local authorities continues to gather pace, shared ownership development is starting to come into the conversation. This really should be no surprise, because although assisted home ownership schemes have come and gone over the years, shared ownership has consistently been helping people get on the home ownership ladder. And while there were some co-ownership type schemes dating back to the late 1960s, it was a local authority that gave birth to shared ownership as we know it. Birmingham City Council’s 50:50 Scheme was launched in 1975 and is widely acknowledged in the sector as the forefather of contemporary shared ownership.

With more than 35 years passed since that groundbreaking initiative in the Midlands, shared ownership is as relevant today as it always has been and arguably more so in this age of austerity. While there will still be the debate about what is the greatest need and where resources should be targeted, whatever the tenure being looked at, the root of our housing crisis stems from the fact that we are not building enough houses. With shared ownership we get more bang for our buck- we can just create more homes with the resources available because the customer is funding part of it. In days gone by, shared ownership would not have found favour amongst some local authorities because they wanted to concentrate their resources on those in the most perceived need. However, the sector has matured over the years and now acknowledges that the desire for home ownership in Britain is so strong, we cannot ignore that desire. Rightly or wrongly, like warm beer and cricket, homeownership is part of our DNA.

Local authorities all over the country are starting to embrace shared ownership as they move into development. One example of this is Cherries Court, Bournemouth. Although Bournemouth Borough Council restarted their development activity a few years ago, Cherries Court, completed in December 2017 was its first shared ownership development.  There were over 150 enquiries for the eleven 2 and 3 bed family homes, and they were all reserved off plan 10 weeks before practical completion. Most purchasers were moving in only one working day after practical completion. Gary Josey, Director of Housing and Communities at Bournemouth Borough Council, is in no doubt which direction Bournemouth will be moving:

“At Bournemouth, we need more housing of ALL tenures. Not only does it address a pressing need, but housing development stimulates the economy and ferments regeneration. With the overwhelming success of Cherries Court, shared ownership is certainly going to play an important part in our development programme as we move forward.”

So rather than shunning a tenure that has undoubtedly helped thousands to home ownership since the Birmingham initiative in 1975, now is a good time for local authorities to embrace shared ownership and include it in their development programs.

In fact, local authorities have an advantage over traditional housing associations when it comes to ensuring their shared ownership developments benefit their local communities. By developing outside a Registered Programme, local authorities can mandate that purchasers have a local connection. This is in contrast to housing associations where, since a ministerial announcement in 2016, it has not been permitted to insist on such conditions if the homes are being built as part of a Registered Programme, (which with very few exceptions, is the case). We will look at this in more detail later in this article.

Sales and Marketing of shared ownership is very different to allocating homes for social or affordable rent, but it is an essential element of modern development within the social sector. In this article, we will be looking at the full story of selling shared ownership, to demystify it for new entrant local authorities, and to outline where SDS can help local authorities embrace it as part of their development programme.

Read the other articles in the series

Selling shared ownership today in the local authority sector – Part 1

Shared ownership culture – Part 2

Shared ownership, begin with the end in mind – Part 3

Shared ownership, time to get underway – Part 4

Shared ownership, the marketing plan – Part 5

Shared ownership, brand and branding – Part 6

Shared ownership, the ultimate sales strategy – Part 7

Shared ownership mortgages and conveyancing – Part 8

Shared ownership, it’s not over when it’s over – Part 9