Chairs Blog No.10

Chairs Blog

Welcome to the latest Chair’s blog providing the recent achievements of MTHA from a business and Board perspective.

The main headlines from a recent Board meeting included:

  1. Welsh Language Scheme – the scheme is a way to ensure that in Wales the English and Welsh languages are treated equally and sets out how all public bodies intend to fulfil this commitment when providing services to the public in Wales.

At present there is still no indication as to when the Welsh standards will be applied to all Housing Associations. In the meantime, there is an expectancy that Housing Associations will continue to implement the Welsh Language Scheme and report to their respective Boards for discussion and agreement.

An action plan was presented to Board as we have a responsibility to monitor and approve the action plan on an annual basis. The action plan presented will ensure that we comply with the standard including:

  • Policies and initiatives
  • Services that are provided
  • Quality standards
  • Correspondence, communication over the telephone, public meetings and publishing and printing materials

An example would be to produce key strategic documents or those aimed at the public in general in  both English and Welsh.

  • Review of Risk Management Arrangements – MTHA recently tendered for a review of our risk management arrangements with the benefit of having a fresh pair of eyes from outside the association to challenge how we currently manage risks that could have a negative impact on the business. Our external consultant,  HQN (Housing Quality Network) undertook the review and the executive summary states:

 ‘’Overall MTHA has a sound approach to risk and has developed systems and processes to review risk at board and senior management team level. There are a number of policies and documents which set out the framework and there are regular reports on risk issues and risk management to the committees and board’’

There will be  a review of all risks led by the Audit & Risk committee to ensure that we are managing all risks effectively and our  new risk framework will include risk appetite, lines of defense, culture and risk ownership.

  • The review of affordable housing supply – Minister and Community Housing Cymru responses. The independent review of affordable housing supply in Wales was launched in May 2019 in which current housing policy in Wales was examined as we all want to ensure that we have a vision in Wales where good housing is a basic right for all.

The review provided a number of key recommendations for the social housing sector and included:

  • 5-year rent policy
    • Value for money
    • Near zero carbon homes
    • Collaboration between housing associations and local authorities
    • Grant funding reform

There was a discussion with board as each of these areas will now feed in to and inform our strategic approach as we move forward as a business.

There are already ideas being discussed in the sector and I represented MTHA at a recent event hosted by Trivallis where other representatives from Housing Associations, Local Authorities and other organisations providing services to the public started the process of identifying opportunities to work more closely to give maximum benefit in the communities that we are based, these ranged from providing new homes through to employment opportunities and providing value for money.

  • Performance and information – Health and Safety Compliance – Health and Safety is always a priority for MTHA in respect of our tenants, communities, partners and staff. This is the reason it always features so highly in the risk management side of the business. As such it was pleasing to read and discuss the report confirming that this is an area operationally that we are managing well.
  • Tenant & Community Development

MTHA have a history of developing initiatives that benefit our tenants and communities and below is a link to a video that highlights the work undertaken between April and June 2019:

  • Developments on site – we currently have 3 developments on-site, being 8 flats in the town centre (expected March 2020), 43 units at Ymyl Yr Afon, Merthyr Vale (phased delivery over the next 2 years) and 8 units in Lower Thomas Street (due end of 2020).

Ian Bell

Chairs Blog AGM 2019 MTHA & Desley Reynolds Award

  • Desley Reynolds Participation Award

As is usual at the end of our AGM we like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of both our tenants, partners and staff who work tirelessly to support both our tenants and our community. Below are a few examples which highlight the great work we are carrying out in our community.

The garden at Kevin Ryan Court is for all the residents to use. Over the years, it has seen tenants contribute garden ornaments, planters and flowers but over time has lacked the love it has needed even with MTHA staff holding a community investment day and regular grass cutting. It just needed that little bit more.

So when a few of the tenants started to take care of the garden, it started a whole new enthusiasm for the garden from the residents. Small green houses, propagators & raised beds were put in place to make sure the vegetables had the best start.

Other residents felt welcomed into the garden, they’ve even held art sessions out in the garden – they’ve repainted some of the very old ornaments, using their working life skills and as a thank you for all their hard work the following gentlemen are receiving the Desley Reynolds Participation Award.

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Alongside the work that the residents were doing, the local PCSO Peter and Police Officer Angela joined in with the gardening with their police cadets. Working alongside Bill, Lyndon, David, & Bryn they worked out what needed to be cut, where they needed to plant, and what color to paint the benches.

The young people came in the evenings after college ready and keen to plant, chop, sweep, paint and attack the rose bushes. The only thing that fazed one of them was the spiders in the equipment store box.

On behalf of the residents of Kevin Ryan Court and MTHA we would like to thank the PCSO officers and all the young people for their help in creating what is now a wonderful outside space for the residents of Kevin Ryan Court.  Your work alongside the residents of Kevin Ryan Court and MTHA staff has enabled the creation of a fantastic garden space where tenants love to sit and enjoy.

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  • Staff Awards

The final award of the evening went to 3 staff members who selflessly and with no regard for their own safety rescued a vulnerable tenant from a fire. The staff members showed bravery and clear thinking and Merthyr Housing would like to publicly acknowledge their heroism.

Chairs Blog AGM 2019

  • AGM Business

On 26th September the AGM took place to comply with a number of legal requirements. The previous year’s minutes were approved and the accounts, approved by Board, were presented as a true and accurate record. Bevan & Buckland were confirmed as our auditors until September 2020.

  • Annual Report

Karen Courts, MTHA Chief Executive, presented the annual report and gave examples of how MTHA has positively impacted on the lives of our tenants and the local community.

To read the full Annual report follow this link https://www.mtha.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/QU0057-MTHA-Annual-Report-2019-v9.pdf

  • Election of Board members

During the year three Board members had stood down for various reasons including family or work commitments, it is always sad to see valued colleagues leave but I would like to take this opportunity to again thank Steve Walters, Robert Wathen and Liam Davies for all that they have done and the time they have given to MTHA and wish them every success for the future.

Rebecca Little, a tenant with MTHA and somebody who has worked closely with the staff team on various panels and working groups for the benefit of the tenants was elected as Board member in July. Also, four other members were recruited as co-optees and offered themselves for election and were then duly elected at the AGM, so the newly elected Board members this year are:

  • Rebecca Little – a tenant with MTHA who has been very active as a member of TSSG and has already provided good feedback in respect of the application process for tenants to become Board members. The ideas that have been provided to simplify and not ‘scare’ people away have already been taken on board.
  • Julie Reynolds – an experienced housing professional currently employed as an area housing manager with Caerphilly Homes. Julie brings invaluable experience in administration, personnel, legal matters, social housing, social services and local government.
  • Phillip Gruneberg – a freelance business architect and manager who wants to bring his experience within business process and organisational assurance and data management to improve efficiency and get greater value for money with the activities that have a positive impact for the tenants and local communities.
  • Andrew Thomas – employed by the Coastal Housing Group and is an experienced Head of Maintenance who is a Member of Chartered Institute of Building. Andrew brings invaluable experience in target setting, social housing and construction management amongst others.
  • Lisa Way – employed by Taff Housing Association as Development Manager and brings a wealth of experience in the development of new homes meeting the needs of local communities. Lisa brings detailed knowledge of target setting, legal matters, social housing, and construction management.

  • Rules of the Association

Following our recent review of our governance we examined our rules and it was felt that we should change to the latest Community Housing Cymru (CHC) model set of rules 2017. The proposed new rules were issued to all shareholders prior to the meeting.

One part I would particularly like to highlight is under Rule D23, where the association may pay remuneration and fees to Board members. This has been considered by Board and there is no intention to pay Board members in the immediate future, but it may be reconsidered at some point in the future.

Every shareholder had a right to one vote as to whether the new rules should be adopted and the resolution that the current rules of the association be deleted and replaced by the new rules was carried unanimously.

MTHA and Desley Reynolds Award

The evening finished with awards given to celebrate the stella work of our community members and staff members. Keep an eye out for another blog shortly which will contain more information and photo’s.

Chairs Blog Number 7

Board Recruitment

We are currently recruiting for new Board members and have several vacancies – we are accepting applications until the 4th of July.  We particularly encourage applications from women, young people, disabled and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) candidates as these groups are currently under-represented on our board.  Follow the link below for more information.

MTHA Board Members Recruitment Social Media Advert

Welsh Government Regulatory Judgement 2019

The Welsh Government Regulatory Judgement Report is based on an assessment of how we are performing and if we are meeting the required Performance Standards. The judgement is based on two areas: Governance and Service Delivery, and Financial Viability. I am delighted to confirm that we achieved the rating of Standard in both areas, which is the highest rating that can be given. This judgement report gives additional assurance and confidence to our tenants and stakeholders that MTHA is delivering good services and performing well.

This was further backed up by the annual tenant satisfaction survey for 2018, showing that MTHA tenants had an overall satisfaction level of 91% with the services MTHA provides, with 15% of tenants taking part in the survey.

Finances

At the end of the financial year the board received a positive update on the finances for the year with full details to be announced in due course.  The Board were happy with the information they received and were pleased with a good financial year end operating position.

Audit & Risk Committee & Remuneration Committee

Following a Governance review, our Business Assessment Panel has been renamed as Audit & Risk Committee and the role of the committee has been reviewed and strengthened. In addition, we have now set-up a Remuneration Committee that will look at areas such our remuneration policy and staff reward and benefits package. The Audit & Risk Committee will meet 4 times per year and the Remuneration Committee meeting twice.  The purpose of the committees is to give further assurances to MTHA stakeholders and tenants they there are appropriate controls in place within the organisation.

Long Service Award

Deborah Perszon was thanked and celebrated by the Board and colleagues for her outstanding contribution to the association which has recently seen her reach 40 years of service with the association. Well done Debbie and thank you for all your hard work and dedication!

Diversification Group

We are always looking to innovate and come up with new ideas to help local people and the economy.  We have a Diversification Group who have undertaken a full analysis of undertaking a holiday let project to boost tourism, however this project unfortunately did not pass our stringent financial viability assessment due to some risks and uncertainties and so will not be progressing.  The group will now move on to other areas and I look forward to helping in assessing their next project.

Chair Blog no.6 MTHA Governance review results 2019

In June 2018 MTHA received its co-regulatory judgement from Welsh Government and received the following status:

  1. Standard for Governance and Services – identifying and managing new and emerging risks effectively
  2. Standard for Financial Viability – meeting viability requirements and has the financial capacity to deal with scenarios effectively.

Despite the term standard not giving an overly impressive achievement this is the best that can be achieved by any Housing Association and as you can imagine was a major success for MTHA and all involved.

The Board and senior management team, not the type to rest on any laurels or stop trying to improve, took the decision to commission Altair to undertake a comprehensive Governance review after the judgement was published. The Governance review  was a positive experience and gave a number of areas for Board to consider going forward , confirmed some thoughts and previous discussions that had taken place, and provided the assurance that as a team MTHA is heading in the right direction with tenants and the local community always being at the forefront of aspirations.

The headlines include:

  1. General Observations – it was felt that MTHA has good governance, clear frameworks, appropriate policies and procedures and demonstrates the right behaviors and culture to allow it to continually improve.
  2. Board membership – MTHA currently have eight board members and it is evident that the imposed 9-year rule (maximum time an individual can remain on the Board) has had a detrimental impact on the diversity and experience of the Board. There is currently only one serving female board member and recruiting the right board members going forward is crucial in respect of re balancing the diversity and the skills gap identified in the review.
  3. Code of Governance – it was felt that MTHA already demonstrates a good level of compliance with the new Code and more importantly a framework and approach that seeks to continually improve.
  4. Board appraisal and individual board member assessment – as Chair I undertook individual appraisals of all members and from this along with an initial review the following was identified:
  • The need to create more time for strategic thinking
  • Utilise fully the existing skills and expertise among board members
  • Skills gap – particularly in respect of development and strategic asset management

All recommendations will be discussed at the Board away day in February and from this an action plan will be drawn out to move MTHA forward. Early priorities involve the adoption of the new Code and Board recruitment.

Chair Blog No.5

Welcome to the latest Chair’s blog and the first of 2019 providing the recent achievements from MTHA from a business and Board perspective.

Headlines from the last Board meeting at the end of January include:

  1. The management accounts showed that as a business MTHA is performing well and ahead of target.
  2. The rent setting policy was reviewed as Welsh Government had set the maximum that rent could be increased by a housing association in Wales for 2019/20 at the Consumer Price Index (CPI) level of 2.4%. In recent years housing associations were able to uplift upto an additional 1.5% so Board considered the impact that this would have on future income and how much is available to spend on the services we provide and the new homes that we can provide for the local communities of Merthyr Tydfil.
  3. All the homes in Taff and Crescent Street as well as Rechabite Hall owned by MTHA are now empty ready to be transferred and then demolished by Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council (MTCBC).
  4. The Board and staff teams at MTHA are keen to learn from previous work, such as developing new homes  – what works, what doesn’t, what did the tenants like or dislike whether it be about the home or the process in which they went through to finally being in their new home. One of these feedback sessions came from our external project manager on a development scheme who talked us through the reasons for the delay in a recent new build scheme. Interesting for Board was that despite all the checks that you are able to do on a contractor or the consultants involved in the development there are always risks and each development even with the same team involved can be very different. A future discussion for Board and the senior team will be about what further checks can be done if possible or reasonable to minimise risks in delay going forward. Any delay in a development can mean less income in rent and the cost of the development being more than what was budgeted, as well as delays for tenants moving into their new homes.

Chair Blog No. 4

Board Meeting 25 September 2018

Annual Welsh Language Monitoring

The Welsh Government has published draft standards and the Welsh Commissioner requested that all housing associations complete a questionnaire to gauge how the standards are being met. For MTHA it was an opportunity to see if we as an organisation meet the standards or not and we will make this known when we receive our compliance notice.

As we wait for a response we will continue to implement the Welsh Language Scheme which will hopefully put us in a strong position to meet the draft standards. The Welsh Language Act 1993 gives the Welsh and English language equal status in public life in Wales, placing a duty on MTHA to treat both languages equally in the services that we provide.

Chair blog 4.1

Health & Safety

Since the Grenfell Tower tragedy there has been a general fresh focus and ongoing review to health and safety, compliance and the standard of components such as external cladding and fire doors across Wales and Britain. The UK Government has provided advice for and is encouraging landlords to evaluate the performance of fire doors already within their properties. Community Housing Cymru (CHC), the trade body for housing associations in Wales, has fed back the views and concerns of Welsh housing associations to Welsh Government.

The safety of our tenants for MTHA staff and Board is always a high priority. A list has been published highlighting fire door types that are currently not meeting the standards that they were intended. It is pleasing to be able to inform you that none of the doors within our properties are on that list.

New Developments

An update on our developments includes the following schemes;

Adulam Court

This is a new development of 9 flats near the town centre, on the site of the old Adulam Chapel. These flats will be available late Autumn 2018.

Chair blog 4.2

Mount View Bungalows

This  development of 4 bungalows is in  Merthyr Vale and includes two adapted bungalows. These will be available at the end of October 2018.

Chair blog 4.3

Colliery Site

We are delighted to be working with Lovell Homes on the Colliery site in Merthyr Vale where 153 homes will be built. We will have 43 homes on the site which will be available for affordable rent. Groundworks have already started.

Chair blog 4.4

Governance review

In a previous blog I mentioned how proud I was when in July this year that MTHA’s regulatory judgement was published by Welsh Government and we received the highest judgement that can be achieved in both Governance & Services and Financial Viability. Unfortunately,  there have been some board members that have stood down either  due to the 9 year rule (where Board members can’t remain on the Board for more than 9 years) or for personal reasons as other commitments have had to take a priority such as family or employed work.

In 2018 a new Code of Governance was launched by Community Housing Cymru (CHC) for housing associations in Wales and has seven principles for good governance or how the housing association as a business should be run:

  1. Organisational Purpose – The board is clear about the organisation’s aims and ensures that these are being delivered effectively and sustainably.
  2. Leadership – Every organisation is led by an effective board that provides strategic leadership in line with the organisation’s aims and values.
  3. Integrity – The board acts with integrity, adopting values and creating a culture which helps achieve the organisation’s purposes. The board is aware of the importance of the public’s confidence and trust, and board members undertake their duties accordingly.
  4. Decision-making, Risk & Control – The board makes sure that its decision-making processes are informed, rigorous and timely and that effective delegation, control and risk assessment and management systems are set up and monitored.
  5. Board Effectiveness – The board works as an effective team, using the appropriate balance of skills, experience, backgrounds and knowledge to make informed decisions.
  6. Diversity – The board’s approach to diversity supports its effectiveness, leadership and decision-making.
  7. Openness & Accountability – The board leads the organisation in being transparent and accountable. The organisation is open in its work, unless there is good reason for it not to be.

Despite our good regulatory assessment and having principles based of the new code of governance we are going to be undertaking a governance review which will look at everything from the staff and board relationship, quality of information provided to Board to gain assurance that systems and processes are working effectively, that the Board truly represents the community that MTHA operate and have the mix of skills and experience.

We have appointed Altair, a specialist housing consultancy, to undertake an independent governance review and to provide challenge and support to the Board.

Out and about

Railway Close Opening

Attended by local residents, dignitaries and wider community the official opening of Railway close took place in May where the Mayor unveiled a commemorative stone and plaque. I attended this opening and loved the feedback I received from all involved not just from MTCBC but in conversation with the tenants who had new homes and  hearing about the construction of the development and some difficulties faced but overcome to provide stunning and much needed houses and flats.

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Dowlais Stables

I was also lucky enough to attend the unveiling of a history board at Dowlais Stables. The event saw Board member Huw Williams regale the group with his own memories of the Stables and give further details of the history of the site. One anecdote Huw did relay to us was that of the mythical time capsule which is said to have been placed at the stables, which was fitting because as part of the event the MTHA youth group buried a time capsule themselves. The history board was formally opened by some of those who live on the scheme alongside the Mayor and Huw Williams.

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