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Will the new Homes and Communities Agency drive for greater efficiency in maintenance support the role of specialist contractors over MSO’s?

With the Homes and Communities Agency’s new sector scorecard approach about to be trialled favouring planned maintenance against reactive on a 70/30 split as a benchmark indicator of efficiency, and the results of an Incommunities survey showing a preference from residents for individual repairs or replacements rather than a whole house approach, you imagine that specialist contractors will have an increased role above MSO’s in the future.

In the interests of fairness I should say from the outset – our business is a specialist contracting business, and it is why I believe the use of multi-skilled operatives for repairs and maintenance programmes is not the right approach.

I do get the premise of ‘Multi-Skilled Operatives’ – to be able to enter a resident’s home just once and complete a series of tasks is in theory at least a really good thing; anything which puts an end to the discomfort or distress of a resident is a good thing in my eyes. It is in fact one of the guiding principles of our business.

Concerns with MSO’s

But what concerns me with MSO’s is that they do not – indeed cannot – know the nuances of all the products they are working on. This in turn leads to jobs not being completed to the best standard, and money being spent unwisely because it is more likely than not that there will be a repeat failure at some point.

It is not without good reason that the phrase ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ has been a part of the English language for over 500 years and has the negative connotations it does.

Our business is a specialist business

As I mentioned at the outset, our business is a specialist business. We repair windows and doors in the social housing sector and have done so for nearly 30 years. In that time, we have completed close to 1.2 million repairs, and we have honed our skills as a team to serve the residents of our clients to the highest standards.  We offer one-off planned or responsive repairs and ad-hoc replacements all the way through to large scale planned, responsive or replacement programmes.

At first glance it might not seem a complicated business proposition to change a handle on a window or a door, but that is actually not the case. As with everything there is a knack, but changing handles is the least of what we do. Much of our time is spent completely replacing hinges, locking mechanisms, weather seals, and glass units, and with all of these there is a requirement for technical knowledge – both in sourcing the correct specification of parts so that the window or door is fully returned to its original operating integrity – and in installing the parts.

We know from experience that there are over 300 specifications of window and door hardware in the UK social housing market, borne out of a relentless sales drive over many years by the companies who specialised in their production – and fair enough, that was the nature of the market.

But now most of those specifications are redundant and replacement parts are very much obsolete. That is where the skills of a specialist contractor come to the fore. We know when we visit a resident’s home we will be able to identify the parts that were fitted originally, and that we will be able to source and procure suitable ‘fit for purpose’ replacements.

We also know that we will be able to reinstall them correctly and to offer a new guarantee back to the client which extends the life of their asset, and thatt here is a controlled record keeping system to update the specification of the hardware which has been replaced.

Through the MSO route there is every danger that a handle is seen as just a handle, a lock as just a lock, and that the fullest extent of the job is to make a repair and keep the resident happy.

Potentially other more serious ramifications

There are also potentially other more serious ramifications. Only recently we found window restrictors in an elderly person’s flat fitted wrongly which presented a genuine health and safety concern. Indeed, working in flats and other high rise applications is the most dangerous place to get something wrong; it happens too regularly when skilled and trained operatives are not engaged and represents the most serious threat to resident safety.

Repairs and maintenance need to be about so much more than just getting the job done. It needs to be about giving genuine value for money – planning repairs rather than reacting,  being able to call on robust supply chains to source ‘fit for purpose’ replacement products, having the skilled operatives available to install them correctly, about offering new guarantees to clients, and about helping them maintain an accurate and meaningful record of their housing assets.

Only specialist contractors have the processes in place to do this and the capabilty – as the driving force of their business –  to deliver all this.

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