Chair's Report - Fold's 37th Annual General Meeting - 24 June 2014
Today we look back on a successful year for your Association. The second in our latest 5 year corporate planning cycle, the penultimate year of the current CSR.
This report highlights our key achievements in 2013/14 as set against the business objectives, targets and themes of our Annual Business Plan.
Robust Financial Performance
We continue to robustly manage our finances whilst demonstrating value for money to all our stakeholders. This year’s performance provides a platform for growth and further innovation into the future. Some of our highlights include:
ï‚· A surplus at 13.9% of turnover, exceeding budget by close to £1.4m – the fact is that almost £1m of this variance relates to exceptional movements around pension liabilities and the effect of component accounting in the year. However the outcome is excellent news for our future development programme.
ï‚· Fold’s turnover rose to £38m. This year we expect to break the £40m turnover barrier, making Fold a very significant local SME. At the same time our asset value of all our properties exceeded £400m, boosting our ability to raise more private finance.
ï‚· Our total private borrowings rose to £72m on the back of the very successful THFC bond issue where we secured a further £17m at 4.5%, fixed for 30 years. We plan to go again to the market in 2014 for a further £35m to fund over 800 units of the SHDP in the next 2 years.
ï‚· The Finance Team guided by the recommendations from the recent DSD Governance Inspection has introduced more extensive cash flow and long-term financial planning reports to aid in future investment decisions.
ï‚· I am also pleased to report that our loan covenants are adequately covered and our External and Internal Auditors report the association to be in very good health.
ï‚· Challenges lie ahead around: reductions in revenue funding, the impact of welfare reform and the ability of our customers to pay their rent; restrictions on future rent increases - I could go on. It is important that we remain a lean and effective business able to meet our future commitments.
Growth and Innovation
ï‚· It is now very clear that the members of Accord have forged a very successful partnership, known for consistently delivering on its commitments and for collaborating when and where possible. Our achievements to date have been impressive in terms of joint procurement, information sharing and achievement of targets. However the challenge to increase our programme this year is perhaps the biggest test yet for Accord and all procurement groups. Accord aims to deliver over 600 units in 2014/15. Of these, Fold is due to contribute 400, towards an SHDP target up 65% from last year to 2,000.
ï‚· In 2013/14, Fold managed to achieve 238 new starts, the leading performance in the sector. Or put another way, 18% of the SHDP. Accord achieved 415 new starts, 32% of the SHDP. At the end of March we had handed over an additional 307 new homes to tenants.
ï‚· This summer we will break past the 6,000th home mark, a major achievement for the board, staff and partners of Fold. Fold has long been synonymous with the provision of sheltered housing. Indeed we are very proud of our 2,500 apartments for older people. However, when sheltered housing fell out of favour with the Department, rather than rest on our laurels we forged ahead with an unrelenting build programme over the last 10 years. We are now a major player in the provision of housing for families and single people and we intend to promote this fact in the year ahead.
ï‚· The Minister’s new Housing Strategy has created an opportunity for associations to reach beyond their traditional role and take a lead in regeneration and community development. This sits comfortably with Fold when you consider our advances into telecare, telehealth, housing-with-care, Floating Support and the Brain Bus. So we were particularly pleased to be appointed as the Housing Lead in the regeneration of Lower Falls and the Albert Street Areas of West Belfast.
ï‚· Following our successful acquisition of the former Visteon site in June 2013, we submitted our planning application in December. This application is truly ground breaking in many aspects, bringing together on one site: a mixture of 244 private and social homes, 3,700sq metres of employment space and extensive community facilities. Our vision is for a vibrant mixed and supportive community, integrated with the established and neighbouring areas, living, learning and working together. Set amid village greens and open walkways, this new gateway to West Belfast will replace the current unsightly mix of derelict and contaminated buildings. Community consultation has been challenging and it is hard to draw any conclusion other than social housing being unwelcome in this area. Fold remains fully committed to this regeneration project. We aim to alleviate housing stress with over 2,000 families in the area determined as living in housing stress. We were pleased to see our proposals recently confirmed by an independent firm of surveyors as the best use of the site. Visteon represents 50% of our new year’s development target. Our development team will do all in their power to achieve a commencement on site in Qtr1 2015.
ï‚· As you know we have been lobbying for some time for the reintroduction of Design & Build (D&B) as an additional development option, most likely to attract developers back into the market. Taking the lead in the sector, we ran three Competitive D&B’s during the year having developed a model which satisfied the DSD and the Housing COPE. This finally yielded a project at Ravenhill in South Belfast. We look forward to unveiling the model to the sector at a special summit in June.
ï‚· We have noted an increase in land prices over the last 6 months and we see the quest to find developable land getting harder. Access to surplus public lands is critical if ever increasing ‘new start’ targets are to be met. We anticipate higher exploratory and unrecoverable costs with greater emphasis on advance land purchase. We are in challenging times with a turning market, rising expectations in SHDP new starts and planning being devolved to local councils. However, we also welcome progress on certain fronts including a new planning statement for NI and the recent consultation on developer contributions for affordable housing.
Making sure Fold’s customers have the best homes and support systems
ï‚· The Property Services team have now bedded in a three year cyclical and major works programme. This helped to deliver almost £8.5m of goods, works and services throughout our housing stock. The response team responding to over 14,000 calls with a call-out performance above DSD targets in most cases.
ï‚· Again the Accord Group made significant progress in collaborative procurement and joint working among members during the year. We were very disappointed when our MTC Contractor MFS confirmed its intention to exit their existing contract. MFS cited a less than anticipated margin on Accord’s work alongside the arduous administration of NEC3 as their main reasons for withdrawing. Without delay our Property Services team quickly reviewed the scope of service and set about retendering for response works only. The withdrawal of MFS has also meant a number of existing arrangements have needed to be extended beyond their expiry date. The Board consciously took this action in the interests of customer service.
ï‚· While Fold’s major repairs programme has been largely delivered to plan, we have experienced difficulties in delivering the full cyclical programme during 2013/14. The delayed works will be prioritised in the New Year’s programme.
ï‚· The Board approved plans to invest £3.6m in ICT services and infrastructure for the period 2013 to 2017. This equates to an increase of more than 30% from the previous corporate planning period. Fold’s telecare business places particular demands on Fold’s ICT especially around business continuity and data processing. We were therefore pleased to see our ISO:20000 & 27001 reaccreditations during the year.
ï‚· Over the last 4 years we increased our ICT users from 115 to 627, offering free internet access to all our sheltered tenants. Fold’s website is the preferred information source for many of our existing and potential customers, with activity reaching nearly 60,000 hits per annum. As well as improving remote access, system security and resilience, we have also invested in new systems such as PNC7. These have improved customer access, productivity and enhanced performance reporting.
ï‚· Digital inclusion is a serious challenge for our sector as we prepare for Welfare Reform and the introduction of Universal Credit. We have been enhancing our rental reporting systems and our payment options for tenants. We have also introduced a special Fold APP for those customers seeking to access our services via their mobile phones. Looking into 2014/15 we will be bringing forward a Digital Inclusion Strategy to help our tenant’s access their benefits and online support.
Excellent Housing Management
ï‚· During 2013/14 we:
- Increased our housing stock to 5,810;
- Oversaw the transfer of 196 Gosford tenants;
- Managed the allocation of 307 new properties;
- Kept void levels at a sector low of 1.2%; and
- Kept net arrears at 3.58%.
For the second year running Fold’s housing management performance came out on top in the DSD’s housing association league table report. Not only was our performance best in class, but the margin of performance when compared with associations of a similar scale illustrates the hard work and creativity of our housing team. We acknowledge this excellent achievement.
ï‚· The Housing team continues to prepare for the impact of welfare reforms on tenants. While the introduction of the bedroom tax and universal credit continue to be delayed, our tenants have seen reductions elsewhere in benefits particularly around mobility and disability. This is reflected in a marginal increase in our arrears. Where appropriate we signpost those in financial difficulty to our partners Advice NI, the credit and personal finance specialists. The team has just overhauled their Capita reporting system and this will help it channel its resources as the effects of the reforms bite. The DSD specifically inspected our welfare reform action plan during the year. I am pleased to report they were more than satisfied by the actions of our staff on the ground and the organisational intelligence all the way up to Board in this critically important area.
ï‚· The Board was keen to review and strengthen tenant engagement within Fold. We were pleased to approve plans for 3 Area Panels and to see our tenants respond positively to them. We recognise that local issues matter greatly and this will be their prime focus. However we also recognise the strength in our well embedded engagement processes. These range from board and committee membership, to our annual housing forums, to our 6 weekly visits to Fold schemes. As a Board we particularly value our visits to schemes, to sod cuttings, new scheme openings and our committee meetings held off site in the community. The Board will recall the very warm receptions we received at Clanrye Fold, Newry and Spelga Mews, Banbridge during our Annual Strategy Event. I believe we are an association in touch with its customers.
ï‚· Our two resident forums were again a great success this year. They were well attended and the feedback was very positive. Our Sheltered Housing Tenant Awards proved again to be very popular. Additionally we were particularly pleased to see many of the tenants take up a special service aimed at ensuring they claim all the benefits they are entitled to.
ï‚· Looking forward we have some exciting plans in the year ahead encompassing enhanced marketing and promotion of our excellent sheltered schemes; an older person’s strategy; and the piloting of ‘private pay’ services to help tenants maintain their homes. But perhaps the most exciting development in recent years has been the ramping up of our Floating Support service with the additional Supporting People funding in 2014. We picked up three CIH Awards, two of which were for the impact of this innovative and far-reaching service. By year end we expect to be supporting 200 households in the community in this way.
ï‚· We continue to work with local community groups, the PSNI and public representatives in tackling anti-social behaviour within the neighbourhoods we manage. We are pleased that incidents of burglary are rare within our sheltered schemes. The vigilance of our tenants, the extra security measures introduced by Fold and the actions of the PSNI have all helped to make our Folds safe and secure. Within our general needs neighbourhoods we are introducing our first Neighbourhood Officer in West Belfast this year, to help strengthen our links with the community.
ï‚· I would like to thank our Tenant Board Representatives, namely Deirdre Hamill and Jim Morrison. They have provided a most valuable contribution to Fold’s continued success. Both members will complete their current terms with new elections in the year ahead.
Innovative Personal Centred Care and Support
ï‚· The Housing-with-Care team more than most have had to deal with funding cuts. SNMA cuts and the effects of Gnangara’s under occupancy are acutely felt across our supported housing business. We took the regrettable but essential step of restructuring this business the year before last, releasing £150k in costs. We have also retendered goods and services and implemented other key changes in anticipation that over £550k of SNMA funding may be lost. In this vein we must continue leaving no stone unturned, as we seek to protect these vital services. We are proud of our HWC schemes, the professionalism and dedication of our staff and the tenacity of their management team.
ï‚· Our challenge to the DSD and its decision to withdraw SNMA will now likely be heard in court in October. We regret the need to take such action. However given that the safety and security of our residents will always come first, our Board remains fully committed to righting the wrongs behind this decision.
ï‚· Gnangara was our last HWC scheme to open and we are totally frustrated that it remains only 2/3 full. We have run marketing campaigns, re-designated for a wider client type, engaged with local GP’s and enlisted the support of MLA’s, councillors and Ministers. Yet by the end of this financial year our accumulated losses will have topped £1m. The Board held a special workshop in Gnangara during the year and set out a new plan for hopefully filling the scheme. We need our partners in the HSCB, Western Trust and Supporting People to get behind us and to make Gnangara the success it should be.
ï‚· In recent years we have sought to modernise and refurbish our HWC schemes, to keep them fresh and inviting for residents. This year Millbrook will undergo a facelift with residents and their families having a say in how we enhance it. We truly appreciate the dedication and hard work of all our staff employed in our HwC schemes and those in support roles. We continue to receive positive RQIA reports on the quality of care following announced and unannounced inspections.
ï‚· We continue to provide over 12,000 daycare places at our four centres at Millbrook, Avondale, Seven Oaks and Manor Court. In the new Transforming Your Care (TYC) agenda, these services remain a critical delivery model.
ï‚· We note the exceptional efforts of Fold’s ‘Brain Bus’ team as they search for additional private business. It remains a mystery why under a TYC agenda this service remains without mainstream funding. The Board will review this overall service later in the year to decide on future direction.
European Leaders in Assistive Technology
ï‚· Our combined Telecare and Telehealth customer base now stands at 23,000. This follows the loss of a key customer in ROI, Helplink South. That aside, it has been another successful year for our Telecare business. We took the view to strategically review this key business stream and its sales and marketing during 2013/14. We will approve the final plans in the near future. Fold is uniquely placed in Ireland with its TSA approved Telecare capability, providing 24-7 customer services into people’s homes. This is done in a way which helps people to continue living independently in the community despite the onset of old age and illness.
ï‚· The Telehealth business venture TF3 is now in its third year. Monitored days are 13% behind forecast on account of two Trusts not taking up their allocation. However other Trusts are exceeding their allocation and the innovative vital signs monitoring service is now better accepted and understood. The Telecare Centre had visits from the Basque Country Health Minister and New Zealand’s High Commissioner, not to mention many health professionals, MLAs and Minister Poots. Our focus is now on whether we can expand the service to cover additional illnesses and possibly south of the border.
ï‚· The Board appreciates the dedication of the call handling team who are on hand throughout the year, day and night, often taking charge and showing great initiative in the face of very challenging incidents. They are a critical part of the Fold family. Together with the installers in the community, they are for many the face of Fold.
ï‚· Fold’s Staying Put service, performed very well during the year exceeding most NIHE targets and helping nearly 600 families to complete disabled facility grants (DFG’s). I understand the Customer Service Excellence Assessor recently highlighted the excellent guidance and support provided by the Staying Put team.
ï‚· If 2013/14 was about challenging budget cuts to DFG’s, then 2014/15 is about launching a new private pay service for those not able to access NIHE grants. This will be a learning process for the team, but if successful it offers growth opportunities independent of NIHE, for the first time.
The Employer of Choice
ï‚· Fold employs over 800 staff across 110 locations in Northern Ireland. During the year our HR team delivered an extensive training and development programme, a large proportion by way of e-learning. This represents an investment of over £200k in training and developing our staff. The HR team rolled out a substantial mandatory training programme together with a specialist housing-with-care management programme.
ï‚· We launched our first bespoke Competency Framework and Code of Conduct clarifying fully the knowledge, skills, behaviours and values for staff in pursuit of customer excellence. These will help inform future recruitment, training and development. Our Wellbeing Survey carried out in partnership with BitC, helped define support initiatives for staff, everything from Occupational Health to on-the-job coaching to staff counselling to personal health MOT’s.
ï‚· The Health and Safety Committee continued with their focus on measures aimed at making our homes and office accommodation safe for all. Fire Protection and Health & Safety Risk Assessments found our housing stock and offices to be in a high state of safety awareness with few risks. All corrective works have been prioritised. We were disappointed to record 3 Riddor incidents during the year, albeit this is 3 less than in the previous year. On the insurance front we unfortunately saw a 30% increase in premiums reflecting trends in the global insurance market.
ï‚· We were re-accredited under Customer Service Excellence (CSE), with the assessor highlighting Fold’s ability as a large and diversified organisation, to consistently achieve the requirements of the quality standard. This was followed up by another positive ISO9001 reaccreditation.
ï‚· On the procurement front, we forged ahead on behalf of Accord members in areas of corporate services covering stationary, recruitment services, white goods, food supplies and furniture achieving savings of between 5% - 11%.
ï‚· Fold continued to raise its profile on the back of local and province wide press and business magazine coverage. We revamped the Fold website and launched ourselves into the less well known world of Twitter, Facebook and Linked-in. We are now serious users of social media in our sector. We published our Fold News for service users, Fold Insight for business partners and public representatives and our Annual Review for all our stakeholders. These are all available on the Fold website.
ï‚· A number of our senior team continue to manage the Fold Ireland business under a service level agreement. This requires travel to Dublin on a regular basis. The operating environment in the ROI has been harsh and demanding with Fold Ireland proving very resilient. I know the Chairman of Fold Ireland and the rest of the Board are very appreciative of our assistance. Of course this does not come free. Together with profit we delivered £87k of services to Fold Ireland last year through our SLA.
ï‚· Peter Gibson generously put himself forward this year to join David Crothers as our two representatives on the Fold Ireland Board. As you know, Fold NI and Fold Ireland are two entirely separate associations albeit working towards a common goal ‘of providing the best possible housing, care and support,’ on either side of the border.
Fold Housing Association is in a very healthy position, well placed to capitalise on the opportunities which lie ahead. As you know we secured a Substantial Assurance Rating from the Department in their latest round of inspections and this was very well received by our Lenders and Funders. We have excellent and willing people, strong management and an inspiring, albeit challenging, Board. The strength in our people will enables us to remain committed to growth and being the provider of choice for families and others in need of housing, care and support.
In conclusion despite the continued challenges 2013/14 has been an exceptionally successful year for Fold. I know the Board would wish me to place on the record our thanks to the Chief Executive, the senior management team, and all our staff for the excellent efforts they continue to make on behalf of the organisation. Any success we enjoy is due to their hard work.
Thanks again to my fellow Board members for their support. You make an invaluable contribution to Fold. I know this represents a substantial commitment of your time to attend Board and subcommittee meetings, not to mention so many extracurricular activities.
Finally thanks to our stakeholders, to the Department, the Housing Executive, NIFHA, our voluntary and statutory partners, our tenants and their representatives on the Board. Your support is vital if Fold is to continue to prosper.
Fold Housing Association