Monday, 31 March 2014

Fuel Poverty Awareness week

Warm homes campaign team logoIf you live on the Somerset Levels I suspect you’ll disagree with this statement, but certainly in Wolverhampton, we’ve been quite lucky in the sense that it’s been a very mild winter this year.

I think I can count on one hand the number of mornings I’ve had to scrape the ice from my windscreen and our boiler repair teams don’t look quite as tired as they did two years ago when I think every boiler condenser pipe in the city froze over!

So why, even despite a relatively mild few months, are some people in our city still having to choose whether to ‘eat’ or ‘heat’?

The cost of living is clearly going to be a big topic of debate as the political parties gear up for next year’s General Election.

Without question, for thousands living in Wolverhampton – and millions of others across the UK – the cost of living is increasing, and the price hikes this winter from the ‘big six’ energy companies, is making a difficult situation even harder.

Last week we took part in National Fuel Poverty Awareness Day. In Wolverhampton – statistics suggest that an astounding 14,700 homes are still living in fuel poverty. That’s thousands of families with young children or vulnerable older people who are struggling to pay to heat their homes.

picture of cllr reynolds with our climate change team
Picture of Councillor Reynolds with our
Climate Change Team
We’ve spent millions in recent years helping to make our housing stock warmer and more energy efficient. The Decent Homes work we’ve done on nearly 20,000 homes in the city has definitely helped, from loft and cavity wall insulation to photovoltaic cells on roofs (I know they’re not technically solar panels but it seems easier to call them that!).

Last week, our climate change team met up with a leading local councillor to encourage our tenants to take up our free home energy visits in a bid to save a few pounds on their energy bills.

They spoke with one tenant, Diane, who reckons she’s saving more than £200 a year on her fuel bills after we’d helped install solar panels on her roof and completed the insulation of her home. That’s actually a huge saving when you come to think of it. Couple that with other energy saving measures like new light bulbs and knocking the thermostat down a bit, and it all adds up.

But with the rising price of energy seemingly unstoppable, it just feels a shame that we risk wiping out those savings from the pockets of those who need it most.

We’ll continue to do our bit to make sure that our homes are as warm as they can be and that help is available to anyone who’s having to choose between eating and heating – perhaps it’s time energy companies did the same?

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Proud to be a Best Company

Last week was one of my proudest as Chief Executive of Wolverhampton Homes.
For the second year running we’ve been named as one of the best not-for-profit organisations to work for in the UK in a list published by The Sunday Times and employee engagement specialists, Best Companies.

More than 900 UK-based companies took part in the Best Companies survey this year where employees were asked to rate the company they worked for through in-depth questionnaires.

Our first ever staff volunteering project last summer
Two and half years ago we started out on a new journey to make Wolverhampton Homes one of the best places to work for in the public sector. And last week, we were named as a two-star ‘outstanding’ company when it comes to employee engagement. We’re ranked as the 42nd best not-for-profit company to work for and the 2nd best ALMO (Arms Length Management Organisation) too.

There are plenty of blogs, websites, Twitter feeds and text books which talk about the virtues of good employee engagement. In fact, there are so many, I won’t bother trying to replicate them all here!
But, as a Chief Executive, what I do know is that in reality, it boils down to this; an engaged workforce who buy into the ethos of your company and who are proud of what you do will perform better.
  • They’re less likely to be sick (our sickness rates are down to 6 days compared to 15 a few years ago!)
  • They’re more likely to stay with you
  • They tend to have less accidents (we lost just 29 days last year compared to 632 in 2006)
  • You’re going to get new recruits who really want to work for you
  • They’re likely to go that extra mile because they really believe in what it is you’re trying to do.
Plus – quite frankly, it’s the right thing to do.

Our employee engagement journey continues
Are we perfect? Of course we’re not. There’s still a long way to go and, ultimately, we’re here to serve our tenants and leaseholders and to deliver the great service they expect from us.
But one thing I do know – a disengaged workforce isn’t going to deliver that level of service.

So we’re a two-star ‘outstanding’ company and the 2nd best ALMO to work for…and I’m immensely proud of my colleagues for helping us to achieve that. Their enthusiasm to get on board with what we’re trying to do is incredible.

I feel I should point out that whilst we’re 42nd on the list (we were 40th last time); to some it could look as if we’ve taken a step back. We most certainly haven’t. The important thing here is that we’ve improved on our overall scoring (going from one star to two) and if anything, shows that more companies are getting on board with the notion that effective employee engagement is good business sense. Importantly, our journey continues along the right trajectory.

For me, this isn’t rocket science and needn’t cost the earth. As long as you truly and authentically believe in it then it can make a huge difference. It’s about making people feel part of the wider vision, treating people fairly, with respect, and rewarding people when they do a good job. From my experience this isn’t anything to do with money either…in the public sector we can vouch for that! 

Sometimes the most powerful reward is simply two words…thank you.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Proud to be me

It’s been a really high profile year for the LGBT community.

Same-sex marriage dominated political debate last year before finally making its way onto the statute book. And in the media too, thousands voiced their support for our Olympic medal winning diver Tom Daly who announced via Twitter that he was in a relationship with another man.

This came after media attention had focused fairly intensely on Russia who’s controversial gay propaganda laws are being put under the international spotlight as they gear up to host this year’s Winter Olympics. The Swedish athletes who painted their finger nails in rainbow colours at the World Championships in Russia, was, personally, my favourite act of defiance in 2013!

And since then we’ve seen former Premier League footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger come out – but again only after his retirement from the game. The groundswell of support from the footballing community felt genuine and heartfelt – a long way from the reaction the late Justin Fashanu found in the 1980s and early 1990s. In fact, the cruelest jibe I heard about Hitzlsperger was: Hats off to Thomas Hitzlsperger for his bravery today. He's admitted that he used to play for West Ham.” Maybe a positive sign that we’re moving this agenda forward?

I’m delighted that we’re once again backing LGBT History Month. I’ve blogged on this topic before and for me it’s still so important that people feel that they can be themselves when they’re at work.

I’ve worked in lots of different housing organisations over the years, mostly in London, and I had lots of LGBT colleagues. It was perfectly normal, accepted, and not much commented on.

When I came to Wolverhampton - it felt a bit different.  Whilst I didn’t hear any negative comments about sexuality and there were certainly no complaints about discrimination, it just didn’t quite feel as open and comfortable with talking about LGBT issues. I found this a bit strange if I’m honest - because everyone has the right to be “themselves” at work, and our LGBT tenants and leaseholders also need acceptance, understanding and good service.

Colleagues took part in Wolverhampton's PRIDE parade last summer
But we’ve come a long way over the past few years and I’m so proud of my colleagues who have launched our very own ‘Proud to be Me Network’.  It’s made up of colleagues, both straight and gay, who are working to make Wolverhampton Homes a gay-friendly place to work. They’re doing a wonderful job and I can already feel the culture changing. Later this month, staff are having a dress-down day, where they’re coming to work dressed in rainbow colours, we’re playing a football match with the Black Country’s only LGBT-recognised club and our offices are decked out in more rainbow flags than I think I’ve ever seen!

We’re working really closely with Stonewall and I’m really excited to see how this project comes to life over the coming months.

In the meantime, I wanted to thank Stonewall, LGBT Network Wolverhampton, the other groups we’ve worked with – and my colleagues at Wolverhampton Homes for all their energy and enthusiasm. Together we’re making a difference and let’s hope 2014 is another year of progression for the LGBT community.