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First Housing Aid and Support Services In January 2007 First Housing took the decision to close the John St Hostel The deficit the organisation was facing to the end of the financial year was sufficient to threaten the organisation with insolvency.

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first housing aid and support services
First Housing Aid and Support Services
  • In January 2007 First Housing took the decision to close the John St Hostel
  • The deficit the organisation was facing to the end of the financial year was sufficient to threaten the organisation with insolvency.
  • At the same time, First Housing and the NIHE jointly commissioned a consultant to carry out a review of the organisation
  • The consultant identified serious problems of financial management planning and control, governance and organisational management.
the problems finance
The Problems - Finance
  • The budget model used by FHASS was too simplistic and failed to identify the main projects and their matching income streams.
  • Reporting was not timely. By January 2007 a deficit of £148,000 already existed for the first half of the financial year. Cumulative losses over a two year period totalled nearly £500,000. Reserves of £378,000 were wiped out.
  • Staff were not involved in the budget process. Line managers were not ‘budget holder’ and had never seen the individual budgets for the projects they managed.
the problems governance
The Problems - Governance
  • The relationship between the board, the chief officer and the senior management team was not sufficiently ‘balanced’.
  • Meetings were often cancelled.
  • ‘Non- attendance’ was common
  • Information provided was out of date or inadequate.
  • The board did not have sufficient oversight or control of finance and training/personnel/development.
the problems organisational management
The Problems – Organisational Management
  • No senior management team existed to assist the chief officer in directing the organisation’s work.
  • Pay and conditions were not based on any rational system and had not been benchmarked against either the public sector or other providers working in the same field. This had led to considerable staff friction.
  • FHASS did not appear to have complied either with Northern Ireland’s Fair Employment legislation or with ACAS codes of practice in the recruitment and selection of staff.
  • Training and supervision of managers and staff was inadequate.
the impact
The Impact
  • Staff were not aware for long periods of the extent of the financial difficulties facing First Housing.
  • What information they had was usually based on rumours. A sense of frustration and helplessness quickly built up.
  • Initial concerns for their jobs in projects which were in deficit quickly spilled over and began to affect all staff at all levels of the organisation.
  • Budget cuts were made in all areas including training – one of the areas where expenditure needed to be increased.
the solutions finance
The Solutions - Finance
  • The new budget model presents information at project, individual contract and organisation levels.
  • All managers are ‘budget holders’ and are involved in setting the budget.
  • The Head of Finance visits and discusses budgets with individual projects.
  • The same format is now used for management accounting purposes.
  • Any surplus or a deficit of more than10% in any project triggers checks of the budget, discussions with funders and a requirement to plan to deal with the situation.
the solutions governance
The Solutions - Governance
  • A code of Good Governance is in place that covers issues such as the role and responsibilities of directors, the relationship between the board and the chief officer, conflict of interest, and good practice in the conduct of business relationships internally and externally.

A job description now exists covering the role and responsibilities of the company directors.

  • The board regularly meets without staff present
the solutions organisational management
The Solutions – Organisational Management
  • A new organisational structure has been devised which shows clear lines of responsibility within the organisation
  • A senior management team now exists and meets regularly.
  • Specific training has been undertaken by senior staff covering management development and financial management.
  • A training steering group develops and oversees an annual training programme for all staff.
the lessons in survival
The Lessons in Survival
  • All organisations will experience difficulties at one time or another. Honesty and the avoidance of a ‘blame culture’ will be at the heart of any survival strategy.
  • Having accurate, up to date financial information is vital, as is a willingness to act quickly on the information.
  • Communicating with and involving staff at all levels is essential. Everyone has a role to play.
  • Funders and other stakeholders will respond better to evolving situations if they are kept informed.