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One Year On – Reflections from the Chair of our Board

Posted on 26 September 2023

When I took over as Chair in September 2022, it was all change! I was the longest standing Board member with three years’ experience; one third of the Board had only joined that month. In addition, there were two new subcommittee chairs – Helen Tuddenham (People, Pay and Culture Committee) and Simon Nunan (Audit and Risk Committee).

My initial priority was to build the new Board team and ensure that everyone had as much knowledge about Southdown as quickly as possible to be able to apply their skills and experience to decision making. As well as an intense induction, we started a programme of Board visits to services to see how Southdown operates on the frontline. Upping the visibility of the Board was right up there for me – we did not want to be perceived to be a mysterious body which takes decisions but that no-one ever sees/talks to. There is more we can do in this area and there will be more visits from the autumn and onwards.

We also actively worked with Southdown’s Executive Team to define what a productive and collaborative working relationship could look like – which became our documented ‘working together principles’. I am glad to say both the Board and our working relationship with the Executive Team has come together well but we do keep this under review.

On our first away day in December, we focused on how to deliver a meaningful and fair pay award for all staff. We were united in a desire to start to tackle in-work poverty and ensure that pay levels were fair and reflected the value that is delivered to clients every day. We agreed that we should be bold and ensure that the scale of increase was both sustainable for the organisation but made a meaningful difference to each individual employee at Southdown. What this meant was taking a risk and reducing the level of margin (the amount of cash left after we had paid all our costs) we could accept to a minimum level (0.5% or above but not a loss). It was the right thing to do.

However, the real achievements have been made day after day by the Southdown team; Southdown’s Impact Report for 2022-23 shares the many highlights achieved from across the organisation. The report was a real joy to read, and I have never felt prouder to be part of such a wonderful team.

Going forward our top priorities are:

1. Ensuring we are financially stable for the long term: We are a low margin, debt free business with a solid financial ‘cushion’ in terms of reserves in the bank. However, year to year we need to balance income versus cost, and this gets tougher. The Board keeps its focus on this through long term financial plans and ‘stress testing’ what the impact would be if we lost contracts/costs went up further/we lost other income streams.

2. Continued focus on long term interests of Southdown: Specifically supporting the Executive Team in setting the strategic priorities, including how we evolve and modernise systems and processes. We want to help get the right balance of resources in Southdown to achieve this. We are also reviewing our committee structure that supports the Board to create an additional Service Quality Committee. This will look across Client Services and Housing/Property and ensure we can meet the changing requirements of both the CQC and the Regulator of Social Housing.

3. Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion: We have an EDI strategy which was developed last summer, and there has been a mini audit which included an employee focus group that gave us a good sense of what is good and where we could improve. The current strategy has the Board role as oversight and whilst important, at the top of the organisation we should set the tone and culture in this area and to that end I personally signed up to the NHF’s Chair’s Challenge which is national initiative. In signing up, I have pledged to build EDI and belonging in the Board room.

4. Finally, we want to ensure that client and tenant voice is heard and influences both service design and quality: We want to hear those voices and use those opinions when the Board is making decisions. The Board are doing visits and meeting staff and clients/tenants but that on its own is not enough. I believe that Southdown teams are closer to clients and tenants than other organisations in our sector, due to the nature of the services we deliver. We want to find the most effective way of leveraging all that knowledge to achieve even better outcomes.

Meet our Board here.

Pauline Ford, Chair of the Board at Southdown