A much more successful example of public sector innovation than the Dome was pioneered by the Irwell Valley Housing Association in the late 1990s. Traditionally it appears that 80% of staff time in housing is spent on dealing with 20% of the tenants either causing or in trouble. The other 80% of tenants got little attention.
Irwell Valley managed to break this cycle by setting up the Gold Service scheme This gives all tenants a standard level of service but allows for additional benefits if they stay up to date with their rent,
In order to qualify for Gold Service membership, residents must apply and satisfy some basic criteria. These are: 6 weeks clear rent account OR if in arrears, 12 weeks of continued rent payment plus any agreed repayment AND no other breaches of tenancy
If a member falls into arrears or breaches their tenancy in some other way, they will be suspended from Gold Service benefits. Here are just a few of the benefits:
- Up to £52 cash back over 1 year paid in the form of bonusbonds
- - Faster repairs service
- - Discounted home contents/personal possessions insurance
- - Discounted goods and services
- - Education and Training Grants
- - Gold Credit
- - Increased choice in improvement programmes
While the scheme apparently met with some opposition from traditionalists with “equalitarian” views, tenants seem to have loved it and signed up in large numbers. An evaluation of the project was undertaken and subsequently it seems forty to fifty other organisations, with over 1m homes, have adopted similar schemes.
While some may see the introduction of such consumerist approaches as undermining the public sector ethos, I am not one of them. Anyone receiving or using services provided by a public body is in a contractual relationship. This doesn’t have to mean legalistic imposition of contract law – in areas like housing such contracts will almost certainly be more effective if seen as part of a partnership. This is what the Gold Service approach seems to be about.
It would be interesting to see how far this approach can be taken. Could it be used for example to generate greater community involvement in managing our streets and open spaces? In a limited sense the Business Improvement Districts now being trialled in the UK are similar, although I suspect the motivation is more about generating additional revenue than increasing public and community involvement.