Challenges faced by Registered Providers in maintaining fire safety buildings and how an effective route to market is imperative

Properties in social housing come in all shapes and sizes, and have a variety of maintenance, repair and retrofitting requirements. One thing in common however, is the need for these homes to be safe for customers and service users.

Having access to the right fire safety consultants and contractors is one of the key aspects of this, but how can you ensure your buildings are going to be fit for purpose and protect your customers?

Events over the last five years have rightly put higher expectations on the requirements to ensure fire safe homes throughout the design, construction, occupation and maintenance of the property.

There are many regulations Registered Providers need to comply with such as the latest recommendations from the Hackett report and the Fire Safety Bill. Whilst landlords should ensure they are keeping up to date, the route to market to meet these requirements should be robust and have undergone a stringent tender process to ensure the landlord remains fully compliant.

Landlords also need to have confidence that contractors and their operatives delivering the works do so in accordance with legislation and hold the correct accreditations.

Landlords working closer with their chosen framework provider is key to ensuring that the specification and pricing model is adequate and sufficient for their needs and covers all aspects. One key issue not to be overlooked are the interests of customers and the impact of any works to their day to day lives. Customers are consulted as part of the process where Section 20 applies, but generally more customer involvement in the procurement process should be welcomed.

Quality over cost

Quality truly is key when it comes to fire precaution. The safety of customers should be the upmost priority and cutting corners to save money is NOT an option. Understandably RPs’ want to find a cost-effective solution however, going for the cheapest solution may not only put customers at risk, but may result in a costly retrofitting programme down the line. A landlords responsibilities to ‘get it right’ are being significantly strengthened in the new Building Safety Bill; design responsibility and liability returns to where it should be – the landlord.

Will Goodwin, Director of Business Development at Trail Group said:

“Where life safety is concerned, no one can afford to compromise. Past events have tragically shown the cost of saving money and cutting corners.

“The philosophy at Trail Group is to ensure the right products and solutions are put in place, ensuring compliance to all relevant legislation, and giving our customers the peace of mind knowing their residents are safe.

“With an in-house team of fire risk assessors, we are well positioned to provide expert advice on property and resident safety. And whilst we believe that no one actively sets out to put people at risk, it’s our job to advise when we feel there are better solutions, or the proposed solution is not the correct one.”

Making sure frameworks have competent, accredited contractors using approved materials is key; this is partly why CHIC (Communities and Housing Investment Consortium) work with its members to set the most viable cost/quality balance during the tender process.

Common issues

Although not ‘one size fits all’, with each RP working towards its own specific outcomes, some commonalities do arise, which often start with the Fire Risk Assessments.

The identified actions from FRA’s can appear rather vague. This results in the requirements being more costly than initially described. This is dictated in some respect by the type of FRA undertaken, but also occurs once a contractor is on site and carries out a more intrusive survey to price the required remedial works. No stone should be left unturned to ensure that the building is left in a safe condition and provides the correct levels of fire protection when the contractor withdraws from site. The landlord needs full knowledge and oversight during the works to be certain that both the design and execution of any work required is to the requisite standard.

With current supply chain issues and inflationary pressures in the wider economy, timescales for the supply of materials, especially fire doors, remains an ever growing issue. Getting insight into upcoming supply issues via constant communication with the supply chain is important to lessen the impact on planned programmes. Where possible, planning programmes as far ahead as possible is critical. Delivering such works on a more responsive basis can prove difficult for contractors and suppliers.

Route to market

All public sector construction frameworks, particularly those that focus on high risk works, should prioritise safety. They should also be taking into consideration any longer term impacts of work required now, (can/should other work be included to minimise the disruption for residents?) and of course all contracts must be delivered in an environmentally and socially responsible way that delivers value for money and social value.

Consulting the supply chain which delivers the works before developing any framework is key to making sure it is fit for purpose.

CHIC’s services and procurement solutions are created following consultation with members to understand their needs, but also with the supply chain to understand how their service delivery can be optimised. Their managed service fully supports the procurement process, with dedicated member services and supply chain management engagement not only at procurement stage, but throughout the terms of any contract awarded.

In addition to CHIC’s frameworks, which facilitate either further competition or direct award, we also have a range of Dynamic Purchasing Systems. These offer an alternative route to market which allows for contactors and suppliers to join the relevant category at any time and tenders can often be delivered in a faster timeframe. This can be particularly useful to their members where they wish to engage with a more locally based supply chain, and also where Section 20 applies for leaseholder properties.

Written by Stephen Sharman, Head of Member Services
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