Hexagon residents are being invited to vote for a resident board member, but have slammed the ballot as a sham. As a result, a group of residents have engaged in a campaign of spoilt ballot papers in protest.
The ballot paper urges residents to “make your choice count”, but residents argue that the flawed process denies them the opportunity to do so.
Hexagon has a board of eleven members plus the chief executive. Four board seats are reserved for residents of Hexagon, and one of these seats is currently vacant.
A ballot is currently underway, but residents have widely slammed the election as being as sham. They have highlighted a number of ways in which tenants and residents are misled by an otherwise apparently democratic process.
Preselected Candidates Candidacy for the board member role is not open to any resident. Instead, the candidates are selected by Hexagon in a selection process where loyalty to the company not the residents, backed up by the Standing Orders of Hexagon, will be to the fore.
Secret Meetings Once elected, there is no line of communication between board members and residents. All board members are sworn to secrecy on all matters discussed at board meetings. This doesn’t just apply to items that are commercially or personally sensitive (for example fraud allegations or staffing matters), but to everything that is discussed.
No Right of Recall Since it is impossible to assess the performance of the board due to the secrecy in which it operates, it is perhaps no surprise that once elected, there is no right of recall if a board member fails to attend regularly, or does not fulfil the role. They serve a three-year term and are then able to stand for re-election.
The selected and controlled resident board members are doubtless well intentioned. But they function as a useful bit of democratic window dressing for a Board dominated by appointed corporate beauracrats and consultants, with no accountability at all to residents.
As well as swearing its board members to an oath of secrecy, Hexagon also declines to publish either the board minutes or board papers on their website. All decision-making is therefore wholly inscrutable to tenants and residents.
Oddly however, the candidates themselves do not appear to be aware that their role excludes representation. One writes “I am dedicated to representing all tenants and making sure all decisions made have our best interest at heart”.
Another says “If elected, I will be committed to prioritising your needs as a Hexagon resident and service user … “. While there is no doubting the sincerity of such statements, it appears that the Hexagon board recruitment team haven’t fully conveyed the disconnect that will be expected between candidate and constituents if elected.
Board meetings represent a lucrative source of income for committee members. Hexagon is one of the smaller housing associations, with around 3,000 homes. It is also a registered charity. Nonetheless, ordinary members of the board receive circa £5,800 per year, and the Chair receives around £12,000 per year.
A General Lack of Transparency
The lack of transparency revealed by the ballot has angered residents who believe that all board members should be accountable for decisions about their homes and welfare. Their view is that there should be a mechanism for reporting such decisions after each meeting, as some housing associations do, and for contacting resident board members when there are problems. This would be far better aligned to the organisation’s charitable status, and would also support good governance.
One tenant, Victor McLaughlin commented:
Hexagon’s obsession with secrecy is encoded in its DNA. It is written into the constitution. We are not allowed to find out what individual board members advocate, and no facility is provided to communicate with elected resident members. This means that when they give a view at a board meeting, they are only speaking for themselves, not for residents”.Victor McLaughlin, Hexagon Tenant
Despite the democratic cover provided by the ballot, the corporate culture is not just lacking in transparency, but actively opposed to it. The binding of board members to secrecy is also highly policed. Previous resident board members who have attempted engagement with those who elected them have been barred from subsequent board meetings.
The consequences of Hexagon’s negative governance approach have been evident in previous disastrous decisions, such as building homes over sinkholes.
SHAC@Hexagon is a self-governing group of tenants and residents which meets monthly to discuss issues of concern, and agree campaign priorities. If you are a Hexagon resident and would like to join, please register here.
Read also the Hexagon Residents blog here.