As the social housing sector looks to engage, influence and ultimately work with the current Conservative Government. An administration that at best has been blasé towards the raison d’être of social landlords, and at worst sought to openly undermine our long-term existence. Game Theory might offer some clues as to our future direction of change.
For the uninitiated/blissfully unaware, Game Theory is the study of strategic decision-making. Though funnily enough part of the origins of Game Theory comes from studies designed to mathematically analyse poker games. Some people just want to take away all the fun… For those of you old enough to remember the cold war (I was 3 when the Berlin Wall came down so I don’t think that counts) M.A.D is the epitome of La Théorie des Jeux. Whilst I wouldn’t say we are in a zero sum game at the moment, though others in the sector probably would, there is certainly some interesting repositioning policy-wise currently going on.
Dilbert Explains Game Theory
The potential move towards a ‘voluntary’ Right To Buy (VRTB) for social landlords, in exchange for building low-cost homes is an intriguing one. It could negate the messy situation for Government whereby a quirk of accounting adds a load of debt onto the nation’s balance sheet. That would be more than a little awkward at a point in time where they are actively looking to lower it. Though not the first time the Conservatives would’ve shot themselves in the foot by not thinking/joining up policy decisions – housing benefit bill v affordable rents anyone? At the same time it might nullify the groundswell of opposition to a policy that CCHQ probably thought would be a stroll in the park to implement.
Whilst I am loath to give any credit to this Government VRTB is has the potential to be an exemplary move politically speaking (if it is indeed implemented/undertaken). VRTB takes away the argument that the policy is being forced onto organisations against their charitable objectives; as only those who want to take part will (I’m assuming there will be a sodding great big carrot dangling in front of the sector, somewhere). It would also allow those social landlords who are looking to move away from the provision of ‘true’ social housing a ready-made excuse to do so. The Conservatives can then say they have kept a pre-election promise (albeit one they kept bloody quiet) and a historically very popular policy that has been one of the most effect privatisation projects gets a new lease of life. Essentially it plays to everyone’s perceived self-interest, smart, very smart indeed.
Of course VRTB could all come to nothing. There is still the (sadly quite likely) option of the current incumbents in Parliament completely ignoring warnings/concerns from the CBI, CML, CIH, NHF, various financial institutions, credit rating agencies, a cross-section of the media (though I also take that with a pinch of salt) and pretty much every single social landlord and will force Right to Buy on Housing Associations. Such a move would be very much in keeping with the Fuck you buddy application of Game Theory, i.e. shit on everyone else to win/get what you want.
The NHF Conference later this month is apparently a time where more information will be given. Personally I’m not holding my breath, I just hope the sector puts the long-term ‘greater good’ of providing social housing above a rush to build homes for outright sale. We need a mix of housing types, not just the ones Government ideologically wants. FYI David Montague’s blog on what the future holds is essential reading.
Now, where are my poker chips…?