The Liar, The Witch and The Wardrobe

The latest attack piece on the sector isn’t about the ‘shock’ of Housing Associations not ‘pulling their weight’ in terms of building homes. It is Neo-Liberal fetishism disguised as a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

Just a Case of History Repeating

Setting aside the deja vu of Channel 4, The Times piece v1.0 and The Spectator‘s look at the sector (the latter managing to significantly undermine its argument by getting their figures very, very wrong).The argument that social landlords should be facto property developers studiously (and deliberately) ignores and conflates the nature of the beast.

As social landlords we don’t just do development or basic ‘bricks and mortar’ work. Many act as welfare states within a welfare state; providing money advice, tenancy support, employment support services, apprenticeships, out-reach programs, oh and of course new housing. Often in the areas where the state has all but decided to fuck off. Those services are essential to the nature of who we are, and what we do and belie the notion we are just required to build homes. Ultimately it is why painting HAs as bumbling builders misses the point. But then again, that is the idea with this type of attack.

No Smoke Without Fire

Though I’ll be damned if I take anything seriously from those nutters at the Tax Payer’s Alliance. Get out more and read a little less Von Hayek and Friedman you loons. I am not going to blindly defend the sector. A number of the points raised by the article are a little too close for comfort. In particular, efficiency and getting value for money is of concern. Whilst claims of inertia over building is an unfair and loaded accusation given the broader context of what we do. We are occasionally too slow to develop and innovate, largely because we’ve never had a pressing need to, apart from when Government Policy changes.

We also have too many chefs in the kitchen. The fact that you can have several social landlords operating in the same street is just utterly bizarre. And although commendable for the work they do, as a small organisation development opportunities are limited. Merging or entering into a Group Structure with a larger set of organisations is probably the best move forward. Frankly if you’re under 5,000 units you will struggle in the next decade. Ultimately, as a sector you can’t own your future if you are a disparate bunch of fiefdoms pulling in different directions. That helps no-one, collapsing down is inevitable, embrace it when and where it works for your organisation.

You’re talking crap mate

As someone who works in Performance its the utter lack of context that befuddles me. Numbers in a vacuum (or in this case a deliberately narrowed tunnel of vision) mean nothing. To measure the worth of an organisation on one isolated variable, to conflate building with performance, is utter bullshit. External policy is underplayed as a influencing factor, all the additional work we do as a sector is ignored in its entirety. In short the overall context is deliberately skewed. Exactly why doesn’t become clear until you look at the end piece tied to the headline. It is a push for the debt of the sector to be wiped, and for HAs to be ‘free’. Presumably at this point being ‘born again’ for-profit organisations they could pay Chief Execs whatever they wanted?

Whilst written with an attachment to the real picture at hand that is tenuous at best, here is the rub of it. The article by The Times holds the crux of the debate as to where we are heading as a sector, it is also a warning shot to the sector from Central Government. Selling off HA debt and giving ‘freedom’ to the sector is the basis of one the Policy Exchange’s their main policy papers on Housing. And whilst I am delighted that Alex Morton is leaving his role Housing Policy Advisor to No10, they still hold a lot of clout. Consequently, lobbying hard to ensure this doesn’t happen will be a key challenge of this Parliament. That’s if the big boys and girls want to. I have a feeling some will be watching the potential for going solo with great interest.

You can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

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