Hope Note Hate

As the dust starts to settle on what quite frankly has been one the of the ugliest political campaigns (Zac I’m Not saying Kahn is a terrorist sympathiser but…Goldsmith’s mayoral campaign aside) I can’t remember one quite as openly ugly, earnest reflections on who we are as a nation are needed.

Lies, Damned Lies and Vote Leave

Perhaps I was a bit naive but at the start of the EU Referendum campaign I had hoped that although tightly fought both sides would bringing meaningful arguments to the debate. That facts and figures would be used to back arguments instead of being bent to breaking point in order to fit the narrative being spun. That quite simply hasn’t happened, and instead false claims and counter claims have been thrown about by both sides. And little by little the arguments used have become uglier and uglier.

As someone who works in housing, who has a degree in Sociology & Social Policy and a Masters in Housing Policy and Practice it particularly pisses me off when rumour, misinformation, gossip and outright lies around access to social housing, and housing more generally and the EU are bandied about. I don’t blame the Poles for a lack of social housing in this country. I blame the Coalition Government for reducing the capital funding for social housing by 60% and the subsequent Tory Government for ignoring it in its entirety.


The consistent lying has been quite breathtaking, God bless FullFact, they have been working overtime trying to provide insight and context behind some of the ‘facts’ that been flying around. I will be very glad when its over just so I don’t have to put up with seeing Vote Leave politicians in a live public debate knowingly lie and misrepresent figures because their basic argument is a essentially of mixture of nostalgia and mild xenophobia. With a position that goes against the advice of the IMF, IFS, various Central Banks across the world, not to mention the overwhelming majority of economists. But don’t worry Andrea Leadsom and Gielsa Stuart are mothers and therefore knows best.

Blame the foreigner

Realistically Ms Leadsom/Stuart aren’t the worst, not by a long shot. The fact that someone like Nigel Farage gets air time is appalling. His latest stunt, from the Joseph Goebbels school of propaganda, is case and point. To his defenders he is one of the bastions against ‘PC going mad’, a chap who says it how it is. He isn’t, he’s just an opportunistic muppet, happy to rail against the EU whilst securing a great big pay cheque from it. There are chocolate teapots in this world that contribute more to this country than that oxygen thief. And for the record political correctness isn’t going mad it’s just society has decided to move on from some of the racist, homophobic and misogynistic traits it used to have. Whilst we still have a long way to go you’re just a little bit behind the curve, try to keep up.

As ugly as it is, the frenzied xenophobia masquerading as concern over the state of our country that has been plastered all over our papers is symptomatic of underlying tensions in our nation’s psyche.  Regardless of the result there are some clear issues that need addressing. There are elements of society, particularly (but not exclusively) those in the working class, who feel let down, marginalised and threatened. They have legitimate concerns over immigration (yes it’s an issue, no not in the way portrayed by a lot of our press), pay, working conditions, state support and a perceived encroachment on their lives by the state (ironically enough). Whether a Tory Government will give a damn, or a Labour Party desperate to get back in power (with or without its current leader) will dare to be seen as being too pro-working class (you do have to go back to the 80s for that mind) remains to be seen. Either way their concerns need to be heeded.

In Summary

What I am hoping for tomorrow is quite simply that, Hope. That optimism about the benefits of the EU wins out over blind nostalgia and cynical manipulation of legitimate concerns. That we opt, at least in terms of the EU, for a more progressive and inclusive approach to politics. Because bugger me it’s been severely lacking over the past few years.

What we don’t need is rhetoric that is essentially – blame the foreigner, blame the foreigner, blame the foreigner. How about blame the austerity cuts to Housing, blame the cuts to Local Authority budgets. Blame neoliberalism’s failed experiment with our economy. Leaving Europe solves none of the actual issues facing the UK. Fuelling hatred based on nationality merely deepens divisions. That helps no one.

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

*Updated to expand on social housing points




The Japanese Juxtaposition

As a sector getting creative in how we approach our traditional pitfalls of technology and digital transformation in a challenging environment is key if we are to meet the risks, opportunities and threats of the next decade.

DilbertProbably my favourite Tweet of all time came from Paul Taylor, it highlighted an article that showed there are people, living and breathing among us, who still believe that a fax machine is essential to their business. Not just a small number, 30% of those surveyed. What the actual fuck. This isn’t just something out in America, these are British workers. As someone brought up and raised on computers, who uses their smart phone to pick up news stories, who will Skype his brother half-way across the world and has a Gran who smashes it at WhatsApp this is baffling. But actually is it?

The interesting thing on technology and tech users is that people get so caught up in stereo-types that they miss the bigger picture. Old people are assumed to be rubbish, young people natural whizzes. Yet one of the most interesting articles I’ve that ‘s popped up on the BBC website shows that appearances and stereotypes can be highly deceptive. The piece in question looked at the use of technology in Japan. And how, despite appearances, many business were heavily reliant on tech that probably belonged in a museum rather than a work place.  With some estimates putting Japanese businesses 5 – 10 yrs behind their counterparts internationally in terms of adopting modern IT practices. This from a country with the bullet train and some of the best known high tech firms in the world.

Why so serious(ly slow)?

The answer is quite simple, out of the estimated 4.2million business in Japan 99.7% of them are Small or Medium Enterprises (SME) and they are tight AF when it comes to investing in IT infrastructure. And incredibly risk averse. For the fax lovers of the UK then, there is good news as they are apparently still en en vogue. Best get going then, off you go. Jokes aside this Luddite approach to technology is having a serious impact on productivity and is a part of the reason why Japan’s economy is in horrific shape. So what does this have to do with housing? Well, organisations slow to adopt new IT practices, slow to change their ways in operating, using old technology. Is this ringing any bells?

The HCA may have ruffled some feathers with its analysis of social landlord costs. But that’s only because it is in part right. We haven’t evolved because we haven’t needed to, and just as we aren’t as efficient as we could be because we could get away with it we haven’t upgraded our tech readily enough because there was no pressure to. However, in terms of the tech we use at least, that is changing sharpish. But as Peter Hall notes the traditional ways of meeting external drivers of change in terms of reducing costs may not cut it. A new digital solution or strategy does not guarantee costs savings or a more efficient way of working. Consequently re-evaluating our approaches to thinking about change maybe necessary.

The Future is Bright(ish)

If you haven’t read it already I would recommend  Paul Taylor‘s blog on the rhetoric of digital transformation. Aside from noting the depressing fact that often digital transformation A) Isn’t that transformative and B) hasn’t really happened. Paul references two chaps it is worth having a look at: Carl Haggerty and Frank Diana. Indeed if you want to collect some useful quotes/bullshit bingo Frank has some zingers.

  • In times of change the greatest danger is to act with yesterday’s logic (Quote from Peter Drucker…I don’t know him either)
  • Wait and see means wait and die (bit melodramatic, but still)
  • Leaders must shift from a focus on what is, to a focus on what could be (so on what to be or not to be…?)

Tying these into how HAs think about changing the way their business operates is key. As is moving from past success and failures and onto what might be in the future is needed, because the current methodology isn’t working. The future is going to be challenging, it’s time to get creative in how we meet it.

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


Food for Thought

On 23rd June UKHousingFast joins us again, bringing together the Ramadan, the housing crisis in the UK and raising food donations and money for a very important charity, The Trussell Trust (I think even the DWP likes them now). Essentially it is the perfect opportunity for a ‘what does it all mean’ moment. Just don’t go and buy a bloody sports car afterwards. This is a period for a reflection, not an enabler for a midlife crisis.

An Unlikely Faster

If you ever proffered me a penny for my thoughts my response would probably involve food. I love the stuff, usually the more unhealthy the better (FYI there is an immense Cro-nut stall down the market by Greenwich Pier). Nutella (other hazelnut based spreads are available) and Pizza are probably my biggest weaknesses. I can devour a large Domino’s (Pepperoni, always) in one sitting, me and the Ladyfriend rarely have Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream for the same reason. Needless to say the concept of #UKHousingFast did not immediately appeal.

If you’re thinking of going to the gym whilst fasting, don’t.

Lessons from Last Year

However last year I decided to give it a go. I also decided to go to the gym whilst fasting. To cut a long story short if you’re thinking of doing this and you are going all day without food, don’t. Take the whole day to have some introspection. On a side note it is amazing how much will power is needed to A) Not think about food B) Not eat the damn stuff, but that might just be me.

Whilst in no way the main part of the day or even a stated focus of #UKHousingFast. A consistent theme amongst people who have undertaken was the respect it brought out of them for their Muslim friends, colleagues and family. Doing this for one day, or even a meal is tough, doing it for the entire period of Ramadan is a dedication that can only described as impressive. But just as important, and more in tune with what the day is about, is the reminder that for an increasing number of people fasting is not a choice tied to faith but a survival tactic when money is incredibly tight. It is a small part of a wider network of support for those living on the breadline.

One of the things that really works with #UKHousingFast, it’s an immensely personal but also incredibly diverse/open campaign to get involved in

What to Take From the Day

Whatever you want, support from colleagues friends, both real and social media based, makes the day on its on. But fundamentally you get out of it what you put in. If you just want to raise some awareness, get some money in for the Trussell Trust that’s fine. If you want to go further that’s also great. There’s a list of things you can do here. That’s one of the things that really works with #UKHousingFast, it’s an immensely personal but also incredibly diverse/open campaign to get involved in (Housing PR people, take note).

If you want to get involved you can find out more at https://ukhousingfast.wordpress.com/ or you can follow them on Twitter with the handle @ukhousingfast. If you’re taking part don’t forget to tweet using the #UKHousingFast hashtag. I will be tweeting my little heart out, probably be giving a minute by minute guide to what I will devour come night fall.

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


Stick or Twist

Housing Associations need to look beyond their Housing Management Systems if they are to fully realise the potential of the data at their fingertips.

Housing Management Systems (HMS) are the ‘precious’ of the social housing sector. Simultaneously one of the most fretted about and under appreciated bits of tech a social landlord uses. They come in various shapes, sizes and cost anything from an arm and a leg, to the whole body. They are essential in providing the day to day information that an organisation needs to survive. From logging customer contact to repairs, arrears, lettings, new tenancies, customer contact information; you name it, you probably store it on your HMS.

But despite their many uses Housing Management Systems are increasingly only part of the picture when it comes to data insight. The static reports that come as part of, or more likely bodged onto, the procured package often provide reams of figures but not always something that is valuable to the business beyond fixed point reporting. Indeed when it comes to data insight HMS’s are often more of a hindrance than a help.

Origins and Evolution

Some might argue it is a bit unfair to expect what is essentially a highly complex excel/access database to be able to provide a malleable, easy to use data insight functionality. After all aren’t they merely posh data repositories? Well yes, to a point, but why store a load of data if you are not going to use it? If you are having to push out data into excel or access databases to then format it into something usable, then something has gone very wrong indeed.

Frankly is doesn’t help that more often than not the software looks like a throwback to Windows 95. Seriously find somebody who is good at developing software that doesn’t look like the digital version of 1960’s brutalist architecture. It might get hipsters and historians all weak at the knees, but it is god awful for the rest of us. And that’s before you get to the actual functionality.

The Great Leap Forward

More and more the sector is moving away from its over-reliance on HMS products, largely as a result of software developments elsewhere. Business Insight tools are a key part of this evolution that is gradually dragging the sector into the century of the Anchovy 21st Century. With GIS mapping software, data mining and data visualisation tools such as Tableau or Microsoft’s Power BI all having a part to play in weaning the sector of its dependency on technology that isn’t providing the solutions needed.

Caution is required to ensure the lure of shiny new things doesn’t distract from what is a good addition to your current digital arsenal and merely being sucked into the latest fad. But expecting your HMS to magically be able to stretch beyond its core functionality and neatly fit into the next-gen of data analysis, insight and visualisation is a bit of a pipe dream. As is expecting a new bit of software to solve all your problems. Alongside getting out the credit card it is worth asking the following questions:

  • How long has your HMS been used at your organisation? Why did you get it?
  • When did you last check whether it was fit for purpose?
  • When did you last look at what the data needs of the organisation are?

Dust off your digital, IT and data strategies (admit it, you still haven’t put these into one coherent strategy), look at needs (both present and future) of the business, look at the options available and use the sound base your HMS provides to feed into what is out there. Otherwise you will be stuck with Excel spreadsheets and Access databases wasting time whilst your staff manually do what can be done by a bit of software in a tenth of the time.

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