Independence...Integrity...Value

May 2014

May 9th 2014, 14:06

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26th May 2014

This Wednesday we will publish the May edition of the ‘AWICS Housing News’. It will include articles on:

  • A New Housing Policy to meet the Housing Crisis
  • National Housing Federation publishes Research on Welfare Reform
  • Value for Money and Performance at Impact Housing Association
  • Welsh Local Authorities to build New Council Houses
  • Regeneration and Insulation in Lambeth
  • Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 and Affordable Homes in Oldham

You can download your free copy from: http://awics.co.uk/HousingNews.asp

The reason why it is delayed until Wednesday is so that we can include a piece on the National Housing Federation and its research on welfare reform that will also be published on Wednesday.

Last Wednesday I chaired Impact Housing Association’s Board meeting that was held at Workington. One of the items on the agenda was to agree the annual report to members that will go to the annual general meeting in June. It provided a good opportunity for the Board to reflect on what Impact has achieved during 2013. The full report will be published on the Impact Houisng Association website. Further information on what has been achieved in terms of value for money and improved performance is included in the ‘AWICS Housing News’ but I thought that readers of this blog might be interested in the following graph that shows how many new homes Impact has provided during recent years:

Local elections were held in England last Thursday. Two of the things about them were both predictable and depressing. Firstly, in most areas the turnout was below 40% showing yet again that a majority of people did not wish to express a preference about who should represent them in the council chamber or how the Council should be run and what its priorities should be. Secondly, in all the coverage of the results there were very few comments about how an election result had been influenced by local issues or by the performance of the local authority or individual councillors concerned. However, I don’t entirely blame the apathetic voters. I think our local councils and local councillors could probably do more to engage effectively with their citizens.

In Copeland Borough Council, where I used to be Strategic Director, there was a referendum on the establishment of an elected mayor. 70% of those who voted were in favour of an elected Mayor. The initiative for the ballot was taken by a campaign group called ‘Time for Change’ and the move was opposed by the current Council. It will now be interesting to see who is elected as Mayor of Copeland and whether radical changes or improvements will follow.

The next AWICS seminar and workshop is that on developments in local authority housing finance. It will be held in London on 8th July 2014. It offers an opportunity for housing managers, housing accountants, local councillors and others with an interest in local authority housing finance to become fully up to date with this important subject. Details can be found on our website at: http://awics.co.uk/devts.asp .

All our seminars and workshops are also available as in-house sessions. For further information please contact me at Adrian.waite@awics.co.uk

19th May 2014

Migration has become a high profile political issue and this has prompted me to give it some thought. It is interesting to note that while there appears to be political consensus that ‘free markets’ are a ‘good thing’; the view seems to be that this applies to those who want to trade their goods or invest their capital, but that constraints should be placed on where people can sell their labour.

I am interested by the common conception that because the United Kingdom has a high density of population compared to most of the world that it is ‘full’ and cannot accommodate an increased population. The logic of this argument is that places that are densely populated will always be poorer than places that are sparsely populated, but this is not true. For example, the Netherlands is more prosperous than the United Kingdom but is more densely populated. The most sparsely populated county in England is Northumberland but it is not the most prosperous. The most densely populated county in England is Greater London but it is certainly not the poorest. The capacity of a place to support a population depends on its resources and location and not just its size.

One of the modules that I studied for my degree was Economic Geography. I remember being told that migration was an important element of economic growth and that the sign of a place with a strong and prosperous economy was that it attracted migrants who not only add to the workforce but strengthen society by bringing diversity. Conversely the sign of a place with a weak economy is that people want to leave. Migration is something that benefits economies and societies as well as the individuals involved. It logically follows from this that a government that presides over an increase net immigration should be congratulated while one that presides over reduced net immigration should be criticised. It is interesting that most contemporary politicians take the opposite view, saying that they want to reduce migration.

On Wednesday evening I will be chairing the May meeting of the Board of Impact Housing Association. The main items on our agenda are:

  • Our annual reports to members and tenants
  • The Audit Plan for 2014/15
  • Our Self-Regulatory return and Operating Financial review

Despite the challenges that are faced by all housing associations, connected mainly with the recession, welfare reform and reduced social housing grant; Impact Housing continues to thrive with healthy surpluses, high levels of performance, high levels of tenant satisfaction and a continuing development programme. We have a robust approach to risk management and audit and have a good record in achieving value for money. We consistently achieve high ratings from the Homes & Communities Agency and independent sources such as ‘Investors in People’.

Yet more anecdotal evidence is emerging about the operation of the private rented sector. On Saturday I was speaking to some young people who live in the private rented sector in Cumbria. They live on the minimum wage and typically pay rent of £450 a month for a one bedroom flat. They complain of problems in their flats including poor insulation and dampness. They do not appear to me to get a good deal. Furthermore, when one of them (who works for a refuse collection contractor) complained to his landlord about the damp he was told that it was caused by his lifestyle in that he uses the shower too much! Should there be better regulation of the private rented sector?

Following the success of the ‘AWICS’ seminar and workshop on service charges in social housing in April, we have decided to hold another session in London on 12th November 2014. Details can be found on our website at: http://awics.co.uk/schs.asp

Our next seminar and workshop is that on developments in local authority housing finance. It will be held in London on 8th July 2014. It offers an opportunity for housing managers, housing accountants, local councillors and others with an interest in local authority housing finance to become fully up to date with this important subject. Details can be found on our website at: http://awics.co.uk/devts.asp .

All our seminars and workshops are also available as in-house sessions. For further information please contact me at Adrian.waite@awics.co.uk

12th May 2014

Many thanks to the 216 members of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy (CIPFA) who voted for me in the elections for the National Council this year. Unfortunately, I was not successful but am heartened by the level of support that I received. Congratulations also to the successful candidates.

While on the subject of voting, I cast my postal vote for the European elections this week (we don't have local elections this year). I am sure, though, that I will be in a minority in voting in these elections as, across the country, fewer than 50% of voters are expected to vote either for their Members of the European Parliament or for their local councillors. This is a bad thing for democracy. If we wish to live in a functioning and sustainable democracy people should be prepared to vote. My fear is that low and declining turnouts in local, European and parliamentary elections will continue to lead to an erosion of democratic values, rights and accountabilities at all levels.

This problem does not only apply to elections to public bodies, it also applies to private companies and professional institutions. For example, there are 12,976 members of CIPFA of whom only 1,698 (13%) voted in the recent elections for the National Council.

Cumbria County Council has been out to consultation on their new procurement strategy. This is important, not only to ensure that goods and services are procured effectively, but also to ensure that the procurement strategy contributes to the sustainability of the local economy. AWICS has responded to the consultation with recommendations to enable the Council to do this more effectively, especially through supporting local small to medium enterprises. A copy of our submission can be downloaded from: http://awics.co.uk/dynamicdata/data/docs/cumbria%20county%20council%20sustainable%20procurement%20strategy%20-%20consultation%20response.pdf

Earlier in the year we also responded to the Council’s consultation on their budget for 2014/15. A copy of our submission can be downloaded from: http://awics.co.uk/dynamicdata/data/docs/37cumbriacc140120letter.budget.pdf

The Homes & Communities Agency has recently criticised a number of Housing Associations for their approach to Value for Money. Impact Housing Association, where I am Chair, was not one of those that was criticised but there is no room for complacency. Much of the problem appears to be a lack of awareness among Housing Associations of the requirements of the Homes & Communities Agency – caused largely by these requirements not being clearly expressed. From my discussions with the Homes & Communities Agency, Housing Associations and Consultants it appears that the government (and therefore the Homes & Communities Agency) has a different attitude to Value for Money than most Housing Associations. Housing Associations tend to focus on economy, efficiency and effectiveness in providing homes and services to tenants and service users. The Homes & Communities Agency appears to be focused on ‘sweating assets’, maximising the development programme and having a rigorous approach to risk management. Further information on Impact Housing Association’s approach to Value for Money can be found on the website at: http://www.impacthousing.org.uk/value-money

Our next seminar and workshop is that on developments in local authority housing finance. It will be held in London on 8th July 2014. It offers an opportunity for housing managers, housing accountants, local councillors and others with an interest in local authority housing finance to become fully up to date with this important subject. Details can be found on our website at: http://awics.co.uk/devts.asp .

All our seminars and workshops are also available as in-house sessions. For further information please contact me at Adrian.waite@awics.co.uk

5th May 2014

I am writing this blog in the Kensington Hotel in Rhyl in North Wales. I am staying here because I have a meeting with Denbighshire County Council in the morning to discuss self-financing, the new Welsh rent policy and the unpooling of service charges. These are very important matters in Wales and I am looking forward to the meeting.

I was recently asked to write a paper about how local authorities and housing associations in England, Scotland and Wales could resolve the housing crisis by building more homes. The paper that I wrote turned out to be more comprehensive than I first intended, so I decided to publish it as a briefing paper on my website. It looks at Owner-Occupation, the Private Rented Sector, Social and Affordable Housing, the Right to Buy, the Long-Term Housing Market, Economic Development and Environmental Issues; and proposes new policies to tackle the housing crisis in all these areas. Your copy can be freely downloaded from: http://awics.co.uk/dynamicdata/data/docs/new%20housing%20policy%20to%20meet%20the%20housing%20crisis%20-%20briefing%20paper.pdf . If anyone agrees or disagrees with what I have said please write to me at adrian.waite@awics.co.uk to let me know.

Last Wednesday I chaired a meeting of the Board of Impact Housing Association in Carlisle. We discussed many things, but I think our most important decision was to abolish the long-standing limit of 49% on the proportion of members of the association who can be tenants. There is now no limit on the numbers of tenants who can join the association.

People often ask about the accountability of housing associations and I think that this is a good question. To whom should housing associations be accountable? The government, the regulator or the local authority? I think none of these. I think that housing associations should be accountable to their communities and tenants. I hope that many of Impact’s tenants will take advantage of this rule change so that they will become a majority of the members of the association and we can become a housing association that is truly accountable to tenants.

If anyone would like to become a member, whether they are a tenant or someone else who wishes to support us and get involved, please see http://www.impacthousing.org.uk/membership .

The ‘AWICS’ seminar and workshop ‘All You Want to Know about Service Charges in Social Housing’ was held at the Novotel Hotel in Lambeth on Tuesday. It proved very popular and I am grateful to all those who came. The feedback was positive and included:

  • Excellent resources
  • Good Quality
  • Booklet is informative
  • It was useful to discuss the area with fellow professionals from different areas

Our next seminar and workshop is that on developments in local authority housing finance. It will be held in London on 8th July 2014. It offers an opportunity for housing managers, housing accountants, local councillors and others with an interest in local authority housing finance to become fully up to date with this important subject. Details can be found on our website at: http://awics.co.uk/devts.asp .

All our seminars and workshops are also available as in-house sessions. For further information please contact me at Adrian.waite@awics.co.uk

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