Independence...Integrity...Value

Blog 12th November 2018

Nov 12th 2018, 11:37

Blog 12th November 2018

In this week’s blog, I refer to: Remembrance Sunday; the Armistice; Emmanuel Macron; the New European; Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government; Social Housing Green Paper; Tenant Empowerment; Impact Housing Association; Local Authority Housing Finance; Rory Stewart MP; the European Union; the Cumberland & Westmorland Herald; and the People’s Vote.

Yesterday was not only ‘Remembrance Sunday’ but was the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended the First World War.

The First World War

Whenever I reflect on what happened during the First and Second World Wars and what caused them, I conclude that we should all use our best endeavours to ensure that nothing like that happens again.

I therefore found Emmanuel Macron’s observations on nationalism very relevant:

"The old demons are rising again, ready to complete their task of chaos and of death.

"Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism.

"In saying 'Our interests first, whatever happens to the others', you erase the most precious thing a nation can have, that which makes it live, that which causes it to be great and that which is most important: Its moral values."

Those of us who live in liberal democracies should not take peace, prosperity and civil liberties for granted. As Mitch Benn writes in the ‘New European’:

“Peace in Europe is not the natural state of affairs… and if not diligently maintained, will not survive.”

Last week I responded to the Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government on their Social Housing Green Paper consultation and made a copy of my response available on my website. One of the themes of the Green Paper is empowering tenants. In my response, I argued that tenants should be stakeholders rather than customers.

This prompted the Chief Executive of a Housing Association in the West Midlands to email me to ask:

“What would the role of Tenants as Stakeholders look like?”

I replied as follows:

“I’m not sure I know exactly what ‘tenants as stakeholders’ would look like and I suspect it may look different in different places.

“I think that we have moved from a paternalistic model where housing professionals know best and provide tenants with what they think is appropriate to one where tenants are seen as customers who have a right to comment and complain about the services that they receive. Hence the regulator’s emphasis on improving the complaints process. What I would like to see is another step forward towards tenants being seen as stakeholders who take the lead in taking decisions about their homes and communities.

“I also think this is linked to accountability issues. Who are housing associations accountable to? When I was Chair of Impact Housing Association the board was accountable to the membership. These were about fifty people, some of whom were tenants but most of whom were ex-board members. Only a minority of them attended the annual general meeting and they didn’t provide much scrutiny. After I left the board the number of members declined to thirty. When Impact Housing Association was downgraded and had to consider a merger I think the small membership base was exposed as a serious governance weakness. I don’t think Impact is unique and many associations are in the same position. If we need a larger and more effective group to be accountable to, who else is there but the tenants?

“I don’t think I have any original ideas about how tenants can act as stakeholders. Co-operatives, tenant management organisations, tenants’ associations and tenant board members have all been around for some time. There is also the question of how to motivate and empower tenants to act as stakeholders. Unfortunately, there are not millions of tenants out there clamouring for a stronger role in taking decisions.

“When I was Chair of Impact, we took an evolutionary approach to these issues, building on what was already there. For example:

  • Impact already had five places on the board for tenant members. When I first joined the board, only one of these places was filled. While I was Chair, we made it a priority to ensure that all those places were filled. However, I don’t think it is enough just to have people on the board who happen to be tenants. Those board members have to be empowered to play a full role and also have to have effective ways of having a dialogue with tenants as a whole.
  • We established a Tenants’ & Residents’ Association (ITARA) and tried to avoid some of the common pitfalls. I wanted ITARA to be representative of tenants in general, independent of the landlord and proactive in raising issues, making criticisms and making suggestions.
  • We encouraged tenants to become members of the association. I also suggested that all long-standing tenants should automatically become members of the association, but this suggestion was not supported by the Board.

“So, while I don’t have a blueprint, I do have some thoughts that I hope you find useful.”

To view or download a copy of my response to the Social Housing Green Paper, please click here.

To find out more about independent tenants’ & residents’ advice that is provided by AWICS, please click here.

Flats at Sheerwater in Woking where AWICS is currently the Independent Tenants' Advisor

Last week I presented our seminar ‘All You Want to Know about Local Authority Housing Finance’ in London. As usual, it was well received. Delegates said that the information provided was very relevant, the quality of presentation was good and that the training met their needs fully. They described the session as useful, interesting, valuable, clear and practical. Specific comments included:

  • I have been in local government for about ten years now but have been in housing general fund and housing revenue account for only five months. I found this seminar very useful and informative.
  • A good general view from which to research specific aspects.

The seminar is now available as an in-house session. For further information, please click here.

This week I have had a letter published in the ‘Cumberland & Westmorland Herald’ under the heading ‘Rigged Referendum the cause of deep divisions’ in which I respond to last week’s letter from Rory Stewart MP and argue that there should be a ‘People’s vote’ in which the electorate would decide between leaving the European Union on the terms proposed by the government (when these are known) or staying in the European Union on the existing terms.

To view or download a copy of my letter, please click here.

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