Friday, 9 September 2011

National Housing Federation Update, Plus Job Offer!

Yesterday was spent mainly dealing with business on behalf of the National Housing Federation. There were a few elements to the day and with the Annual Conference starting in Birmingham next week, I thought it might be interesting to share some of the local and some national issues that the Fed is currently working on.

First, I should declare my prejudice: I’ve been closely involved with the Fed for over 30 years and it is one of my deep-seated beliefs that an organisation like the Fed needs to exist, and that Housing Associations, on whose behalf it speaks so eloquently and campaigns so effectively, should all be members. Now more than ever we need a strong trade body to make sure that neither active policy decisions, nor unintended consequences cause harm to our businesses and the communities that benefit from what we do. There's more information on how to join here.

My first Fed task was to review our contribution to the Neighbourhood Audit. This is the second such audit – a collection of national statistical evidence that shows just how much housing associations contribute to local places through vital community work. You can find the 2008 results here. That survey showed that Housing Associations annually invest at least £435 million in this work, made-up of £272 million of their own funds and an additional £163 million from other sources.

This work benefits around one in ten of the population. This is one of the great untold stories of Housing Associations and deserves equal focus in the minds of ministers, along with the current obsession on new supply. It will be interesting to see the extent to which the national picture has changed in this survey – will “austerity” have bitten into this vitally important work, at exactly the time when we need more of it, not less?

For THT, the picture regarding investment in communities has stayed the same, something that probably won’t surprise regular readers. Our commitment to social, economic and environmental regeneration remains as strong as ever, with yet again, well over £1m invested in these activities last year – much of it through budgets allocated by local people, not my staff.

I then spent most of the day at the NHF Regional Committee. These regional forums are the essence of what the Fed does really well, providing a focus for lobbying, policy development and good practice sharing at a regional level. Their work is increasingly important – as the national agenda turns ever more starkly to issues around the supply of new housing, there is a risk that the differing and more complex needs of those regions that are furthest away from those southern-centric discussions do not get heard in the London-dominated conversations that matter.

The most intriguing part of the day was hearing from the Chairs of all the Regional Interest Groups (there are about a dozen of them covering every topic you could imagine) about their work over the previous 12 months – and their hopes for the work of the Fed in the next year. These Regional Interest Groups exist to support members and with up to 30 Fed members involved in each one, that support goes pretty deep into the Housing Associations of the North West – so if you are reading this and you aren’t part of one, you should be!

Of course the NHF’s national lobbying is a vital part of what we do and as part of the Regional Committee we got a really comprehensive update on the progress of lobbying around the localism bill, the NHS changes, the welfare reform bill, and the other ancillary legislation now wending its way through the Parliamentary process. An area of intense lobbying has been around the Welfare Reform bill’s proposals to end the direct payment of housing benefit. This is something that few tenants and almost no landlords see the point of and was there the slightest indication yesterday that DWP may be subtly changing its stance?

We will have to wait and see, but lets hope so. Then the lobbying can move onto the other nonsense of benefit reductions for those “under-occupying” their home. This seems to be penalising disabled people who need an extra bedroom, separated parents who need space for their children to come and stay at weekends and holidays. Essentially, it flies in the face of wisdom gained from down the years about how to make sensible allocation decisions. Good luck on this one everyone!

There was more - we learned at the Regional Committee about the Fed's internal Strategic Review (Housing Association readers you will be getting your questionnaire on this shortly - please make sure you help by giving us your views), we discussed the way the Affordable Homes programme is playing out with colleagues from the HCA, and we planned some future events where NW members can get together.

And what is the job offer mentioned in the title of this blog post? Well, currently I’m lucky to be one of the members of the NHF’s Board – the national body that has ultimate responsibility for the work of the Fed. My term comes to an end next year and when I leave, there will be no members of that Board based any further North than Stoke. A recruitment process for my replacement will take place next year – probably around May time. So if, like me, you believe that there is a distinctly different agenda around the North, if you believe that a Southern-dominated board would find it harder to understand and represent that agenda, then dust off your CV and think about applying – you really could make a difference. If you want to know more about what would be involved, please get in touch.

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