A look back at last months Eastern policy working together event
Chair of the CIH Eastern Board Russell Heath shares his thoughts as we talked all things policy at the Eastern policy working together event last month.
The CIH Eastern Board recently held its annual policy event in Cambridge. There was a clear focus on partnership and collaboration, what it means to actually listen and involve and build more trust and confidence in what we are doing.
CIH head of policy Melanie Rees challenged us as rent reduction/settlement in coming to an end and how can we use this as a force for good. Our business plans have been adjusted to account for this and whilst it has been tough with decisions made to reduce operating costs whilst continuing to deliver great services there is now an opportunity to add additional value to what we do and embark on key projects that can support customer and communities. However, should there be some caution not to just increase rents to the maximum permitted but think about true affordability within our areas and balance the focus on the existing stocks whilst contributing to the increase in homes we need. Does this present a great opportunity to think about different options and discuss these with customers, what we could do differently that provides a lasting benefit? It’s quite clear any assessment of rents needs to be in line with LHA caps and ideally below as even some of these are not affordable dependent upon the local area.
Mel shared some initial thoughts on the rethinking social housing project. It was great to see how many responses were received and the common messages coming through that were similar to the views of our tenants when completing the workshop. At our workshop, we had some insightful conversations on safety and security, support and empowerment but also the recognition that social housing has provided a platform for people to thrive. Social hosing has so much value to people and communities and I hope its wider media perception is changing and hope that all parties politically are starting to see the real necessity it has to communities.
There were discussions on how we should tell others better what we are about, what we do that are often unseen outside of the sector as well as owning up to things that are not great – being more transparent.
There were good examples of working in partnership. Andrew Taylor of Countryside certainly made me chuckle with the tongue in cheek view of the standard approach by developers that in reality is often felt or perceived by communities but how their is a want and realisation that open and honest discussions at the outset and the creation of place are important. An interesting point was raised about the competition for land across all developers including housing associations and how this can potentially push up prices. This is obviously counterproductive and leads to the desire to reduce commitments that would have a lasting benefit to the community. East Suffolk shared some great insight into their major housing and community project outside of Ipswich which understandably caused a lot of local discontent, but through working with the land agent and having regular discussions with the community it provided clarity in what solutions could be implemented to reduce the community concern. It was clear there are always challenges with other bodies including highways and network rail and the need to get better at early engagement and clarity over options.
One aspect I support is the creation of spatial strategies, too often it is seen that developments are built without adequate infrastructure and thinking of the wider landscape and community, interconnectivity and access.
We were delighted to have Darren Hartley CEO of Taroe along to discuss the outcomes of the Hackitt report and what it means to the customer voice. A number of thoughts and questions were posed centred around the culture of listening, trust and confidence. There was a challenge on whether Hackitt went far enough and the potential avenues through the forthcoming green paper where some aspects may be addressed. There is a real opportunity to strengthen the role of the consumer standards and the regulator and it would be a real missed opportunity if this is not included. There was discussion about the diversity of boards, risk and finance are a focus but input from different perspectives provides real value as well. I welcomed the thought on the potential of a digital record on a life of a building so there is greater understanding and clarity of changes and these impacts. My concern is that things become less clear with a new housing minister, whereas the previous minister has made it well known of the importance he placed on meeting tenants around the country and the information, views and knowledge that was picked up.
We finished with a panel discussion that provided some really interesting questions and comments including talking about the role of professionalism, skill shortages, agile working, the tenant voice, procurement and rethinking lettings.
There remains much we can do ourselves, opening our doors, working together and further demonstrating that we are very much part of the housing solution. Our voice is clear and strong when we work collaboratively, a great example being the recently launched Make a Stand pledge. The pledge has been created to encourage housing organisations to make a commitment to support people experiencing domestic abuse. There are four pledges that will make a huge difference to how we work with tenants and residents, support and raise awareness of domestic abuse. If you have not already done so, take a look and work with your organisation to join.