Stephen Cook - Just the job!
Vice President candidate Stephen Cook discusses the contribution housing associations make to the wider economy.What do housing associations do?
They let houses to people.
Well not quite. Housing associations (HAs) are about much more than just housing, and here in Wales the housing association sector has, over recent years, made a real impact on employment and training, and this is crucial in communities where unemployment has been historically high. (In February 2015 the unemployment rate across Wales had improved slightly but at 6.7% was still 1% higher than the UK average.)
At the highest level, housing associations in Wales make an impressive contribution to the Welsh economy. Every pound spent directly by HAs is matched almost exactly by a further pound of indirect spending. Last year, that equated to £2 billion of expenditure, 81% of which (£1.6bn) was retained in Wales. Equally as important is the contribution to employment. The sector employs over 8,400 people and for every one of these a further one-and-a-half jobs are supported within the Welsh economy. That’s 12,600 additional jobs!
Perhaps more impressive however, is the contribution that individual associations are making to help create sustainable employment and training opportunities in their communities. CIH Cymru was instrumental in working with Welsh Government to develop the i2i Toolkit – a framework to make targeted recruitment and training a legally enforceable, contractual obligation of large building/refurbishment contracts. My own organisation, Valleys to Coast Housing (V2C), and others, have now taken this further and require a ‘community benefit’ from all contracts with a value exceeding £50,000. For V2C this benefit has ranged from a sole-owner contractor donating £500 to the local foodbank at Christmas to one of the large Cardiff-based law firms developing work experience programmes for young women from our estates.
As large, community-based employers, housing associations also have the opportunity to make a direct contribution to the employability agenda. Indeed, I would argue we have a duty to put our own ‘houses in order’. At V2C we have committed to create 10 apprenticeships across the business as well as working with DWP and the Shaw Trust to offer formal, fully paid work placements. If we needed any convincing that this was the right thing to do then hearing what a difference an apprenticeship has made to young Corey is a moving affirmation - watch the video here
I am also incredibly proud that V2C has chosen to be a fully accredited living wage employer; one of only a handful of Welsh housing associations. I would urge others to seriously consider making this commitment. It is very difficult to demand community benefits from other external organisations if we don’t make this most basic of commitments ourselves.
Providing good quality homes that people can afford to live in is the primary purpose of housing associations, but we can do so much more. By increasing the energy efficiency of our homes we can improve health and comfort as well as saving tenants money. By addressing employability issues we can also improve wealth. It doesn’t take too much additional effort to create and identify opportunities for training and employment within our communities - and the rewards are massive.
Increasing employability and creating jobs is a vital part of establishing really sustainable communities, and is something that housing associations are ideally placed to do. After all, we are about more than housing, or as we say in Wales: Mwy Na Thai.