With the intense demand for UK housing, the challenge facing the Government to deliver its strategy for increasing the provision of housing has never been greater.
Latest assessments conclude that as a result of reservations on new homes falling by up to 50 per cent compared with last year, 20,000 of the 45,000 flats and houses earmarked for social housing will most likely not be built. Only the most optimistic civil servants support the Minister’s view that the Government will meet its target to build three million new homes by 2020.
However, John Fay, chief executive of SFL, a change management and leadership consultancy, argues that despondency is unwarranted. Social housing organisation should be excited by the opportunities that exist and that new partnerships offer the key to meeting not only Government’s, but the social housing sector’s own vision for thriving, mixed communities.
Social housing has changed considerably in the past 20 years. Most people agree that the full or partial transfer of housing from local authorities to housing associations has resulted in improvements across the country in the management and provision of social housing.
While many housing associations have dramatically re-engineered their in-house business processes and improved their services to tenants through the use of technology, simply doing better than before will not enable the current challenge to be met.
The Government and the social housing sector set out their transformational improvement strategy in 2003, taking the forms of iNbusiness and Leadership 2010, with the latter having the goal of improving the diversity of the sector’s board and executive leaders, as housing associations tended to be insular as a consequence of recruiting senior staff from either within the organisation or the sector. However, over half-way through the seven-year strategy, it looks unlikely that Leadership 2010’s ambitions will be achieved, partly through a lack of investment in its delivery and also due to a lack of commitment to it at a national level in a less-than-cohesive sector.
However, the National Housing Federation’s iNbusiness strategy is not only critical to the business success of housing associations, but also to delivering the Government’s sustainable communities strategy. Housing associations play a vital role in creating and supporting mixed and sustainable communities. Furthermore, iNbusiness commits housing associations to organisational excellence and the needs of their tenants, which has resulted in significant improvement across the sector. Importantly, the Sustainable Communities agenda cuts right across Whitehall departments and the public sector and is the focus for Local Area Agreements and local strategic partnerships. It is in this environment that housing associations can be more strongly engaged and offer a direct contribution to community partnership strategies.
Although LAAs have a broad focus, there are top priorities which directly impact all other social issues; next to economic vibrancy and regeneration, high-quality social housing is fundamental to sustainable communities.
Community engagement is an important part of LAAs, which is consistent with the priority of housing associations to strengthen resident engagement. However, LAAs are not simply another Government initiative. Next year, public sector performance will be measured by the Audit Commission through comprehensive area assessments, which will focus not on individual organisation/agency efficiency, but on the collective delivery of the priority outcomes set out in the LAAs.
Therefore it vital that housing associations’ board members and senior executives contribute fully to the LAAs. This comes back to the issue of leadership, as set out in Leadership 2010. The competencies of executive leaders must be subject to continued development and include the wider partnership and engagement skills required in today’s environment.
The partnerships that the National Housing Federation is currently exploring with the Government and house builders may lead to improved housing development, despite the lack of liquidity in the building industry, the mortgage drought, market contraction and high latent demand. However, this approach must be complemented with a renewed determination to engage in local sustainability strategies through LAAs and improved investment in leadership and competency development.
Considerable change is needed within the social housing sector to improve the diversity of those people in leadership roles. Based on SFL’s experience with a leading housing group and other organisations, John Fay concludes, “It is during the greatest challenges that effective leadership is the most important success factor.”