David Montague's October 2011 round-up
Nov 03 2011
The Conservative conference
October started with the Tory conference. A couple of colleagues and I attended each of the three main conferences for just over one day. During that time we managed to meet almost sixty people - local councillors, council leaders, MPs and government and shadow ministers; to understand their priorities, listen to their concerns and ensure that L&Q was responding.
The overall message I took from the conferences were these:
- Housing is back at the top of the political agenda but we are unlikely to see a return to the glory days of high grant rates.
- Everyone is looking for ideas, and so Where Next (pdf), our joint report with Price Waterhouse Coopers, was well received.
- L&Q is highly regarded and seen as listening, innovative and responsive. When we get things wrong, we normally fix it.
- On the whole, local authorities are taking a pragmatic approach to the new Affordable Rent regime.
- There is a genuine desire to forge new and stronger partnerships with housing associations.
A few housing-related quotes from the conferences:
“...thanks to the Liberal Democrats, the coalition will be the first government to deliver an increase in social housing during its term of office for more than thirty years”
(our empty homes strategy) “will open the door to bids from councils, housing associations and other providers, with work on the ground starting next April”
“Take social housing. When we have a housing shortage, choices have to be made. Do we treat the person who contributes to their community the same as the person who doesn’t? My answer is no. Our first duty should be to help the person who shows responsibility. And I say every council should recognise the contribution that people are making. David Cameron likes to talk tough on welfare, but do you know who the big losers are from his changes? Time and again it’s those who work hard, who try to get on”.
“Look at what they're doing on housing…that is why we must kickstart the building industry by repeating the bankers' bonus tax to fund 25,000 new homes. And why a temporary cut in VAT to 5% on home improvements is vital…And we will fight to keep housing at the top of the agenda”
“We can help the economy by building more homes too….So we are selling off the Government’s disused land and empty offices, and use it to build one hundred thousand more homes. And we’re bringing back Margaret Thatcher’s Right to Buy. And we’ll use the receipts to build more affordable homes. The planning system also has its role to play in building more homes and boosting local growth…”
"...the steady rise of an underclass in Britain – a group too often characterised by chaos and dysfunctionality...and governed by a perverse set of values. Yet these problems aren't new, we have been reporting on them since I founded the Centre for Social Justice seven years ago. Every now and then they appear: Think of murdered Rhys Jones, Gary Newlove and Baby Peter, kidnapped Shannon Matthews, and tortured Fiona Pilkington. And many others – innocent victims of a broken, damaging culture...a culture that generates growing pockets of deprivation. Pockets in which social housing, once a support for families working hard to give their children something better, has too often become a place of intergenerational worklessness, hopelessness and dependency.”
Clearly, social housing is back on the agenda, but not necessarily for the right reasons. At L&Q we don’t underestimate the scale of the challenge, but we believe that this is also a time of opportunity for housing associations.
Why? Because global investors are looking for a safe haven for their money, and you don’t get much safer than housing associations. Unlike any other sector, we can still raise private funding at historically low rates. Because there is huge demand for new affordable housing – people need much more of what we do. And most importantly, because there is huge potential in the communities where we work.
That's why we have created the L&Q Foundation, a £100 million fund for community-related projects aligned to L&Q's social mission and benefitting L&Q's residents. We have asked our residents what they would like us to focus on and they have given us four priorities:
- Skills, training and employment
- Young people
- Community development
- Financial inclusion
With the sector driving efficiency and taking measured risks to provide more affordable homes with less grant, it sometimes feels like our social mission is being tested. At L&Q we see the launch of the L&Q Foundation as a clear signal that we are as committed now as we were almost fifty years ago on the day we were created.
In October we reviewed L&Q’s results for the first half of the year. So how have we done?
- We delivered our highest ever resident satisfaction score with a rate of 81.7%.
- We started on site with 637 new homes and completed 819 new homes.
- We let almost 2,900 homes – that's 2,900 people and families with a roof over their heads in London and the South East.
- We were awarded funding for 1,800 homes under the new Affordable Rent programme.
- We delivered a surplus of £56 million and invested every penny back into our social mission to create places where people want to live
- We launched the L&Q Foundation with a £100 million commitment to invest in our communities.
- We improved our staff satisfaction score in the face of internal and external change.
In the remaining months of the year we will see continued economic uncertainty, but we are in good shape to manage whatever comes next, and to deliver our social mission at a time when the need couldn't be greater.
Also in September
- Our Group Board spent the day with those of our residents who are involved in the governance of L&Q, either through their membership of our Residents Board or on one of our Neighbourhood Committees. We discussed our service to residents and how it can be improved. Co-regulation in action.
- I met with Lynne Featherstone MP on a tour of Saxon Chase, an L&Q development in her constituency. In Lynne's words, it was "heart-warming to see this shining new example of what can be done with good design and by having local residents on board. I have spoken to many Saxon Chase residents here today, and they are all proud of their new homes; they care about them and look after them. And who wouldn’t? These flats are amazing. Really inspiring stuff!"
- I attended an all party briefing at Lewisham Council to explain our approach to the new Affordable Rent regime, along with four other HA Chief Executives operating in the Borough. Five housing associations, five different approaches; an insight into how complex affordable housing is likely to become over the next few years, but also into how we are all using the flexibility we have been given in a responsible way.
- I attended a ministerial visit and launch of our new Wired for Success initiative where, working with L&Q partner contractors, twelve L&Q women residents will be trained as electricians. A truly inspiring project which I know will be a huge success. Why? Because of the passion displayed by the Electrical Contractors Association who came up with the idea, and the passion of the twelve women residents. One day they will make a film about this – The Real Monty II?
- I met with the Tenant Services Authority, our regulator, and a few g15 colleagues to discuss the new regulatory regime. A vital relationship as we move into a more challenging economic climate.
- And I welcomed two new Board members to L&Q – Helen Meyler, a high profile real estate lawyer, and Simon Rubinsohn, Chief Economist at RICS. Two highly capable additions to our Board at a critical time in the sector’s history.
See you in November.