Fact or Fiction? CIH conferences
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Central Government
Fact or Fiction: CIH conference
As the housing sector embarks on its annual pilgrimage to Harrogate (sorry Manchester) for this year’s Chartered Institute of Housing bunfight, we give you seven facts about the must attend event in the housing calendar and ask you to work out which one should be denied entry.
1. Sarah Webb’s swansong
It was the final act of the final Chartered Institute of Housing conference at Harrogate and made even more poignant because of what happened a couple of months later. The quietly spoken, hugely respected and exceptionally modest CIH chief executive Sarah Webb stood up and delivered the most powerful speech of her career and one that will be remembered for years by all who were there. It will go down in history as the day Grant Shapps got rumbled, the day the super slick housing minister had to sit there and take it like a man as he was pointedly chastised or petty point scoring at the sector’s expense. As Shapps attempted to smile through the pain, Sarah mounted a robust defence of social housing and those that work in it at a time when it was most needed. Paying tribute to Sarah following her death in September last year, Shapps said: “One commentator recently described how Sarah was able to put the housing minister firmly in his place through her unique ability to be tough, polite and firm - all at once. The commentator was in fact absolutely right.”
2. ‘The TSA is toast’
Fairly typical of Shapps’ confrontational approach to housing conferences was what he told journalists just a few minutes before delivering his first Harrogate speech as housing minister. Sat backstage with the trade press huddled around him, Shapps dropped the bombshell that the Tenant Services Authority “was toast” and its functions would “go somewhere else”. Describing the social housing regulator as a “quango too far”, he admitted a legislative process needed to be followed but that it was one of his priorities to make it happen. He stayed true to his word.
3. No faith in housing
Enigmatic Luminus chief executive Chan Abraham caused a stir ahead of the 2009 CIH conference when he lashed out over the axing of the Christians in Housing fringe event. Writing in this magazine, Mr Abraham declared: “After 20 years of Christians in Housing holding a fringe session, this year the organisers have refused to let the session go ahead, saying they wanted to ‘give others a chance’”. He added: “At a time when faith issues are generally seen as key to community cohesion, it’s interesting that the CIH, apparently ‘closed to prejudice’, have taken this stance.” Not in any way bitter, Mr Abraham concluded: “The conference itself is largely ineffective, has lost touch with professionals, is poor value for money and exercises inappropriate influence over the use of hotel accommodation.”
4. Persona non grata
Once a regular speaker at housing conferences, London School of Economics super nerd Dr Tim Leunig effectively burnt his bridges with the entire sector through an astonishing attack on the National Housing Federation, the National Federation of ALMOs and the Chartered Institute of Housing. Dr Leunig’s beef was the cost to delegates at a time when the Government was calling on the sector to show restraint. For instance, he questioned whether the CIH really needed to employ someone to announce the arrival of speakers onto the conference stage “as though we were an X Factor variety act now appearing at Butlins? What next, frozen ice to make us look more dramatic?” It’s safe to say Dr Leunig won’t be appearing at a housing conference near you anytime soon.
5. The caring side of comedy
Over the years the CIH conference has welcomed an array of speakers from all walks of life. Perhaps the most unusual, however, was when Bob Carolgees and Spit the dog delivered a key note speech in 1988. At the time Carolgees was heading a campaign to encourage sheltered housing residents to keep pets as a way of tackling social isolation. Ironically, Bob Carolgees and Spit now live together in an Extra Care apartment in his home city of Birmingham.
6. Harrogate hoteliers in mourning
After a quarter of a century, many happy memories, more than a few hangovers and even a couple of pregnancies, the Chartered Institute of Housing last year took the controversial decision to move its annual conference to a new venue. While housing professionals have on the whole welcomed the move, Harrogate’s hoteliers will be fuming at the loss of this significant cash cow. Some would argue they’ve got their just desserts for years of over-inflated prices and holding the sector to ransom.
ANSWER: Number 5 is the work of fiction. Sadly Bob Carolgees has never appeared at the CIH conference nor does he live in an Extra Care apartment in Birmingham. In actual fact he lives in Cheshire and runs a candle shop called ‘Carolgees’ Candles’.