CIH President Robin Lawler's speech to annual conference...
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Communities
'Customer insight' can help housing providers deliver better services
Welcome to Manchester!
It gives me great pleasure and great pride to welcome you and over 9000 delegates, and visitors to my adopted city. I live 5 minutes from here and work 5 miles away.
I'm delighted that Housing 2012 is bigger this year than for many years. As an admirer of this great city, I'm convinced you've been attracted by this amazing venue, the famous Mancunian welcome, the weather and the expectation that has been building around the conference.
But honestly; there's a bigger reason that so many housing professionals are gathered under one roof.
There's a mood in the air - an overwhelming sense that we have reached a tipping point for housing. As housing professionals, we've known about and forecast the housing crisis for many years. What has changed is that the country now recognises the scale of the crisis as well.
It's no accident that so many of the speakers at this conference are well known media and social commentators.
They understand that the debate around housing is shifting, and I'm pleased that they want to be part of it. And we at CIH take some credit for this.
We started 2012 with a public debate on Welfare Reform - housing became front page news.
When CIH launched our second Housing Report last month with Shelter and the National Housing Federation, Grainia spent the following day in various TV and radio studios discussing the Government's performance against its stated housing objectives.
Housing is becoming big news. When the media takes notice, it's because the public mood is changing. And the public knows how important housing is to its future. And governments across the UK increasingly know it too.
Housing has moved up the list of political priorities. I recognise this and I applaud it. But political priority is only important if it results in policy outcomes - in solutions that will fix a housing system that is broken.
The jury is still out on whether the political priority now being given to housing will make a difference - unfortunately, many of the numbers are still going in the wrong direction:
- Homelessness is rising;
- Supply at an all time low;
- Overcrowding is on the increase;
- The availability of finance remains constrained;
- Repossessions are steady - for now.
Dominating everything is the effect of economic conditions on housing. The government's stated goal of reducing the deficit and cutting public spending has meant that housing has been the recipient of austerity far more than investment.
That means worsening living standards for many households - at a time when incomes are already falling in real terms.
Put simply, life is getting worse - for many of the communities that we exist to serve.
On top of this, the demographic time bomb of an ageing population, and concerns over the public health impacts of poor housing - and the scale of the problem becomes all too clear. This deeply worries me.
Like many people who work in housing I'm motivated by a sense of fairness. So for instance, I want my daughters and their generation to enjoy the same housing opportunities as my generation has had. Yet many young people feel disenfranchised in housing terms.
As housing professionals we have a choice ahead - about how we approach the coming years. Do we prepare for change with heads down aiming simply to get through? What a missed opportunity that would be! Or do we aim for more?
My choice, as a housing professional, and as President of CIH is to do much more. With our new Governing Board we have much greater expectations of ourselves and our profession. We must work in the interests of communities - not of ourselves and our organisations. We must demonstrate the economic dividend from investment in housing. We need you, our members and housing professionals, to work with us to demonstrate the value of that investment:
- to the economy
- to government; and
- to communities across the UK
To show that money spent in housing;
- improves lives;
- creates jobs; and
- does result in growth.
Housing is, and can be, the silver bullet for the economy. I've been asked over the past few months whether CIH is becoming, or has become, a more publicly challenging organisation. I am not sure what that means. What I do know is that we are clear what we are for - and what we are against. That it is our job to speak truth to power.
CIH is at its best when we use the collective knowledge and experience of our 22,000 members to effect change. I'm proud of this work. I'm proud that we are honest when government is right - and firm when it is wrong.
Whilst the last year has seen unprecedented challenge for housing, there HAVE been some successes - self-financing for council housing, long overdue planning reform and progress on empty homes - all major institutional changes that we've long advocated.
We will track the impact of these policies and continue to make the case for further change wherever necessary. But let's be clear - not all the answers to this crisis will come from government.
This must be a decade of sector-led solutions. That means real change for housing. It means being honest about where we need to improve, and where we need to work with others. It means looking outside of housing for examples of excellence. It means an industry-wide focus on growth and on the social impact on communities.
This brings with it real freedoms: the freedom to innovate; the freedom to take risks; and the freedom to be bold.
As the home of professional standards, CIH is working with many organisations who are examining:
- their purpose;
- their function; and
- what they will do in the future.
We are working across the public, private and independent sectors to build a network of learning and improvement - and there is a huge appetite for change.
As localism takes hold, it's increasingly clear that influencing national governments is not the only way to effect change. The relationship between housing providers and their local representatives is paramount.
Each of you will need to build and sustain relationships with key decision makers in local communities. You will need to build new partnerships within and outside of housing to deliver the homes and services that communities need. That's a huge challenge, but it promises a whole new raft of opportunities.
To maximise the contribution that we make - we must look critically at ourselves. Even if we don't always like what we find. There is no room for complacency with a crisis this big - my personal plea to you - is to ask yourself every day, am I good enough and how can I be better?
We will be there - as your professional body - to support you in our shared quest for excellence. So you can take charge of your own future.
Imagine what we can achieve - a housing community of 22,000 professionals all striving for excellence together. CIH's ambition is that WE are also the best we can be.
Sarah Webb committed CIH to supporting people and organisations to be brilliant. We are working hard to realise Sarah's legacy to the sector. We are at our best when we are independent and impartial. When we focus on the quality and excellence of our learning. And when our members are at the heart of what we do.
Over the next year, we will transform our approach to membership - to grow an increasingly active and diverse network of housing professionals across the UK and internationally. The bigger the network, the greater the capacity for new ideas.
The housing sector is strong because of its people - the thousands of housing professionals who dedicate their working lives to the well being of others. Our collective capacity gives us huge strength - that is what makes a professional body unique. We want an active, proactive and noisy professional body - with members from across the industry, working together to shape the ideas that will house everyone- today and tomorrow.
So big challenges for CIH and big challenges for the profession. And those challenges start here, today, with this conference.
You've already heard us describe the Conference as being 'less polite'. The scale of the crisis demands us to stretch ourselves - to question assumptions - and to be prepared to contest received wisdoms.
But all with one purpose. To ensure that housing's offer to the nation is the best it can possibly be.
This Conference will be a success if at every session you are: challenging of yourself; challenging of others; and challenging of long held beliefs and principles.
Don't let this opportunity pass you by. We have the chance to shape our own future. Who could ask for more than that?
I'm very much looking forward to hearing the debate generated by the Conference sessions - there's more on offer than ever before.
So let's start Housing 2012 by considering "The State of the Nation."