'Localism will fail unless government and housing associations get joined up'
Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Central Government, Communities, Development, Local Government
The Government's localism agenda will fail unless the current disconnection between housing associations and Westminster is overcome, a new report has warned.
Right-leaning think tank ResPublica's report - Acting on Localism: The role of housing associations in driving a community agenda - argues that government can meet local needs by harnessing the power of HAs.
As well as being providers of affordable homes, HAs, says the report, have a wider mission and role, as they "already contribute an annual investment of £756 million to community and neighbourhood activities. Whilst many communities by themselves do not have the resources to take up the opportunities created by the Localism Act - such as community rights, budgetary challenge and neighbourhood planning powers - HAs can act as vital capacity-builders and vehicles for community ambition".
The report, which coincides with the first anniversary of the Localism Act, urges HAs to "integrate this social role into their core business model, and regularly report on their social impact in delivering services, supporting local organisations and enabling community ownership. Tenants and the wider community should be given a new 'right to challenge' to hold housing associations accountable to this role".
Directed at both HAs and government, the report recommends:
• Government to extend the provisions of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 to require HAs to report on their social role. All HAs should produce demonstrable evidence of their social investment and the returns this generates for local communities, which should be determined by the community itself and be subject to a new 'right to challenge'.
• Government to extend the Tenant Empowerment Programme to include non-tenants so that HAs are accountable to the wider community.
• Government to remove barriers to community ownership of partnership companies that work at a local level.
• Government to remove barriers to market entry for community-based public service partnerships to enable them to be established before being subject to full competition.
• HAs should assist smaller civil society organisations to 'scale up' and form consortia to enable them to bid more effectively for contracts from local and national public bodies to deliver public services.
• HAs to lead in training their in-house commissioning teams in how they could most effectively procure services that will deliver the most social value for their communities.
• HAs, in partnership with the local authority and other asset holders, to compile an asset register for each locality where they have concentrated stock, revealing to nearby communities any opportunity for potential community ownership and control.
John Denny, chief executive of Chester and District Housing Trust, said: "Many registered landlords are already enabling communities to harness emerging opportunities, changing the way assets are managed and services provided, and offering much greater power to our most disadvantaged communities. They are doing so because they rightly believe that, as well as building homes, they also need to build stronger and more self-reliant communities.
"It is vital that housing associations and their partners accept that activity should be central to all housing associations, and should feature significantly in their business models. Government and the housing regulator should recognise and encourage this, and dissolve the barriers to truly enable a radical localism to flourish."
Co-author of the report, Pete Duncan, added: "Localism to date has not capitalised on existing resources and local actors. Housing associations have a presence and a vested interest in almost every neighbourhood. They have the skills, capacity and resources to be bolder and more radical for the benefit of residents and wider communities. Government needs to adopt a more strategic, organic and integrated approach in order to achieve the ambitions of the localism agenda."