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‘What’s in the box?’

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Featured

'What's in the box?' 'What's in the box?'

Alistair McIntosh, chief executive of the Housing Quality Network, says creating social value only makes sense when it really puts money in the pockets of tenants and landlords.

So how was Christmas for you? Did you try the old box within a box present routine?

I hear of one happy couple where the lady opened a giant parcel containing a salad spinner. That item was not on her list, I can tell you. She searched in vain for a smaller box inside with diamonds.

I felt just as frustrated when I read the latest ResPublica report. It does make a great case for housing associations to work with communities and build social value. But you have to plough through layers of drivel about localism and philosophy to get to the point.

There is a Tory backlash against their old chums ResPublica and its founder Phillip Blond. No wonder. Nick Boles MP hits the nail on the head: “Phillip Blond and others, by using incredibly complicated phrases full of very long words that we all had to look up, sort of hoodwinked us into thinking there was some interesting new type of Conservative who wasn’t obsessed by costs and making people’s wage packets go further…I think that was a blind alley which we nearly got stranded down.”

We need to get back to basics too. Welfare reform will hammer landlords and tenants. There are only two questions that matter anymore. Will this make money for the landlord? Will this make tenants better off? A lot of the case studies in the report do give good answers to these questions. Other case studies don’t have a number in them. How does that help anyone?

The association that worked with ResPublica on this report has run out of cash. No one is saying that their approach to looking for social value is the direct cause of their woes. But poring over the wrong numbers can be a big distraction.

I know this from bitter experience. When I was at school, Rolls-Royce was a major local employer and they hit the rocks. Their accounts looked a lot rosier than they really were. When they did research they counted that as an asset. Boy did they do a lot of research. So the books seemed fantastic. Of course not all research turns into sales. In truth they just burned through a lot of money. For a while we were staring down the barrel of mass unemployment. The government had to rescue Rolls-Royce. So now you know why I hate any moves away from good old-fashioned accounting.

Creating social value makes sense when it really puts money into the pockets of landlords and tenants. Anything else is a waste of time. We need to make the case better than we have been doing. There is one way of dealing with the welfare reform problem - but it’s not one we should be aiming for. One chief executive put it really well: “We will be fine, our tenants won’t be.” What he was getting at is that some landlords will just house different people. They will shift towards housing people who do not rely on benefits. How can we prevent landlords leaving people behind?

I predict that in 2013 landlords will have to cut costs sharply just to stay in business. If we want to keep on housing people in need we must help them into work. Lots of landlords already do some of this but it must become as fundamental as collecting rent and doing repairs.

In plenty of areas the landlord is about the biggest employer, just like Rolls-Royce was where I lived. One of the lads got started there and went on to troubleshoot computer problems all over the world. Just look at all the learning opportunities with your organisation on things like IT and finance. You could give many people a fantastic start in life.

I am not claiming that welfare reform is great. There is not a box of opportunity within the big box of bother. Nevertheless some good can come of it. We all know that our costs must fall. We can all do better at training and employing local people. And let’s keep track of the costs and benefits properly. That way we can smash the doom mongers.

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