Was the heat getting to us?
Grainia Long, Interim Chief Executive, discusses that fundamental change to how we deliver housing for everyone requires long term vision, excellent strategy and constant and unyielding determination to deliver
Perhaps it's the memory of a new school bag and pencil case, but I've always quite liked the arrival of September and the return to routine and normality. Actually, it's the control freak in me. There. I've said it. The months of July and August are difficult to predict and this year was no exception.
A massive Eurozone crisis in July threatened to dismantle the Euro and bring with it huge uncertainty around the cost of borrowing. Yet instead of 'wall to wall' speculation on how to protect the UK economy, coverage was overshadowed by a media fascination with itself. This year the 'silly season', amounted to an obsession with future regulation of the press and the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World.
As if that wasn't erratic enough, in the same week as it emerged that recovery from this recession will be the slowest since the Great Depression, the Daily Mail rejoiced that house prices have reached a twelve month high, 'fuelling hopes that the worst of the property slump is over' - their words, not mine. Is it just me, or was the heat getting to us?
By the time August arrived, anyone reading the papers needed a strong stomach and an amazing ability to suspend disbelief. To pretend that the US budget deal would hold- that the downgrading of US debt was just a ruse and that the US remains a 'Triple A' nation. To 'look away now' and suspend disbelief while the whole of the North Atlantic was experiencing an unprecedented debt crisis that has appeared incapable of being solved. And disbelief was indeed the common reaction to the images of riots and looting across England less than a year from the Olympic Games.
Thankfully, in our world, matters were more stable. To his credit, Grant Shapps announced a regulatory requirement that fixed term tenancies should normally last a minimum of five years. At the annual CIH Conference in June, Sarah Webb asked the Minister to listen to the sector, to make use of the experience in the room and as a result, the right decision has been taken. Predictable? Perhaps not. But very welcome. And a sign of what can be achieved when government and housing professionals work together.
Our recent housing pact makes a strong ask of government to ensure that we build homes and communities that enable people from different backgrounds and with different income levels to live together. But we have also made several promises and government will rightly expect us to deliver. We have pledged to take responsibility for standards and for outcomes, to ensure we out-perform and realise the opportunities we have to provide housing as efficiently and effectively as we can. For my part, I'll be pressing all those within CIH - our members and broader stakeholders - to constantly challenge ourselves to be better. It's not enough to expect government to listen, we must convince through our actions.
We must make sure - as we prepare for greater financial freedoms for councils next April - that the winners are tenants. We must make sure – as welfare reform and housing benefit changes take effect – that we are thinking about the long term impact on rental streams and on business models. But we also need policy makers to ensure welfare reforms and social housing reforms complement rather than counteract each other. The announcement that 170,000 homes will be built through the Affordable Homes Programme is an indication of just how hard housing organisations have worked to stretch public funding. However we cannot forget that the greater challenge is to deliver even more if we really are to meet housing need, and to ensure those new homes are genuinely affordable.
All of the above is a reminder that fundamental change to how we deliver housing for everyone requires long term vision, excellent strategy and constant and unyielding determination to deliver. Housing organisations and professionals have proved their capacity to do just that. We've had time over the summer to recharge our batteries, and return re-energised and re-focused.
To all fellow control freaks, relax... Normal scheduling has resumed!