All posts from: March 2012
Delegates attending the ‘New kids on the block’ session at the Welsh Chartered Institute of Housing conference last week might have expected a panel of bright young things, new to the heady world of housing.
But one panellist, Robin Staines, chair of the all-Wales chief housing officers’ panel, seemed surprised to be part of the session at all. Walking rather sheepishly to the podium he pointed out that he’s been in housing ‘quite some time’, even if he has only been in his current post for a matter of weeks. Closed Circuit thinks he should be flattered - after all, it’s not every day an old dog is presented as a new trick.
At the National Housing Federation’s finance jamboree in Warwick last week, keynote speaker and born-again media darling John Prescott was having a grand old time regaling the assembled finance directors with tales from his days on the Ultimate Fighting Champion circuit.
Towards the end of his rabble-rousing address, Prezza revealed that David Orr had asked for a comedy performance worthy of Jimmy Tarbuck.
Returning to the stage, the federation’s chief executive was happy with the results. ‘John can tell jokes like Jimmy Tarbuck, but I doubt Jimmy can talk about housing.’
Clearly Mr Orr had missed Tarby’s gag-a-minute session on stamp duty land tax.
Despite the tidal wave of free pens on offer at their stands, the poor put-upon banks were very much cast in the role of the bad guys at the National Housing Federation’s annual housing finance conference.
But their villainy reached Bond-like proportions when Trowers & Hamlins’ Sarah Gooden delivered an address on the danger of banks repricing their loans.
Just as the lawyer was explaining how landlords could overcome this threat to their finances she was suddenly overcome by feedback, her voice lost among the gremlins.
Far be it from Closed Circuit to suggest that any bankers had tipped off the sound engineers, but they’ve got to spend their bonuses somehow.
Detective chief superintendent John Carnochan, head of the Scottish violence reduction unit, held a rapt audience for 20 minutes at the Chartered Institute of Housing conference in Glasgow last week with his tales of busting gangs and tackling violence.
He did, however, hint at more work to do in the city with notoriously low life expectancy. ‘I’m very happy to be here,’ he said, ‘but at my age in this part of the world I’m very happy to be anywhere.’
What is Vince Cable talking about? Closed Circuit is stumped.
In a recent edition of the Guardian the business secretary revealed he wanted to focus on a multi-billion pound social house building programme funded by the non banking private sector (whoever they are). What really sparked interest, though, wasn’t the vagueness or enormity of this ambition. No, it was his claim that ‘housing associations have fingered the fact that they cannot use their assets as liquidity due to Bank of England rules, unlike their continental equivalents’.
Who knew? No one in the housing sector apparently. The Liberal Democrats couldn’t explain what rules Mr Cable was referring to. And nor could the Bank of England, National Housing Federation nor any chief executive Closed Circuit spoke to.
Becoming the Chartered Institute of Housing president carries a sartorial curse, it would seem.
Former president Paddy Gray was the latest to fall victim this week after revealing he had turned up to a Northern Ireland Housing Executive meeting wearing a jacket from one suit and trousers from another. ‘Different colours,’ he expanded. ‘Oh dear.’
It comes weeks after new CIH president Robin Lawler attracted some bad tempered grumbling from delegates after attending the CIH presidential dinner - dress code black tie - without dickie bow.
All this pales in comparison to letters Inside Housing received in 2010 after Howard Farrand posed for photos with CIH members, in an open-necked shirt. At the time Bob Keats, social housing course leader at Southampton Solent University, pointed out that ‘for many people, the tie perpetuates an anachronistic uniform and it can hide or even reinforce mediocrity’. Closed Circuit is sure the same can be said for matching clothing.
Dormice took centre-stage at the Chartered Institute of Housing south east conference in Brighton last Tuesday.
At a session on the trials and tribulations of the Pan Meadows scheme on the Isle of Wight, Peter Hopkins and John Norledge from the council bemoaned the presence of the furry rodent onsite. The scheme had to be redesigned around the creatures’ needs with a road rerouted and an additional 1.5 miles of hedgerow planted at a cost of £250,000.
To bear further witness to the care with which the dormice were treated, the duo proudly brandished a dormouse box and nest. For those concerned about exposing themselves to the wiles of mother nature, the audience was reassured: ‘There is no danger from any bugs or diseases as it’s been microwaved.’
Thankfully, Closed Circuit believes the dormouse had escaped first.
Closed Circuit is old enough to remember the days when Giles Brandreth graced the dictionary corner in popular words and numbers quiz Countdown.
Last week he spoke at a gala dinner at the CIH’s south east conference - an event which could certainly have done with the intervention of a dictionary.
The big screen behind the main stage of the final day welcomed delegates to the CIH conference and ‘exhibiton’.
Closed Circuit is sure that, like Carol Vorderman, the sign writer’s real strength is numbers.
The National Housing Federation has obviously been working hard to jazz up next week’s housing finance conference amid the glittering splendour that is Warwick University.
Besides booking brawling social media guru John Prescott and Record Breakers’ very own human jack-in-a-box Kriss Akabusi as speakers, the fed has donned its collective thinking cap to come up with sexy names for the sessions. Thus, in a nod to ’80s social housing pioneers Salt-n-Pepa, we have ‘Let’s Talk about VAT’; while a talk on the capital markets is wittily entitled ‘Bonds, we’ve been expecting you’. But Closed Circuit’s personal favourite is the session on the Britpop-tastic topic of employee pensions: ‘Enrol with it’. Marketing people of the NHF, we salute you.
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Who’d be a housing association board member? Very few people if you listen to Philip Barden, partner in the litigation team at Devonshire’s.
The solicitor’s firm last Thursday hosted an event to launch Inside Housing and consultancy Boardview’s annual governance survey.
Speaking at the occasion, Mr Barden recounted tales of bad social landlord boardrooms. These included the story of the chief executive who reportedly threatened the board with a gun.
‘We didn’t believe this until he’d left and we found the gun in his safe.’ Talk about a trouble-shooter…
It’s no secret that ministers often have their speeches penned for them by officials, but most of them make a passable attempt at pretending they are their own words, or at least that they agree with them.
Not so climate change minister Greg Barker who muttered, ‘I don’t know about this next bit’, before informing delegates at the British Property Federation’s residential conference last week that energy efficiency would turn homes from ‘boring to bling’.
He seemed equally unimpressed with some before and after shots he presented later, noting that one block of flats given a layer of white solid wall insulation was ‘different, if not better’.
Good news from the Tenant Services Authority last week, as the regulator reported a rise in its employment engagement index.
The EEI is calculated from a staff survey and measures the effort and enthusiasm of staff.
The regulator’s board heard there has been a 7 per cent increase in the index in past three months of 2011 compared with the previous quarter and a 5 per cent increase year-on-year.
So what did TSA chair Anthony Mayer suggest may be the reason for this boost in morale?
‘Are they all looking forward to joining the Homes and Communities Agency?’ queried Mr Mayer, who looked genuinely bemused.
He did not reveal if his own engagement index is rising as we move towards the closure of the TSA.
James Pargeter, head of residential at consultancy Drivers Jonas Deloitte, lost his rag last week.
But what could have infuriated the normally urbane Mr Pargeter? Could it be the current state of the housing market or perhaps rising homelessness?
The answer, as it turns out, was multiple award-winning singer Adele having her acceptance speech cut short at last Wednesday’s Brit Awards to make way for a set by veterans Blur.
Mr Pargeter immediately took to Twitter to vent his frustrations. ‘ITV shambles - letting Damon [Albarn, Blur’s lead singer] bore everyone to death with his tedious list, then cutting off Adele’s big moment. Sexist disgrace,’ he wrote.
A day later and the pain still hadn’t faded. When the Chartered Institute of Housing tweeted encouragement for people to sign up to ‘the housing equivalent of the Brit Awards’ [the UK Housing Awards, for those in the know] Mr Pargeter immediately shot back ‘Hope it’s not on ITV’.
While Mr Pargeter had Adele on his mind, MP Austin Mitchell was more concerned with Austin Powers.
Mr Mitchell adapted the film character’s most notorious catchphrase in his speech at the launch of a new campaign - Housing Emergency - at the House of Commons on Tuesday.
As his speech built to a roaring crescendo Mr Mitchell implored: ‘Our chant has got to be “build baby, build baby, build baby, build”.’
Members of Housing Emergency are currently looking to arrange a meeting with the housing minister. Closed Circuit hopes they stick with the slogan just to see the look on Grant Shapps’ face when they present him with their demands. Closed Circuit imagines Mr Shapps has been called many things in his career but ‘baby’ probably isn’t one of them.
To the National Housing Federation’s annual leaders’ conference in London where, appropriately, Tony Stacey was concerned with the issue of, er, leadership.
‘How long should a housing minister be in post?’ wondered the chief executive of South Yorkshire Housing Association. ‘Labour changed ministers too often and the current lot don’t change them often enough.’ A rhetorical question, clearly.
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