Posted by: Jules Birch02/07/2010
If the Tenant Services Authority really is ‘toast’ then it seems to have landed butter side up.
As Inside Housing reports today, Grant Shapps has been forced to drop his plans to scrap the quango after the Treasury insisted on a full review of social housing regulation. In the last few weeks the housing minister has not only used the T-word to describe its future but also said he will ‘delete’ it.
A review is no guarantee that the TSA will survive - regulation could still be transferred to the Homes and Communities Agency and complaints to the Housing Ombudsman - but it gives the sector an unexpected chance to argue again the case for the system developed over the last two years.
The reasoning is spelt out in a letter from Treasury chief secretary Danny Alexander to senior ministers that warns them that a ‘precipitate’ decision could jeaopardise private finance for housing associations.
In the letter (leaked to the Financial Times) Alexander says there is ‘some nervousness among lenders and rating agencies of further change to the regulatory arrangements for the sector, which have only just begun to bed down. A downgrading of housing association credit ratings could have a serious impact on the financial capacity of the sector’.
He also warns that abolition could trigger an £80m pension liability and that putting financing and regulation back together could lead to ‘potential detriment of value for money’.
The review will now form part of the autumn spending review with any change subject to value for money and the impact ‘on lending and delivery of new affordable housing’.
In his speech at Harrogate, Shapps was scathing about the TSA. ‘I place huge premium on tenant empowerment - but I’m far from convinced that a large national quango is the best way to do it,’ he said. ‘It’s also no secret that I have been concerned for some time about whether the Tenants Services Authority offers value for money. To give one specific example, this quango spent close to £100,000 on lobbyists to lobby - amongst others… the Government. And that seems frankly ill-judged.’
But it’s now clear that ‘reviewing the role and purpose’ of the TSA does not automatically mean it will be deleted or that scrapping it will be part of the Decentralisation and Localism Bill.
In the meantime TSA chief executive Peter Marsh has written to all registered providers spelling out their responsibilities during the review period. The 2008 Housing Act remains in force, he says. The TSA is committed to delivering its objectives on economic regulation and consumer protection and providers are obliged to meet the standards that were introduced in April and to prepare their annual reports to tenants and develop plans for local offers to be introduced in April 2011.
That does not exactly sound like toast - or even brown bread - and the business as usual message leaves the quango hunting Shapps and Eric Pickles with a single kill to celebrate so far.
The National Housing and Planning Advice Unit was so closely linked to the planning framework that the government is busily scrapping that it made an easy target. Just like the Housing Corporation in the 1990s, the TSA is proving a more elusive prey thanks to its importance to lenders.
Meanwhile a Cabinet Office survey of top pay in quangos and the civil service reveals that only Peter Marsh at the TSA earns more than £150,000 (in the band £165,000-£169,999).
That compares with four high-paid executives at the HCA, four at the Communities and Local Government department and eight at the Audit Commission.
From Inside edge
Housing commentator Jules Birch puts the latest news in context