The housing sector must be wary in its dealings with our new political leaders
Keep one eye open
Conventional wisdom dictates that social landlords want to be seen as approachable, reliable and useful by government. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, but, as English social landlords gather next week for the National Housing Federation’s annual conference, they might want to ask whether this softly-softly approach worked with ministers in the past?
It is well known that Mark Prisk’s predecessor as housing minister, Grant Shapps, took a dim view of housing associations in particular, frequently lambasting them for their perceived profligacy. In response associations played nice, with many toeing the line on Mr Shapps’ transparency agenda, while on house building their efforts allowed the minister to boast of exceeding initial targets for the end of this parliament. This latter performance should - so long as the recent shake-up on section 106 agreements doesn’t de-rail things as some landlords fear - be delivered despite Mr Shapps presiding over a 63 per cent cut in capital spending on housing.
In Scotland, under the Scottish National Party, housing associations have lost out in the funding stakes as Alex Neil and Keith Brown, predecessors to new minister Margaret Burgess, turned increasingly to councils to deliver 6,000 affordable homes by 2016. So were Mr Neil and Mr Brown wooed by a superior charm offensive from council landlords? No - the chance of bolstering the local position of fledgling SNP administrations was too good a political opportunity to miss.
I am not suggesting social landlords give Ms Burgess and Mr Prisk the cold shoulder, but perhaps a more circumspect approach may bear fruit. I think the same is also true of arguably more important relations with local organisations. For example, a number of housing associations have complained to me of feeling exploited by local authorities who, facing tough decisions on where to make spending cuts, often opt for housing and associated areas, expecting associations to pick up the pieces.
Local and national politicians are going to have further tough spending choices to make in the coming years. Social landlords need to demonstrate they are part of the solution - as some have begun doing to the new health and well-being boards which will determine health spending across England - but they are not there to be taken for a ride.