Posted by: Carl Brown20/07/2012
Whisper it quietly but Grant Shapps looks to be winning a battle, which in his mind at least, is very significant.
Three housing associations this week, Adactus, Hyde and Sanctuary, became the latest to agree to the housing minister’s request to publish details of all expenditure over £500. In a move likely to earn it extra brownie points from the minister, Adactus is going a step further and publishing details of spend over £100 or more.
We now know of eight housing providers to agree to Mr Shapps’ request, and there is a fair chance there are others out there in search of a quiet life which are now complying but don’t wish to publicise it.
Towards the end of this year, providers and the National Housing Federation were adamant the move would not drive efficiency and would increase bureaucracy.
So what has changed?
A recent meeting, where Mr Shapps called housing association bosses into Whitehall and raised the spectre of an extension of the Freedom of Information Act to associations certainly seems to have helped.
Associations building homes under the coalition government’s £1.8 billion affordable homes programme have also been required to publish details of spend over £500 relating to their bid. Therefore many organisations are doing a good deal of this already and it may not be too much effort to go that little bit further.
The sense that I have is that the arguments against the idea relating to cost and bureaucracy are essentially a smokescreen. Housing providers can easily ‘dump’ the data into a spreadsheet and put it on their websites for little cost.
The real reason for the initial reluctance to comply is two-fold. Firstly, housing bosses are quiet reasonably scratching their heads and wondering how simply publishing all data could be of value to tenants.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, is the issue of principle. Housing associations may receive public funds, but they are not public bodies.
If housing associations have to do this, then why not other, profit-making companies, which receive large amounts of public funds?
Mr Shapps needs to explain why his transparency agenda should not apply to any organisation that receives substantial public funding.
From Housing matters
Carl Brown looks at regulation, training, board members, pay and a host of other issues that impact the day to day running of social landlords