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SFHA head slammed for newspaper interview

The outgoing chief executive of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations been sharply criticised for views given in a newspaper interview.

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Jacqui Watt, who is leaving the SFHA to head up a housing trade body in Australia next month, was featured in an article in the Scottish paper The Herald last week.

In it she is quoted as saying ‘there was a need for radical change’ at the SFHA when she took over four and a half years ago.

She talks about the difficult financial situation that was facing the organisation and how she rationalised its three bases into one Glasgow headquarters. This was not a universally popular move, but she credits herself with ‘shifting people’s thinking’ saying: ‘As an organisation, we are leaner, meaner and much tighter.’

But Bruce Forbes, director of Angus Housing Association, has written to daily email bulletin Scottish Housing News saying he read the interview with ‘incredulity’.

‘Her analysis of her tenure at the helm of the federation is so contradictory and misleading that it cannot be allowed to pass without comment,’ he writes.

‘To claim that her real reward has been to “shift people’s thinking” while presiding over the unprecedented departure of “squeaking” members in what had previously been a reasonably broad church of organisations with genuine shared core values, sounds more contemptuous than an example of leadership qualities.’

He says there has been nearly a ‘100 per cent turnover’ in SFHA staff ‘alienating and losing almost a whole, mostly excellent staff team’.

Mr Forbes also compared Ms Watt’s leadership to her predecessor David Orr, who is now head of  the National Housing Federation.

He writes Mr Orr brings ‘influence and expertise’ to his role in England and that ‘most of us can remember how effective a lobbying organisation the SFHA was in David’s time and we will not be convinced by Ms Watts’ attempt to revise history’.

Grant Ager, director of Fairfield Housing Co-operative, has responded in the same bulletin.

He says the SFHA was right to get ‘its internal house in order financially’ but ‘significant opportunities’ had been missed to lobby government to maintain investment in housing. ‘I, along with many other SFHA members, want our trade body to get back to those basic principles,’ he says.

A SFHA spokesperson said: ‘The views expressed by Jacqui Watt in her interview with the Herald reflect the nature of the piece, which focused on her personal experiences in post, with a degree of subjectivity.

‘There was a significant amount of staff turnover during the year 2007/08 when the SFHA went through a restructuring. Levels of turnover have subsequently stabilised.’

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