Grant Shapps has made a last ditch appeal to housing association bosses to publish details of expenditure over £500 in a private summit on the issue.
The housing minister called around 40 housing association bosses into the Communities and Local Government department on Monday.
At the meeting it is understood Mr Shapps said organisations are becoming more open and because of this there is an ‘inevitability’ that associations need to be more transparent.
Several sources said Mr Shapps made it clear he wants to go back to the government with a ‘positive story’ about housing and transparency. He told housing bosses that if not, he would find it difficult to make the case that housing providers are transparent and that the government should not extend the Freedom of Information Act to cover them.
Mr Shapps reportedly said the best defence against FOI, which already applies to councils and other public bodies, is to be more open and transparent. He stressed that the government will take into account current transparency when deciding on FOI. Sector figures have warned extending FOI could threaten associations’ private status and lead to higher administrative costs.
One housing association chief executive described the meeting as ‘bizarre’. He said: ‘Mr Shapps said if we don’t publish the [details of spend over] £500 he will find it difficult to push away FOI.’
Another said: ‘He made it clear we should print everything over £500 to satisfy him and nothing else would be acceptable.’
Inside Housing understands the housing bosses accepted the need for transparency, but questioned whether publishing details of expenditure over £500 is the best way to achieve it, as the data may not be useful or easily understood by tenants.
The National Housing Federation has argued the move will create bureaucracy with no tenant benefit.
The G15 group of housing associations in London has offered to publish more details of income, costs, debt and salaries but has drawn the line at publishing all expenditure over £500.
Brendan Sarsfield, chief executive of Family Mosaic, which is now publishing details of expenditure over £500 (see box), said: ‘Most are being very positive about it, including the G15 members who have agreed to publish a wide range of data, but the minister just seems to want one thing - over £500 publication.’
The Ministry of Justice is expected to consult later in the year on proposals to extend FOI to housing associations because they receive public investment.
Landlords which have confirmed they will publish details of expenditure over £500:
Announced it will publish in February 2011
Published expenditure for the first three months of 2012 a few weeks ago
Network Housing Group
Has pledged to publish spend for the first quarter of 2012 at the end of August