Let's take it back to the community

By Matt Leach - on 07/06/2012

HACT CEO Matt Leach launches our new blog, reflecting on public services reform, the beginnings of HACT and the new opportunities opening up for housing providers. Going forward, our blog will bring together contributions from a range of opinion formers defining the new policy delivery environment for housing providers.

The Big Society may have lapsed as a policy slogan.  But many of the strands of thinking it helped launch are transforming the ways in which we think and talk about government, public services, enterprise and communities.   Housing needs to be a part of that conversation.

Whilst austerity and cuts are dominating the mainstream news media, through social media, blogs and face to face interaction, different conversations are taking place between those trying to make sense of the new policy and delivery environment.  There is a focus on sharing experience and mapping out new thinking.  Exploring approaches to empowering communities, new structures through which to deliver public services, and novel ways of levering investment into new social ventures. 

New route maps are being curated and created, often drawing on the input and wisdom of crowds as much as the dictat of regulators and policy professionals.  But key themes emerge

-          asset transfers from government to communities

-          radical new models of ownership and funding

-          co-production and community participation

-          designing and building autonomy and resilience into communities

-          the importance of smaller scale, temporary and community-level interventions

-          not-for-profit and social enterprise-based models of public service delivery

And yet throughout all parts of this debate, there seems a complete absence of any acknowledgement of the lessons and experience that could be gained from one of the biggest experiments in achieving many of these outcomes, albeit one initiated in a different time, and with different rhetoric attached. 

Stock transfer and the growth of the independent housing association movement has been  described as the outstanding example of a mass take-over of state services by the voluntary sector in our time; indeed probably the biggest example of state asset transfer to voluntary sector control that has ever taken place in Europe.  But you have to look hard to locate it anywhere near the heart of conversations about the future shape of communities, social enterprise and public services.

Between 1988 and 2012, almost 1.5m homes were transferred from local authority to housing association ownership, levering in billions of pounds of private finance to transform the quality of homes people lived in.  And further billions of pounds have been accessed to help stretch government grants to fund building programmes that have been critical to meeting growing housing need.  And yet its visibility in public debates on public service reform is close to zero.  It's time that changed.

HACT was founded as part of the wave of innovation and energy that swept through the social housing movement in the early sixties – the “Cathy Come Home” generation – that provided the foundations for that achievement.  Our founder, George Parker Morris, set the standards that defined adequate space for social homes that endured until the 1980s (and have recently had new influence).  Start-up funding from HACT contributed to the growth of the post-war housing movement, and we believe that the values that underpinned that movement continue to be relevant today.

We are enthusiasts for and believers in a strong, independent, not-for-profit social housing sector, delivering high quality homes at prices people can afford.  We believe that housing providers can do more, using their presence in neighbourhoods to generate economic growth, create the conditions for civic enterprise, and build community strength.  And we want to see the housing association sector realise its potential as an inspiration to those seeking to reform other parts of our public services, delivering better quality services, closer to communities.

Through our work, we aim to help the housing association sector realise that potential.  Over the next year, we’ll be taking forward a range of projects founded in that vision.  And on this blog, we’ll be tracking progress, telling stories, and inviting contributions from some of those defining the new wave of social housing.  And we’ll be looking to build links to the wider conversations happening about enterprise, community and change.  We hope you’ll join in.

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