Housing Associations need a City Deal

By John Coburn - on 11/07/2014

As HACT launches its new report on strategic approaches to employment today, HACT's Network Manager explores the role of housing associations in supporting employment economic opportunities in the city regions.

Whether its George Osborne or Ed Balls, all politicians are talking about ‘rebalancing the economy and devolving more power and money to our great city-regions’.  The election campaign has begun.  And there is a welcome consensus on the role that our metropolitan cities and regions play in driving economic growth and in attracting investment and skilled workers.  Indeed the government announced this week the release of some £5bn of funding through local growth deals to support housing developments and transport infrastructure projects.  Whether a connected economic hub from Liverpool to Hull could challenge the might of London and South East is a moot point, but the fact that the debate is happening is important.

And crucially in Westminster there is acceptance that new affordable housing is going to be a key ingredient in driving successful local economies and sustainable communities.  And in the low-wage and low-skill economies where housing associations operate their expertise as major business players in local economies has too often been overlooked.  This is despite the fact they are big employers, delivering apprenticeships, providing skills and advice and training, and enterprise support to residents looking to start their own businesses.   Indeed they are the unsung heroes getting those furthest away from the labour market into work.  

Today, HACT and Inclusion have released a report that looks at how housing providers’ can  strengthen their role in supporting residents into employment.  And there are great examples, like Affinity Sutton’s Ready2Work scheme where they are making the connections between their residents and local employers, ensuring that their residents are work ready; meeting employers criteria; and then  guaranteed a first interview.  And Richmond Housing Partnership (RHP) through the Give us a Chance Consortium have developed 'Proving Talent' a paid apprenticeship model for young people that is working closely with local prime contractors on the Work Programme.

While centralised government programmes such as the Universal Credit and Work Programme have been imposed on the social housing sector with very little consultation.  Development such as the Local Economic Partnerships (LEPs) and City Deals offer a real opportunity for housing asscoiations to offer their expertise on what needs to be done on skills and investment locally.  Indeed exciting opportunities like the Start Up Micro-Enterprise project with a group of Manchester housing associations offer routes through which resident entrepreneurs can fulfil their potential.  How the city region, AGMA, can support such initiatives and SMEs will be critical in developing a flourishing environment for business.

Indeed there are some great ideas put forward in RSA's City Growth Commission on how all local areas should be able to obtain control of government spending on skills development and develop  localised labour market policy.  Whether controlling adult skills budgets locally, piloting workforce development budgets or creating sector specialisms at JobCentres; these are all conversations that housing associations should be a part of as our offer is strong.


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