Joining many housing professionals from across Wales, our HouseMark team attended the CIH Cymru (CIHC) TAI conference in Cardiff a couple of weeks ago. Reflecting on what we heard and learnt, Head of Devolved Nations, Kirsty Wells shares the five key insights she gained over the two days:
1. A timely reminder to keep tenants at the heart of our organisations
On her last day as Head of Regulation at Welsh government, Carol Kay didn’t beat about the bush in her contribution to the debate about what a 21st century housing organisation looks like. As someone, like me, who spent much of her career in tenant engagement she reminded delegates to remember our social responsibilities and not just to ‘tick the box’ in relation to tenant engagement. It was refreshing to hear Carol, as a civil servant, remain true to her values and her beliefs right up until she left the building (as she tweeted later!).
2. Building homes and communities – not just houses
Julie James, AM, Minister for Housing and Local Government, kicked off the conference by setting out the Welsh Government’s priorities for the sector. She indicated that her top priority is social housing and that she wants to see local authorities grasping the opportunity to build again. She emphasised that the response to the review should be about building homes and communities and not just houses. Standards should be ambitious and make it possible for people to stay in communities because jobs and homes will be created together.
3. Exploring Value for Money ‘Cymru style’
Lynn Pamment, Chair of the Affordable Housing Review Panel indicated that they have recommended tthe Welsh government implements a five-year rent policy from 2020-21. This will have a new emphasis on local rent setting and the panel hopes to see the piloting of new models with a focus on affordability for tenants and transparency around the delivery of value for money. The panel has recommended that landlords complete a value for money assessment on cost efficiencies as part of the rationale for justifying any rent increase. Delegates were clear that the sector could embrace value for money - with more positive debate and challenge around what it means in Wales.
4. Good governance remains a priority
Culture and leadership in social landlords, like all businesses, needs to be right to deliver an organisation’s vision and values. During the debate on 21st century housing organisations, governance was mentioned more than once, and it seems that in all four UK countries housing regulators will focus increasingly on the governance capacity within organisations. One question about governance is who do we need on boards? Is it the corporate and financial professionals or is it people with the right values and culture who champion tenants? Does it matter who they are as long as they are committed to the social purpose of the housing sector? Diversity is key to ensuring that board members can have healthy challenge and debate from a range of perspectives.
5. We’re a connected sector
This was my first TAI conference and it was great to see so many familiar faces to talk to, not only from Wales but also from Northern Ireland and Scotland. Our reach as a membership organisation across the UK has given me the opportunity to get to know people across all four countries. From this perspective, it is clear the role of the housing professional is critical in supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our communities’ combat today’s tough challenges such as universal credit, homelessness, health issues and child poverty.
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