February 2016

The Northern Housing Summit is just around the corner and I look forward to welcoming you to Manchester as we meet to debate “Delivering the Northern Powerhouse: the role of housing”. This year we have two themes running through the Summit – unlocking investment and delivery in the north and delivering public sector reform. Both will be fascinating and have come up several times in discussions with NHC members as part of our work on the NHC Commission for Housing in the North (and more of that shortly!)

I’m delighted that we’ve got as usual an excellent array of speakers for the conference – including an opportunity to hear from several branches of government – we have Simon Ridley, the Director General  for Decentralisation and Growth. I met with Simon not long after his appointment and we discussed the need to rebalance the UK economy and how housing can contribute to drive up productivity across the North. This issue highlights the changing skill sets the sector may need to unlock investment opportunities as they flow into the North (or flow out if we’re not ready to capitalise on them…) I expect Paul Marsh of UKTI will also address this topic at the Summit as he talks about the scale of investment packages that he believes are available to the North. As with the NHC Commission for Housing in the North, the Northern Summit is not just about listening to government policy. It is absolutely about promoting the innovation that is happening across the North – in local government, the social housing sector and the private sector. Whilst promoting the great work that you do remains at the heart of the NHC, we also want to ensure that the NHC – both as an organisation and in our wider collective capacity and influence of our members – brings scale and agility to these innovative approaches.

The Northern Housing Summit is a timely event for us as it will take place shortly before the NHC Commission for Housing in the North issues its interim report. As you know we’ve been meeting with NHC members to get your input into the Commission  alongside taking evidence from a range of witnesses including UKTI, Andrew Standford (La Salle Investment Management), Grainger PLC, Sir Bob Kerslake, the CBI, and QSH to name but a few.

Some consistent themes are beginning to emerge from the work of the Commission – the need to place housing as part of the productivity debate, the benefits of collaborative working, the need for the sector to recalibrate its approach to risk and reward, the capacity challenge we face and how to resolve it. I’ve been struck when meeting with both witnesses and NHC members by the level of enthusiasm there is for the very real opportunities that are open to the north. That is not to downplay the challenges we will face in other markets and we will need to be realistic but optimistic, creative and agile to drive forward our ambitions. But the message I’m hearing from members is that the NHC Commission presents a real opportunity to shape our northern housing futures and we intend to fully grasp this.

See you in Manchester!

Tackling the skills gap – Call for Evidence from NHC members

Unemployment rates are generally on the decline, however in our buoyant labour market, skills shortage vacancies present a growing challenge for employers, local economies and communities. According to the Employer Skills Survey 2015, 6% of all employers have at least one skill shortage. This is a significant increase from 4% back in 2013.

Tackling the skills gap is one of the key priorities for getting more people into work and to help cities attract businesses and jobs. This is a major focus of the devolution deals, with the majority highlighting Employment & Skills as a priority.

The skills system is, therefore, an interesting tool to help identify what central government and local areas need to work together effectively in the devolution deals process. This will in turn achieve a clearer, consistent and localised approach.

Outlook 2016, published by the Centre for Cities last month, argues that “in order for the Chancellor to achieve his objective of a ‘higher wage, low-welfare’ economy in Britain, as set out in the Summer Budget 2015, he will need to vary his approach across the country. To deal with increases in welfare spending in recent years the focus will need to be on addressing housing shortages in high-wage areas. Meanwhile in low-wage areas, to tackle both low-pay and high-welfare, the focus needs to be on boosting jobs and skills.”

Improving employability will lead to more growth and less spending on welfare, devolving employment and skills to local areas is important in tackling some of the challenges faced by groups and working with local employers to ensure the right skills are in place. The appetite for greater devolution from cities and local areas reflects their understanding of the importance of local flexibility in meeting these needs.

As part of the NHC’s wider work programme around employment & skills, the first stage of which includes gathering evidence and intelligence from members, we would like to hear from members on the approaches your organsiations and your local partners are adopting or planning to tackle the skills gap including:

  • Partners around the table
  • Engagement with employers and education sector
  • What key skills are required by local employers?
  • What approaches are you and your partners adopting to fill the skills gap and raise skill levels now and in the future?
  • What evaluation processes are in place or carried out to date?

The NHC is aware of some of the pilots and great work underway across the North to tackle the skills gap, and will be engaging with the pilots.

If you would like to find out more or submit any information on the above, please contact satty.rai@northern-consortium.org.uk

UC Implementation Impact Research to be launched

Universal Credit is designed to support those on low incomes or out of work, it replaces six benefits including Job Seekers Allowance, Housing Benefit, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, Employment and Support Allowance and Income Support and will be rolled out across all job centres by the end of the financial year.

Universal Credit offers a huge challenge to social housing landlords and individual claimants alike. Learning from the Direct Payment pilots, housing providers, local authorities and wider partner agencies have reported various issues and challenges from rising rent arrears to a range of impacts on tenants’ and their ability to budget.

To better understand the issues being faced by tenants and landlord organisations in the north, the Northern Housing Consortium will undertake a longitudinal research project to collect intelligence on the on-going issues during roll out of UC. The research would include a survey to member organisations, supplemented by focus group sessions to collect more quality information and case studies with tenants to focus on the effects of the changes in the welfare system.

Members are invited to participate in this research, which would take the form of four quarterly surveys/focus groups/case study interviews. The findings of the study will be produced in a number of reports and NHC will run UC events/workshops and seminars as part of their wide events and training service.

If you would like your organisation to participate in this piece of research please contact Barry Turnbull, Policy Services Officer on (0191) 5661030 or at barry.turnbull@northern-consortium.org.uk

Adactus Housing Group and CCH celebrate 500 new homes in Chorley

Adactus Housing Group has unveiled a plaque on a bungalow to mark completion of the 500th new home built by the Group in Chorley since 2007. Adactus Chief Executive Paul Lees unveiled the plaque on Thirlmere Road, Chorley on Tuesday 19th January 2016.

The 500 homes, built by Chorley Community Housing (CCH) and Adactus Housing Association, represent an investment of more than £50 million in new housing by the Adactus Housing Group over this period and there is more to come. Adactus Chief Executive Paul Lees said: “I am absolutely delighted that CCH and Adactus Housing Association have between them provided 500 new homes in Chorley since 2007. 100 more homes will be built in Chorley by CCH and Adactus in 2016. Across the North West, we’ll be building over 700 new homes this year to help the Council here in Chorley and local authorities elsewhere in the region to meet the housing needs of the borough.”

The properties built so far are a mixture of houses, flats and bungalows both in Chorley and surrounding villages. The homes, which include properties for rent and shared ownership, have provided accommodation for more than 800 people.

Councillor Steve Murfitt, lead member for Housing at Chorley Council, said:

“This major milestone is doubly pleasing to us, because not only has the 500th home now been built providing much needed affordable housing for local people, this whole development is such a huge improvement on what was on the site previously. This site had blighted this neighbourhood for decades – it was a former children’s home that was derelict and became a target for vandals and anti-social behaviour. We bought the site, demolished the building and made it available to Chorley Community Housing which has built these attractive homes much improving the local area for residents. This site is one of a number of small pockets of derelict land across the borough that we’ve made available to provide affordable homes.”

Alan Cain, Chair of CCH, said: “500 new homes in the relatively short time CCH has been in existence is a fantastic achievement.”

The three bungalows that have been built at Thirlmere Road have been constructed by Adactus Housing Group’s in-house construction division AdCo.  Amongst the new residents at Thirlmere Road is Hazel Holden, who has moved in to a bungalow with her daughter Bryony. Hazel said: “I am delighted with my new home. It’s brilliant and I love the bathroom.”

“The homes we have built have created jobs in the construction industry locally, sustained local businesses and provided training and employment opportunities for local people,” commented Paul Lees. “We believe that building new homes is good for the prosperity of the local economy as well as revitalising neighbourhoods and providing people with warm and secure places to live. We look forward to continuing to work closely with Chorley Council to deliver its objectives to provide more affordable housing in the borough throughout 2016 and beyond.”

Back Row: Hilary Roberts (Deputy Chief Exec Adactus), Cllr. Roy Lees, Gary Hall, Cllr. Tony Gee, Paul Lees (Chief Exec Adactus), RH, Bryony Holden (resident). Front Row: Dennis Madden (resident), Cllr. Margaret Lees, Hazel Holden (resident).

Back Row: Hilary Roberts (Deputy Chief Exec Adactus), Cllr. Roy Lees, Gary Hall, Cllr. Tony Gee, Paul Lees (Chief Exec Adactus), RH, Bryony Holden (resident).
Front Row: Dennis Madden (resident), Cllr. Margaret Lees, Hazel Holden (resident).