Meet our new executive team

It’s been an exciting time for the NHC!

Earlier this month, our Deputy Chief Executive, Tracy Harrison was appointed to the role of Chief Executive, and we welcomed a new Executive Director (Policy & Public Affairs), Brian Robson who joined us from Homes England. The new executive team also includes Executive Director, Catherine Wilmot, who joined the NHC last year on a permanent basis following two previous periods covering maternity leave to direct the commercial and operational support areas of the organisation.

Tracy was Deputy Chief Executive for over 3 years and was heavily involved in the NHC’s Commission for Housing in the North and the development of workstreams that have emanated from it. Prior to that, Tracy was instrumental in growing the NHC’s commercial arm, Consortium Procurement, into a service utilised by members across the UK. 

Prior to joining the NHC in 2006, Tracy held a variety of senior marketing and business development posts in blue chip private sector organisations, including Fast Moving Consumer Goods giant, Robert McBride and Sage Software.

Tracy is Vice Chair of The Gateshead Housing Company and a Trustee of Age UK North Tyneside.

She said: “This really is an exciting and challenging time for the housing sector. There has never been a greater need for a strong Northern voice, and that’s absolutely the role that NHC plays in bringing Northern challenges to the fore within the national housing debate. I’m delighted to be leading such a passionate team of people who are focussed on influencing better housing policy for the North and providing outstanding support and services to our membership.”

Catherine is an FCA chartered accountant, having qualified with PwC and spent a substantial part of her career at Accenture managing the financials for their portfolio of government outsourcing and consultancy contracts. 

Her experience ranges from numerous financial director roles in the technology and consulting sector, to a website content management role and director of an online advertising company for children’s activities.

As well as juggling three children, she is studying towards a Masters degree in Organisational and Business Psychology.  And yes, as a true accountant she loves a good spreadsheet!

Catherine said: “My role at the NHC is to direct the commercial and operational support areas of the organisation including procurement, IT, finance, and HR. I passionately believe that the biggest asset we hold at NHC is our staff and each individual’s areas of capability and expertise that they bring.  Alongside ensuring we have the most effective tools, resources and commercial structures, we are able to drive the best value possible for our members across our influencing work, member support, and our services and member savings.”

Brian Robson joined the NHC from Homes England’s corporate Strategy, Performance and Delivery Unit. Prior to this he led the housing programme at the York-based Joseph Rowntree Foundation for four years, most recently as Head of Policy and Research.

NHC members may remember Brian from his previous period with the NHC when he was a Policy Services Manager. He has also worked for the National Housing Federation, a large housing association and as a parliamentary researcher.

Brian holds a Masters’ degree in Regional Development and Spatial Planning from Newcastle University and a BA in Politics and Parliamentary Studies from the University of Leeds.  Outside work, his life revolves around family – he has a seven-year old son and he loves cycling, walking and running (all very slowly!) in the lanes around where he lives in Yorkshire.

Brian said: “My expertise is around blending policy, research and communications to achieve positive change – so my new role is an absolute dream job for me.  The vision is to make housing policy work for the North – and it’s been a busy first few weeks listening to members and beginning to develop our plans to deliver on our vision. There’s a strong team here, and I’m looking forward to working with them and our members on some very exiting projects – watch this space!”

Tom Miskell, NHC Chair, said: “Welcoming Brian as Executive Director has completed this exciting recruitment process for the NHC’s senior team. The team will now lead our ambitious plans to build on our influencing work and to improve housing policy for the North and support the membership now and in the future.”

Greater Manchester Housing Providers’ (GMHP) Ambition to Deliver – a “huge step in the right direction”

Dr David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, Jon Lord, CX Bolton at Home, Cath Green, GM Housing Providers, Mark Easton, Home Editor, BBC News, Paul Dennett, City Mayor of Salford

The NHC hosted an event last week which saw Greater Manchester Housing Providers come together with local authorities to discuss how they tackle some of the key housing challenges facing Greater Manchester.

Launched last year by GMHP, the Ambition to Deliver is a manifesto setting out how the 26 housing providers can work together with other agencies on their five priority areas for the city region: new homes, health and social care, work and skills, Greater Manchester economy and homelessness.

Guest speaker, BBC News Home Editor, Mark Easton heralded the GM Housing Providers’ Ambition to Deliver as a “huge step in the right direction” of how housing providers can work together in devolved regions to tackle the housing crisis facing many areas of the UK.

Mark Easton, Home Editor, BBC News

Participants heard from key regional figures including: City Mayor of Salford, Paul Dennett, Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker and Chief Executives representing the GM Housing Providers. Speakers discussed the GMHP’s commitment, key achievements and future plans.

Lee Sugden, Chief Executive of GMHP member Salix Homes and NHC Board Director said:

‘This is an exciting time for Greater Manchester.  We’ve seen significant achievements since 2012, both within our individual organisations and as a partnership, demonstrating that housing providers can hold the key for meeting some of the big challenges facing the city region.

‘We know however that we can’t do this alone and building on our close relationships with the ten local authorities across Greater Manchester will be crucial to GMHP playing a major role in delivering the 227,000* more homes needed across the city region over the next 20 years.

‘Last week’s conference marks a pivotal moment on that journey and we are encouraged to see a shared commitment across our local authorities.

‘Greater Manchester has long been a place of firsts and GMHP are leading the way nationally for how housing providers can work together with devolved authorities to deliver the priorities for a region and the people who live there.’

The ambitious plans include commitments to double the delivery of new homes, invest in solutions for an ageing population, invest in more than 1,000 new apprentices and tackle homelessness by intervening in the private rented sector to provide better quality and more suitable temporary accommodation.


Jo Boaden CBE is given great send off

Earlier this month we marked the retirement of our Chief Executive, Jo Boaden CBE, with a very special reception at the House of Lords.

The event was hosted by Lord Best and guests heard from NHC Chair, Tom Miskell OBE who championed Jo’s great work in building the NHC into the organisation that it is today.

Among the guests were: Kit Malthouse, Minister of State for Housing and Planning, Josh Goodman, MHCLG, Lord Shipley, Lord Best, Nick Walkley, Homes England, Simon Ridley, MHCLG, Isobel Stephen, CLG, Fiona MacGregor, Regulator of Social Housing, and many more!

Northern Housing Consortium. Afternoon Tea for Jo Boaden’s retirement at the House of Lords.

Tracy Harrison (previously Deputy Chief Executive) took over as Chief Executive earlier this month. She said: “We’ve seen the NHC thrive under Jo’s leadership and although she will be hugely missed by all, I am looking forward to building on the fantastic work she started in making the NHC the influential and respected organisation it is today.”

The NHC also held a local event in Durham for staff and members to say goodbye.






Johnnie Johnson Housing and “The Armed Forces Covenant”…

…but just what, exactly, is The Armed Forces Covenant?

 Hi, I’m Yvonne Castle, CEO of Johnnie Johnson Housing and a Board Member of our wonderful Northern Housing Consortium.

I’d love to hear if you’ve signed the Covenant and what success stories you have!

A bit about Johnnie – Johnnie Johnson was a real person.  He was a world famous fighter pilot in the Second World War.  After retiring in 1966 his mission in life became to build his former brothers in arms good quality homes and help them live independent lives where they were still able to.  He formed Johnnie Johnson Housing (JJH) in 1969 and now we continue to carry on the amazing work that he started.

Honouring the tradition that Johnnie began and with our heritage, we have made a promise to the existing military community to offer more support to both serving and former members, together with their families.  18 months ago we did 2 things:

  • We signed our own JJH Armed Forces Covenant, and
  • We set up a Steering Group as part of the 27 Greater Manchester Housing Providers (GMHP) to do the same

What’s the Covenant? – The Covenant is not about advantaging those who have served, but it does ensure that they are treated fairly; that they should not face disadvantage compared to other citizens in accessing housing and in the provision of services.  It’s about taking account of their individual circumstances which might perhaps make things more difficult for them in accessing those services and products.  Support is provided for example, in housing, employment, family well-being, health care and financial assistance

So how have we, and our Greater Manchester colleagues helped?

  • Being committed – GMHP signed Covenant
  • Bringing people together – a huge event brought our housing providers and support workers together who typically work with the military community, sharing how we can offer support to those who need it
  • Learning – we have an e-learning programme which helps us understand what it’s like to come out of the Forces back onto ‘civvy street’ often with no job, no home and needing to re-find a purpose
  • Finding our current and ex veterans – by asking our residents the question and signposting them to support
  • Creating experts – through our Armed Forces Champions
  • Taking action – we have re-housed 9 former members of the Armed Forces across our regions in the North West, Yorkshire & Derbyshire, and the North East. Many of our Housing Providers have done the same
  • Helping into work – we have helped people into employment, we have our first ex Armed Forces Personnel working with us in JJH

So, as Johnnie said back in the day – “be brave, be bold, be courageous”.  We are and we will continue to be so in our endeavours to honour our promise to the Armed Forces.

Please share your stories – we’d like to be able to do more of this across the North! Can you help?

Digital Transformation in the Public Sector: The Magic Trio for Success

By Chris Bartlett, Business Unit Director – Public Sector, SoftwareONE

Consumer expectations of how services should be delivered today are high. Increasingly, we have come to see online, convenient access to public services – whether paying council tax, reporting a pothole, or applying for a school space – as the norm. In April 2016, the EU Commission launched a digital-first action plan for eGovernment for 2016-2020 – however, given the maze-like complexity of the public sector, tech initiatives are accompanied with a higher failure rate. An international 2018 report found that only 9% of government respondents identified their digital initiatives as being in the later stages, leaving 91% still in the early stages of starting initiatives.

Experience shows us there are some common pitfalls public sector CIOs face – from managing software licenses to managing spiralling or unanticipated cloud costs – that halt progress on many IT projects. So, what strategies can the public sector adopt to ensure successful digital transformation?

  1. Recognise the effect of licensing

 When we think about digital transformation, software licensing isn’t typically the first thought to jump to mind. However, licensing has a vital role to play, as most licensing terms for legacy software used by many public sector bodies were written at a time when almost all deployments were on-premises. As a result, moving to the cloud – a core requirement of almost all digital transformation projects – has a significant impact on licensing, as it isn’t a simple case of lift and shift. For instance, licensing terms for business-critical systems can prohibit the use of software in a third-party or cloud environment, or on a mobile device that leaves a fixed location.

As a result, and without even realising, public sector bodies may find themselves in breach of their licensing agreements. At worst, this can mean having to pay a substantial non-compliance fee, and at best it can mean repurchasing new licenses and racking up significant additional costs. Given the increasingly spread-out and mobile modern workforce, it’s important for CIOs to place licensing at the forefront of their digital transformation strategies. This begins with real-time visibility of their entire software estate across all locations and users before projects are initiated, in order to identify and map out which agreements need revising or renegotiating.

  1. Create a cloud-first roadmap

 Many public sector bodies are not yet making the desired progress on adoption, despite encouragement from central governments to go cloud-first. A Gartner survey revealed that less than 5% of private cloud environments in government actually have the full characteristics of cloud, leaving both government employees and citizens underserved. And while a recent InCiSE report found Estonia to be the gold standard for digital services, many other EU countries are lagging far behind in digital progress – including the UK, Ireland, Switzerland and Poland.

This highlights that many parts of the public sector are still only scratching the surface when it comes to cloud, and that most IT infrastructure and activity is still on-premises. This means that much of the public sector is missing out on the benefits that cloud – a fundamental pillar of digital transformation – has to offer. The solution is to leave behind hesitation over cloud and create a cloud-first roadmap that ensures manageable adoption of services, while ensuring that effective monitoring tools are in place to mitigate concerns over unexpected costs.

  1. Let innovation lead

 When it comes to digital transformation, European government and public bodies face many additional challenges that other industries do not suffer to the same degree. Digital transformation projects in the public sector are constrained by tight budgetary controls and a high degree of scrutiny, both political and regulatory. Adding to this, media reports on any perceived ‘failures’ of government projects only serve to amplify scrutiny and criticism further.

However, the fact is, CIOs and IT decision makers have little choice over whether to take on digital initiatives; the cost savings and efficiency gains available make digital transformation essential. So, to increase the chance of a project being successful, a shift in mindset is needed. While there is no argument that the public sector is a deeply complex environment, those within it must look to follow examples set by IT teams in the private sector. This means fostering a culture that puts innovation first and embraces the potential of new technologies and trends.

While technology continues to change the way we work, think and live, the public sector must find ways to respond to this by developing and delivering digital services to meet the needs of both employees and taxpayers.  In a 2018 survey, 86 percent of respondents said they viewed digital delivery of public services as equally or more important to them than traditional methods of public-service delivery. As such, the appetite for digitalisation among the general public also looks set to grow. As new technologies continue to be developed and digital transformation climbs up the collective agenda, there are exciting possibilities ahead for public sector bodies that can overcome these barriers.

Stepping into Housing Leadership

With the NHC set to launch a training programme for new and aspiring housing leaders, Glynis Osbourne discusses the importance of investing in first-time managers.

Here are our top 10 reasons to invest in first level management

The Northern Housing Consortium and Thinking Success UK will soon be launching their Stepping into Housing Leadership Programme. Running over a period of 6 months the course has been designed for those newly in management, or those aspiring to a management position, and will consist of a mixture of group sessions, 1-2-1 coaching sessions, and work-based tasks to allow individuals to reach their protentional.

In a previous NHC Member News, Glynis Osborne (Thinking Success UK’s founder and Senior Development Consultant who will be delivering the course) discussed the importance of developing future leaders as part of any growth plan in the social housing sector. Building on these themes, and based on her years of experience as a performance coach in the social housing and business sectors, Glynis here provides her top 10 reasons to invest in first level management.

  1. Often first level managers will have direct interaction and thus impact on residents and customers:

Equipping these people with strong engagement and communication skills will ensure a positive impact on residents and will instil a customer-centric philosophy that they will take with them as on their journey through your organisation.

  1. First level managers are your leaders of tomorrow:

 Developing from within an organisation, where possible, is always the best option. Investing in those already attuned to the values of the social housing sector means the development of knowledge and skills which together means your future leaders will deliver with a greater focus and passion for their organisation.

  1. “Good managers” need time to discover their own style:

There will of course be role models and existing leaders in your organisation from which to learn. But setting aside time to focus on their development – the time to learn and reflect on good skills, actions and behaviours – can help a person newly into management develop a version of their best self in their new role.

  1. Often the transition from team member to team leader can be tough:

New managers often find it easier and quicker to complete tasks themselves instead of stepping up, delegating and developing the skills of their team.  Working at this level is often where colleagues feel useful and at ease, especially if the task is one they are familiar with.  Teaching how to delegate in the right way and communicate effectively to give good quality feedback to their team members will allow new managers to embrace the new responsibilities they have been given.

  1. Start as you mean to go on:

Investing in the development of new managers from the outset sets the right precedent on what is an important role within the team structure. All colleagues will know where they stand and have a mutual understanding of what is expected of them.

  1. Managers are the messengers of your organisation’s objectives and ambitions:

Enabling your first level managers to lead from the front and communicate your organisations goals clearly and confidently will deliver the best results.

  1. Connected teams means engaged employees:

 Strong and healthy working relationships between team members and line-managers is often cited as one of the best ways to maximise employee engagement across the organisation.

Instilling in your first level managers the ability to effectively engage, challenge, support, and communicate with their teams promotes a level of engagement that is maximised and maintained.

  1. Good morale means a productive workforce:

 Managers have a huge responsibility in not just fostering a confidence that drives performance but ensuring collective and individual wellbeing. The first level managers who are confident in their ability to delegate may also be struck by their new role in resolving personal issues and looking out for their team.

  1. Create employees who are the envy of other organisations, but committed to yours:

It’s the perfect balance; great people within your organisation so great there could be plenty offers to leave, but driven to stay by the value placed in them by their current employers. Investing in your management team makes them an asset to your business – leaders who are valued, supported, challenged and directed – and also breeds loyalty.

  1. Create people ready to share the responsibility of senior leaders:

When people are engaged, skilled and knowledgeable, their ability and willingness to go further in their job is increased. They are more likely to work on their own initiative and be able to plan and think about the future of themselves as well as their teams.  This will also mean senior leaders are better supported and can start the process sharing tasks downwards trusting in the ability or their departments.