Over the past year Government policy has understandably turned to focus on the social housing sector and particularly the needs of residents. Against this backdrop, a strong attendance of over 100 tenants and housing staff attended the National Resident Involvement Conference in York to make sense of the recent changes in housing policy as well as casting an eye to the future in anticipating what changes are expected.
Joint-Chair Eamon McGoldrick, Managing Director at the National Federation of Arms-Length Management Organisations, began proceedings by looking at the positive responses landlords have made in refocussing on tenant engagement, co-regulation, and health and safety. Eamon’s presentation outlined that these welcome changes were in many ways preparation for a ‘new order’ where landlords would be required to be more transparent, would be more regulated, and would have to take ‘complete ownership’ of new build and refurbishment schemes.
Building on the theme of transparency, Jacqui McKinlay, Chief Executive, Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS) was invited discuss her organisations role in promoting accountability and involvement in governance and scrutiny. Central to this to championing these improvements was appreciating that transparency is a long-term commitment and not just about processes. Also important was getting the balance right between national and local leadership, but with a consensus on what transparency meant and how it can improve resident experience. Finally, Jacqui put forward a template for making change happen; talking the audience through setting standards, raising performance within those standards, and finally using effective oversight to ensure that standards are met.
Delegates took centre stage in the morning’s closing session where Yvonne Davies, Managing Director at Scrutiny and Empowerment Partners Ltd and event organiser led the hall through an interactive session. A series of questions were posed to the group covering a range of issues. Firstly, what must a ‘Transparency Charter’ include if it was to improve the tenant customer experience? Secondly, how can tenants keep up to date with the breadth of information available; whether from think tanks, policy makers, or regulators? And finally, with resident involvement as important as ever, what were the barriers people felt were inhibiting them from playing a role in the decision making of their Housing Association. In the group responses to each question, it was clear that ‘access’ was an integral factor. Easy access to information to improve transparency and knowledge, and access to the decision-making process through improved resources.
Throughout the day a series of workshops had been arranged to enable delegates to learn best practice from across the region. In the morning, the conference heard from organisations who had received recognition for their governance models, youth participation schemes, and widely praised estate-based engagement activities. Following lunch, attendees gained insight and advice from colleagues who were currently reviewing their involvement strategies, whilst also hearing from the frontline on how data innovations and national issues such as the rollout of Universal Credit was impacting on communicating with residents.
The conference closed with a Key Note session provided by Shelter as part of their ‘Big Conversation on the Future of Social Housing’. Rachel Casey, Policy Engagement Manager, and Deborah Gabie, Policy Manager, began by introducing the Big Conversation to delegates as an independent commission setting out what’s wrong with social housing, what’s good with it, and what is needed for the future. The audience heard how a combination of poor housing conditions, stigma, and a lack of tenant influence had compelled Shelter to launch this piece of work which would report back in November 2018. Ultimately, the Commission wished to see a bigger and better social housing sector that amplifies the voices of tenants as well as the broader community, something which all present could agree on.