The 84% Group

Social housing is experiencing a radical and fast-paced schism and it’s time to address that radically for the good of social housing and split permanently.

This schism is an ever widening chasm between the very commercially oriented and predominantly London based housing associations of the G15 and the other side practically every other housing association and council and ALMO landlord.  In short the wannabe ‘privateers’ of the G15 against the ‘dinosaur’ socially minded landlords.  .

The schism began about three decades ago as a philosophical battle between council landlords (hurray!) and nasty housing associations (boo!) It saw the move to HAs caused by decades of council landlords being prevented by public sector borrowing rules from investing in their housing stock as borrowing to do this went on the politically sensitive PSBR.  Councils were forced to transfer their housing stock to newly created housing associations or trusts (the stock transfer organisations STOs) who wooed the council tenant with the promise, and contractually binding promise that transfer would see double glazing and new central heating or new bathrooms and kitchens all put in place within a few years.

Yet such tenant ‘blackmail’ or no-brainer decisions quickly became the norm as it was the only way at the time and it saw a ‘manageable’ residual tension and nothing more that that.  Yes Defend Council Housing and ARCH and a few others were around and made some noise but still left a ‘manageable’ tension between the private and the public housing protagonists of what came to be termed ‘social housing.’

Throughout this period and for decades before and since there has been a similar tension due to national housing policy for social housing being dictated to and led by the perverse housing conditions of the area with just 16% of all social housing stock, which is London.  Regardless of which party was in government and regardless of the fact that few housing ministers ever stayed for more than 18 months, all national housing policy that affected 100% of social housing across the UK was derived from the abnormal, atypical and often perverse London housing market conditions.

Then along came welfare reform.  These policies of Universal Credit with its monthly and direct payment of benefit, the benefit cap (44% of those affected are in social housing) and of course the bedroom tax were all attacks on the social housing model – the model of the dinosaurs – and what this has done in a remarkably short period of time is exacerbate the twin tensions of privateer –v- dinosaur and of London centric national housing policy.  The ever widening and rapidly widening chasm of these twin and related tensions, the previously manageable schism is down to the radical nature of the welfare reforms and that schism has become a problem for social housing.

My view is that the 84% of social landlords and properties or all those outside London who comprise the ‘dinosaurs’ should say enough is enough and break away from the 16% of London landlords who mostly comprise the G15 privateers.  It’s time to reiterate what John Prescott apparently said this week in the North East that this 16% of London ‘social’ landlords get 80% of the capital grant or subsidy and say sorry chaps you’re not on.

The Northern Housing Consortium and Placeshapers, for example, who largely comprise the rump of all non-London social landlords should get together.  Its members should relinquish their membership of the CIH and the NHF too and they together with Scottish and Welsh and Northern Irish housing bodies should form the 84% Group. The 84% should take control of social housing and not carry on with the deluded hope that social housing can survive if it does not.

We are the 84%. We are 5 times bigger than the G15 and its privateers. We are the biggest social housing group.  We are the ones that government, of whatever persuasion must listen to.  We are the 84% and we want 84% of grant and 84% of national housing policies reflecting the 84% of housing issues the vast majority of social landlords have and face and hitherto have been ignored.

We are the 84% – take your G15 and call it G16% if you like – but we are the 84%!

Fanciful perhaps even naive?  No, it is a serious suggestion a totally serious suggestion and a viable and necessary option too.  The schism I relate above has not yet become unmanageable but it soon will be.  But why wait for that to happen?  Yes I am being serious and yes I am aware of how administratively burdensome that will be to set up though I am aware that social landlord do tend to err on the very cautious side and need a very large dose of radicalism.  This suggestion even calls for the ‘sector’ to be proactive which is, unfortunately, naivety writ large despite the sophistry and spin many churn out with their new found love of social media.

Look at all of the social landlords who position themselves as the innovators and claim not to be resistant to change. Halton Housing, Bromford, SYHA and all the others are all non London and all Northern based social landlords and the absence of any London based RPs (or is that PRPs) says a lot.  This is not about calling the bluff of these ‘innovators’ who paradoxically are in the ‘dinosaur’ camp because they need to be as they have Northern housing issues, it is a simple question – what have you got to lose?

Forget regional housing powers allegedly imposed onto Greater Manchester, take control of your own fate and create a much bigger 84% group and make it the group and from the get-go by resigning your membership of the CIH and NHF who both are London centric and ever more irrelevant organisations for typical housing needs of the 84% of social tenant landlords. Force government to address the chronic national shortage and scandal of social housing supply by forcing them to deal with and make policy for the 84% and not as they always have, for the 16%.  Flex those muscles that you never have before and are becoming increasingly frustrated at the fact you haven’t.  I ask again, what have you got to lose?

99% of people may not have come into social housing seeing it as a vocation, and some still call it a ‘movement’; yet 99% of those that stay in social housing see it that way and are passionate about it, many of those in London too.  So why let the perverse housing conditions of London dictate and constrain you doing the job you love?  Leave the London G15 ‘privateers’ to Boris to sort out after all the Mayor of London has responsibility there in the main.  Let them go their own way!

Well what are you waiting for? Can the above be any worse than what we have now? The implications of carrying on as before and doing nothing will only enforce the schism to become a split.

I don’t intend here to say all Southern social landlords are privateers or for that matter all non London ones dinosaurs. I am well aware of how strong the views are of many in the capital who would align with the ‘dinosaur’ tag here. I also know a few Northern ones with privateer aspirations too.  The above suggestion is open for discussion and serious discussion and aims to create what closely resemble the one voice lobby of social housing I have said and said and said is a necessity for any sector.  Yet the schism is making that an impossibility.

The above is radical, truly radical and out of necessity to combat the radical attack on the social housing model so rapidly ramped up with the welfare reforms. Do nothing and social housing dies.  The above or broadly similar is doable and a real opportunity for social housing to use its latent power that it never has.  You have the properties, the properties are what government need and crave, what the country, the taxpayer and what business craves and need so you are in a position of strong negotiating power yet that is never utilised due to the chronic fragmentation of what is errantly called the ‘sector.’

And you have to admit the 84 Group does have a ring to it!  Seriously, everyone passionate about the social housing model must be sick to the back teeth of tugging forelocks to whatever crumb is offered by whatever government is in power when they stop and think of the latent power social landlords hold by virtue of having that housing which is in increasing demand too. Those ‘crumbs’ are scattered onlt to the 16% in any case.  Or are you so resigned to the mushroom syndrome that you accept it as the norm, the inevitable and nothing will ever change?  Yes I’m goading again!

I need to goad. I need to light the touchpaper just to get this discussed

I restate what have you got to lose?  Can any new form of organisation with the undoubted teething troubles and inevitable empire-building egotistical squabbles possibly be worse than what we have now.  How often do you get the chance to start again? You keep ramming it down my throat that you are innovators and that you are culturally ready and able to innovate and have the political will to try.

Or are those millions of social media articles on this innovation all digitised hot air?

The only way social housing can move up the political priority list is for the 84% to take control of that agenda and to force whatever government is in power to realise social housing’s importance to the economy of the UK.  If that means cutting the apron strings from the capital privateers then so be it




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