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Welcome to the learning4housing blog. I will be posting my thoughts and opinions on a range of issues facing the social housing sector. You are more than welcome to post your comments, whether you agree or disagree on the points. The aim here is to stimulate some debate on these issues, whether they are about current government policy or about best practice in housing management or strategy.

is an independent training provider for the social housing sector. We cover a wide range of subject areas, including anti-social behaviour, homelessness, resident involvement, void control, choice-based lettings, and complaints management, as well as personal skills development around communication, negotiation, assertiveness, influencing, managing people, etc. Please visit the main website for more information at

Please call David on 07986 246406 to discuss your training needs and how we can help, or email at

Tuesday, October 26

As the dust settles...

...from the whirlwind caused by the spending review, it is perhaps time to take a breath and work out how we can make progress in spite of the challenges that lay ahead. I would like to return to the theme of regulation, and I suppose that the news on this could have been much worse than has actually turned out. Although the TSA as a separate organisation will be abolished with the main functions passed to an 'independent' section of the HCA, there is still a commitment to setting national standards for the social housing sector and for a reduced inspection role, albeit undertaken by the private market once the Audit Commission has gone the same way as the TSA. (I can hear the pencils being sharpened at the big consultancy firms as I type!). There is also a continuing commitment to self regulation and a role for tenant scrutiny, through tenant panels. I, like many others, will be studying the details closely, and starting to prepare a response to these changes. My first thoughts are along the lines of preparing specific training and learning packages aimed at housing professionals and tenants on how to develop their new roles and the skills that will be required to achieve success. I would be interested to hear from social landlords about how they see this progessing and what kind of issues they see as being important in developing tenant led scrutiny.

Friday, October 22

Where do we go from here?

As the impact of the spending review starts to become clearer, the social housing sector is realising that major changes will have to be confronted. Whether we like the changes or not, we have to acept that they will happen and we must all devise methods which enable organisations and individuals to cope. Changes to tenancy terms, changes to housing benefits, changes to regulation - all will require steady negotiation and effective leadership in order to maintain service levels and standards of customer satisfaction. Equally important is the issue of learning and skills development. Technical and generic skills development is crucial at a time like this; some people will need skills of change management, others will need to learn how to engage with their service users in a more meaningful way, whilst others may need skills around negotiation and communication in order to provide a more effective and efficient service with less resources. The challenges are there - with the right skills, knowledge and leadership we can meet them.

Thursday, October 21

The Spending Review...cont...

The rumours of a 50 percent reduction in the budget for new social housing building were unfounded after all. In actual fact, the figure is 60 percent!! This really does show the level of priority that the government has for the housing needs of vulnerable people. This cut, coupled with the so-called 'affordable rent' option for housing associations, which could mean rents being increased from around £80 per week to £250 per week; the reduction in security of tenure for new tenants; and the cuts in housing benefit; do not suggest to me that these are either fair or progressive. These cuts will hit those in need of a decent home but do not have the resources to finance it.

Here is Grant Shapps' letter which explains the impact of the spending review on housing policy.

I wonder what the wider reaction is to these measures - a new poll has been opened on this blog for you to vote. Or even better, post your comments below.

David Wardle

Wednesday, October 20

The Spending Review

Today's the day when the cuts are announced. The Comprehensive Spending Review will set out in detail the budgets that each department will have to spend. The rumours are that the budget for new social housing building will be cut by a massive 50 percent. This is bad news. There is generally a shortage of housing in this country - mainly due to the increase in new household formation, people living alone, people living longer etc. - but there is an even more accute shortage of affordable housing. The millions of people on housing waiting lists will face even longer queues, and some will never get to the end, enduring unsuitable living conditions for years. There is a clear link - which has been well established since the nineteeth century - that good quality housing is necessary for good health. In addition, research as also shown that poor housing conditions can lead to low education attainment and increased crime levels. There is a government role for ensuring the population is adequately housed. The private sector housing market has shown a distinct lack of ability to provide affordable housing for everyone, and I think that it is one of the measures of a civilized society that people have a decent home to live in. If some of these homes have to be provided by a state subsidy (which is much lower than in the past), then we should be prepared to pay. Clearly we are in unique economic times, but to effectively lay the blame at the most vulnerable - people living in overcrowded conditions, perhaps in homes that they are unable to maintain due to age or infirmity, or the homeless, seems to me to be wrong.

Monday, October 18

Social Housing Regulation, continued...

So, the next chapter in the long-running saga of social housing regulation has been released. The coalition government has now concluded its review of regulation (which was prompted by Grantt Shapps' premature announcement that the TSA was 'toast', before realising that the treasury might also have a view on the matter). Anyway, the TSA will indeed be toast, and being added to the quango bonfire will certainly ensure its fate. The TSA's responsibilities will now be undertaken by an 'independent' committee within the Homes and Communities Agency. Evidently, the regulatory role will be kept separate from the HCA's investment role and will have its independence assured due to its members being appointed by the Communites Secretary, Eric Pickles. Does anyone share my misgivings about this? Shapps has said that he wants to retain standards for social landlords, but that there will also be some kind of role for local tenant panels too. Will these also be appointed by Mr Pickles, or will Mr Shapps be involved in their selection? Or better still, will the local panels be chosen by the landlords that they are supposed to regulate at a local level? Don't get me wrong, I am all in favour of local decisions being taken at a local level, but there has to be a framework and direction that is set by national government in some way, or else we will be going back to the bad old days when there was little in the way of standards that tenants could measure their landlord against. This is particularly important as the Audit Commission has also been despatched to the bonfire...

Friday, October 8

Shadow Cabinet

So, Caroline Flint is to shadow Eric Pickles at Communities and Local Government. Remembered for two things whilst in government - her less than popular proposal to make the continuing of social housing tenancies reliant upon tenants to seek employment - and her resignation from the government due to her concerns about Brown's behaviour towards women. She is clearly a stong-minded operator, who is not afraid to speak her mind. Could she be tainted as a Blairite? I wonder how she will fair against the pugilistic Pickles. Could be some interesting battles ahead.

Thursday, October 7

Training for Social Housing

Like many public service providers,the social housing sector is holding its collective breath at the moment. The new comprehensive spending review will be complete in a couple of weeks, and many people are fearing the worst. Many social housing providers will be busy re-writing their business plans and consulting with their tenants on how they can preserve service levels and even bring about imporvements where possible. Other issues will soon be on the horizon - the end of the HRA subsidy system for council housing; new regulatory and inspection regimes; and the prospect of time-limited tenancies being introduced at some point in the future. So, is this a good time to be commissioning training for housing staff? It is often said that in times of hardship, the training budget - being an easy target - is the first casualty. Thankfully, this is not as true as it perhaps used to be. Many organisatons are coming to the conclusion that more than ever before, they need their staff to be highly trained and equipped with the skills and knowledge in order to perform their own jobs to the highest degree, and also to be able to undertake wider roles, with new challenges and tasks. The sector is becoming more competitive. The abolition of the TSA and the Audit Commission has not yet happened - and even when they have gone, there will certainly be no opportunity to relax and to go with the flow. In fact someone said to me recently that the only thing  that goes with the flow is a dead fish! Not something that any of us would want to emulate...

David Wardle

Tuesday, October 5

Learning4Housing: Housing Revenue Account to go!!

Learning4Housing: Housing Revenue Account to go!!: "At last, the much-maligned housing revenue account, with its' absurd subsidy system, is to be abolished. The review which had begun under th..."

Housing Revenue Account to go!!

At last, the much-maligned housing revenue account, with its' absurd subsidy system, is to be abolished. The review which had begun under the Brown government has been accepted by the coalition and the days of council housing departments  not being able to spend the money they raise from rents are finally numbered. More details are due to be announced as part of the CSR later this month, and the issue of housing debt and how this will be settled is one which many councils will be looking out for. I hope that the good news about abolition of the HRA will not be spoilt by a potentially damaging policy on outstanding debt. Watch this space.

Monday, October 4

Who benefits? Who cuts?

So, the picture is slowly emerging from the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham about how the coalition government is going to tackle the so-called benefit culture. The finer details are still to be announced, and no doubt the comprehensive spending review later in October will provide the flesh on the bones. But how will all this affect the social housing sector? Although it is unlikely that many people living in social housing will be affected by the loss of child benefit, there are real possibilities that social tenants will be faced with real benefit cuts which could lead to increases in child poverty, social exclusion and generally lower living standards?. Are the policies of the coalition government really aimed at 'the national interest' or are there more ideological forces at work here? However, these are very early days and it would be interesting to hear others' views on this.

Friday, October 1

Social Housing and Home Ownership

Michael Portillo has been telling the National Housing Federation conference that if he was in government, he would be pressing for large reductions in social housing as a means of pushing for greater levels of home ownership. He cites a correlation between occupation of social housing and worklessness, but without any analysis of whether there is a causal link between the two issues. At the present time, to push people into home ownership who are at the margins of being able to afford to do so, could be consigning them to years of debt and misery. And remember, mortgages are only likely to increase, which could go along with house prices falling,  which could result in people believing that they are able to sustain the payments, only to find that they are unable to do so, and also perhaps being left in negative equity too. We all need to learn lessons from the past if we are to develop a truly sustainble housing policy which caters for all, including those who are unable to afford home ownership. Does society need to rethink its obsession with home ownership and to view renting - whether within the private or social sector - as being just a different route to ensuring that we have somewhere to live and call home?

David Wardle