Housing associations could make localism happen, says think-tank

27 Nov 12
The government’s localism plans could fail from lack of resources unless housing associations are included, the Respublica think-tank has warned.
By Richard Johnstone | 27 November 2012

The government’s localism plans could fail from lack of resources unless housing associations are included, the Respublica think-tank has warned.

In a report a year after the Localism Act gained Royal Assent, Respublica says neither councils nor community groups are in a financial position to take up the opportunities included in the Act. It urges ministers to give more responsibility to housing associations to help communities make use of the powers.

Acting on localism points out that as well as providing affordable homes, the organisations annually invest £756m in community and neighbourhood activities. They could ‘oil the wheels’ of localism policy by acting as ‘vehicles for community ambition’, it says.

To help this happen, ministers should extend the provisions of the Public Services (Social Value) Act so housing associations are required to report on their social role. Barriers that stop associations investing in partnership companies should also be removed.

Report co-author Pete Duncan said localism to date had ‘not capitalised on existing resources’ within communities. 

‘Housing associations have a presence and a vested interest in almost every neighbourhood. They have the skills, capacity and resources to be bolder and more radical for the benefit of residents and wider communities. Government needs to adopt a more strategic, organic and integrated approach in order to achieve the ambitions of the localism agenda.’

Associations themselves have been urged to work with councils to compile an asset register for each locality where they have concentrated stock. This will allow communities to examine opportunities for potential community ownership.

They should also help smaller civil society organisations form consortiums that can bid more effectively for contracts from local and national public bodies to deliver public services.

The report has been produced in association with Chester and District Housing Trust, which has been involved in the whole place Community Budget pilot with Cheshire West and Chester Council. As part of the scheme, plans have been developed to transfer ownership of the housing association’s Avenue Services maintenance firm to the local community. The asset transfer would open up ownership and control to a disadvantaged neighbourhood.

Chief executive John Denny said this showed associations are already changing the way assets are managed and services provided.

‘They are doing so because they rightly believe that, as well as building homes, they also need to build stronger and more self-reliant communities,’ he added.

‘It is vital that housing associations and their partners accept that [such] activity should be central to all housing associations, and should feature significantly in their business models. Government and the housing regulator should recognise and encourage this, and dissolve the barriers to truly enable a radical localism to flourish.’


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