So once again the forces of darkness have been repulsed. My frenzied, naked dancing on the night of the winter solstice has defeated them and my constituents can look forward to lengthening days and a fruitful summer.
As I recovered from a bad head cold caused, according to my long-suffering wife Erica, by the afore mentioned naked dancing I had time to ponder over the past year and look forward to the new one.
When my son was young I used to read him a story in which a character called Henny Penny used to run round predicting that the sky will fall in. Well the Henny Pennys who were so loud this time last year have been proved wrong. The housing movement and indeed the country as a whole have proved mightily resilient to many of the changes made by the Government in response to the international financial crisis. Although some of the most difficult implementations of policy are still to come, notably in the field of benefits, there are clear signs that the movement is changing to meet new demands and the Government is trimming its sails to recognise changes in national circumstances and the fact they have got some things wrong.
I was particularly struck by an RSL Chief Executive who told a conference. “I wouldn’t consider building a house unless there was a £60,000 subsidy until a few years ago. Now I have found that I can do it for £20,000!” I don’t buy into the Government’s claims that there will be 170,000 new social homes being provided by their actions. There may be 170,000 new homes but the 80% rent changes will mean that only about half of those would be what I recognise as ‘social’.
Nevertheless, the reductions in grants and the squeeze on benefits have made us think again about the people we house. Some, but not a lot, are being subsidised when they could and should pay more. We have lost track of many of our tenants and cannot without our hand on our heart say precisely who lives in our properties or what their income is. The Government has made minor concessions on benefits but they don’t have much room to manoeuvre. They are also putting more money into capital with the regional grants fund being expanded and some large scale capital programmes being brought forward. Of special interest to me is their drive on apprenticeships and other programmes which are wage subsidies which are aimed at putting people back into work. I hope all housing associations will take advantage of them.
Looking ahead only a fool would be prepared to say what things will be like this time next year. Leader writers in the Mail and Express might welcome the possibility of the demise of the Euro but if that happens the financial problems of 2007 will look like a Teddy Bear’s picnic. Being out of the Euro will not save our banks and pension funds that are so heavily involved in sovereign debt. Interest rates would have been put up so much that the financial integrity of the balance sheets of many RSLs will have been put in jeopardy.
Looking on the bright side there are some things we can take heart from. The Localism Act comes into force which will mean that local people will become much more important in the planning process. This is a gift for forward thinking RSLs who want to take on a greater leadership role within their communities. The big Cities have been promised freedom from the HCA and indeed all government interference as they plan their capital programmes. This will surely eventually come to all councils with the HCA increasingly being left as just the regulator.
So having spent the Christmas season with glasses which might be described as too full its once again back to a glass half full scenario as we contemplate 2012.
HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL MY READERS AND FELLOW BLOGGERS!!