governance

Consultation on the Community Empowerment & Renewal Bill – a missed opportunity?

Posted by admin on August 21, 2012
community, community assets, governance / 1 Comment

Finally got a chance to sit down and read the Scottish Government’s consultation on the proposed Community Empowerment & Renewal Bill. Underwhelmed is the adjective that first springs to mind. Whilst many of the sentiments are in principal fair enough, there is not really any new thinking or innovation on display here (the Community RTB, enforcing sale of empty buildings, community budgeting, asset transfers – have all been talked about, or are already being taken forward elsewhere in the UK). Given Scotland has historically been a leader in thinking about community asset ownership in the UK context (e.g. CLTs, CBHAs), the lack of new thinking is dispiriting.

Worst still, there is a surprising lack of connection being made between community empowerment and other government policy areas. The obvious one being the Scottish Government’s recent Regeneration strategy with its focus on community anchor organisations as key regeneration vehicles, supported by the new People & Communities Fund. Why is there no discussion of community anchors in the consultation document? It’s a very useful concept for talking about community controlled and owned organisations that are committed to transforming their local area for the benefit of the people who live there [see my previous post on this]. And there are already lots of great examples of this across Scotland in a multitude of different sectors that could be drawn on.

But the major problem with this document for me, is that it takes as its starting point Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs) which are ultimately local authority vehicles operating at the municipal scale. I would argue if you are genuinely interested in devolving ownership and control to local people then you need to think at a much more local (i.e. neighbourhood) scale, and also give more of a leading role to the voluntary and community sector. Neither of which are common occurrences in CPPs. That’s not to say CPPs don’t have their utility, but promoting grass-roots community engagement doesn’t strike me as one of them.

Another important issue that isn’t picked up in the document is the negative side of the localism agenda. Devolving power downwards may actually exacerbate existing social-spatial inequalities within and between Scotland’s communities. There are several reasons for this, not least the fact that some communities may be more able than others to articulate their needs and command resources (issues such as skills, education, capacity, experience are all relevant here).

Moreover, we should not assume that communities necessarily want to take control – if you look at research in the housing field in many instances local people supported community ownership of social housing as a mean to an end (i.e. to secure investment and improvement in their houses and communities). Where local people are already receiving a good service from public sector providers there may not be any demand for asset transfer -and we should avoid foisting it upon them simply so that assets can be removed from public sector budgets (and thus reduce costs to the public purse).

On a final (slightly left-field) note, I have to say I’m really put off responding to these Scottish Government consultations because of the nature of the respondent form/consultation questions – these are too pre-determined (and often quite technical in focus) and shut off a lot of avenues for debate and discussion…. rather ironic for a consultation on community engagement and empowerment. There is a real need for more open-ended questions that allow some flexibility in how to respond, for responders may wish to respond to different questions to those raised in the document for example.

If you’ve not yet responded to this consultation you still have time to do so. Closes 29th August. (now extended to 26 Sep).

For an alternative analysis of the consultation document see @BaseDrones blog: http://t.co/w37E4VWe and that of @urbaneprofessor: http://t.co/dvWt0JeK

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New Regulatory Framework for Social Housing in Scotland: a mixed bag for HAs?

Posted by admin on April 14, 2012
governance, housing policy, regulation, social housing / No Comments

A few months back I blogged about the consultation on reforming the regulatory framework for social landlords in Scotland (see also the piece in Inside Housing). As I highlighted at the time, two issues in particular caused a ‘stooshie’:

  • Proposals to introduce a mandatory fixed term for housing association committee members (over 90% of associations who responded to the consultation opposed this).
  • Proposals that housing association committee members could be paid for their role (which historically has been voluntary)

The Scottish Housing Regulator (SHR) has now launched it’s new Framework for Regulation, and I’m pleased to see at least some of the concerns expressed during the consultation period have been heeded. The SHR is no longer proposing mandatory time limits on how long committee members can serve. Rather, it will require members with more than 9 years service to demonstrate their continued effectiveness. The emphasis on refreshing skills and thinking about succession strategies, is overall, much more positive than the very negative tone of the consultation. But it does underline the point that the SHR needs to engage with the sector earlier and (arguably) in a more constructive fashion.

Other positive shifts in thinking include:

  • Annual reporting requirements around achieving the Social Housing Charter have been reduced and made less onerous. Nonetheless the focus of regulation continues to be underpinned by a consumerist agenda, and doesn’t really consider the wider context in which RSLs work, nor their contribution to community development and regeneration (something that I’ll be blogging on in the future re: my community anchor work).
  • The SHR no longer intends to develop model constitutional clauses, crucial given RSLs are independent organisations with their own democratic processes. However, the insistence that a large number of specific constitutional clauses be included is disappointing

Other elements of the Framework are also frustratingly disappointing:

  • SHR has remained ‘neutral’ on the issue of payment for committee members, thus allowing associations to pay committee members if they wish. This is a significant change, and really undermines the voluntary ethos and traditions of this sector, which is underpinned by place-based social capital and community ownership. As the Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations, the membership body for community-controlled HAs in Scotland has stated: “changing the voluntary character of housing associations is one of the most fundamental changes in our sector’s history” (2012: 4). Moreover, given many associations are also charities it is also impractical (see, SFHA 2012 briefing note).
  • There is also no indication of how the SHR will vary its approach for different size and type of RSLs, for the sector in Scotland is very diverse, with a lot of small landlords in particular. This is in contrast to the approach that had been previously adopted in England, where smaller landlords were exempt from many regulatory requirements

So it seems the new Framework is a mixed bag. But as I’ll be writing about in a few weeks, there are also somewhat conflicting messages emerging from the SHR and the Scottish Government about what the role of social landlords should be …. something I’ll post about when I launch my report from my community anchor research.

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How Much is too Much Regulation?

Posted by admin on November 27, 2011
community, governance, regulation, social housing / 4 Comments

The importance of community

The Scottish Housing Regulator’s current consultation on reforms to the regulation of social landlords in Scotland has sparked controversy within the sector (see for example, recent articles in the Glasgow Herald and Inside Housing, and briefing papers by the community housing sector).

The biggest moot point is over plans to introduce a mandatory fixed-term for committee members (who make up landlords’ governing bodies).  This change is especially problematic for small, community-based housing associations (a dominant governance model in the west of Scotland), because their management committees are drawn from ordinary local residents.  The passion, commitment and local knowledge of these individuals, combined with the partnerships they forge with local housing staff have been central to the success of this governance model; and the skills and experience these community leaders develop over the years is invaluable. That the Regulator wants to consign this to the scrap-heap is sad indeed, especially when most committee members are already subject to regular, open elections.  A second related concern is the proposal to pay governing body members.  This not only contradicts the ethos of volunteering and place based social capital that underpins the community housing sector in Scotland, but seeks to introduce a ‘private sector’ governance model which is inappropriate for community organisations, many of whom are also registered charities.  There seems to be a real tension between the Regulator’s desire for ‘professional’ boards and the benefits of community governance through the community ownership of social housing.

Beyond this immediate issue, the consultation also sparks questions about how much is too much regulation?  There have long been concerns that housing associations are over-regulated compared to other independent, third sector organisations. Whilst housing association do receive financial support from the public purse does that mean the Regulator should be able to dictate the terms of their constitution, or how they govern themselves?  Or would the regulatory gaze not be better directed on the Private Rented Sector which is where the real rogue landlords are to be found?  Answers on a postcard …..

(for further discussion of mandatory terms see the excellent paper by GWSF )

 

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