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December 19, 2012

Anchors are the key

A new report by think tank ResPublica might almost have been written as an advice note to the civil servants drafting the Community Empowerment Bill.  Although intended for the Coalition Govt, the report argues that despite a serious lack of resources, localism can still be made to work – but only if the strategy puts community anchor organisations, such as local housing associations, right at the centre.



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Hazel Blears MP expresses hope that the new report by ResPublica could reinvigorate energy and social passion

Housing associations must seriously consider their social role and act as ‘localism intermediaries’, participants at the launch of ResPublica’s new report have heard. Hazel Blears MP, the vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Enterprise, said that the report is a crucial intervention to reinvigorating the ‘social passion’ of the social housing sector.

“At first I thought housing associations were supposed to be bottom-up community organisations, but as I watched this movement develop, it was actually heart-breaking to see all the energy and passion drained out of them,” she said.

“This report is reinvigorating that social passion, while providing very practical recommendations.”

Acting on Localism: The role of housing associations in driving a community agenda, the new report by the think tank ResPublica, argues that the Public Services (Social Value) Act and its forthcoming guidance must encourage housing associations to produce demonstrable evidence of their social investment and the returns this generates for local communities, which should be determined by the community itself. This should then be subject to a new ‘right to challenge’, which will enable both tenants and communities, where housing associations have a strong presence, to challenge existing provision and, if necessary, to deliver the services themselves to ensure that social impact is achieved. Is also argues that housing associations should assist smaller civil society organisations to ‘scale up’ and form consortia to enable them to bid more effectively for contracts to deliver public services.

The report was welcomed by representatives of the Department for Communities and Local Government, the National Housing Federation and Locality, which runs support services for many of the new community rights at its launch yesterday.

John Denny, Chief Executive of Chester and District Housing Trust, emphasised the social role of housing associations, and argued that they need to be “more local and more social”.

“The true social role or social value of housing associations is more than just acting on localism, but working on what’s going on in people’s lives. That’s social, because it genuinely means something to people,” he said.

Matthew West, the head of Communities Right to Challenge at the Department for Communities and Local Government, argued that housing associations are often more deeply rooted in the community and that they would represent sensible partners for local authorities. “Housing associations have better links and trust with communities than local authorities usually do,” he said. West also told the participants that the Department will reflect on link between the Tenant Empowerment Programme and the new community rights to ensure that a joined-up approach is achieved.