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May 2, 2023

Challenge the groupthink

In the same way that an unproven consensus evolved around the efficacy of the PFI approach to delivering public infrastructure, a groupthink now exists around what kind of organisation is best suited to build and manage social housing – the bigger the better. Making the counter-argument, Ariane Burgess MSP led an excellent debate in the Scottish Parliament last week celebrating the work of Scotland’s small, community led housing providers. Strong contribution from Paul Sweeney MSP in defence of Reidvale Housing Association, soon to be swallowed up by predatory English-based housing behemoth Places for People. Why does the Housing Regulator permit this?


Scottish Housing News

Debate in Scottish Parliament can be watched here

Paul Sweeney MSP’s contribution in support of Reidvale Housing Association can be watched at 13min 26 secs


GWSF comment on Reidvale takeover 

Umbrella body for community controlled housing associations, Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations says it has had serious concerns about the proposed move since it was announced in May 2022, but it has held back from criticising a member organisation in the hope that the decision might be reviewed.

Founded in 1975, Reidvale is one of Scotland’s and Glasgow’s original community-based housing associations, established through a grass roots campaign to prevent the mass demolition of traditional inner city tenements. GWSF says Reidvale was a pioneer, an exemplar of what community ownership can achieve, and that. Glasgow’s historic inner city community of Dennistoun is now thriving and vibrant because of Reidvale.

The Forum’s position statement says that Reidvale has:

  • No loans over any of its properties (this is highly unusual, with typical debt in Scotland being in excess of £20,000 per unit).
  • Among the lowest rents in Scotland at around 14% below the Scottish average.
  • Among the best performance and tenant satisfaction figures in Scotland, covering such things as repairs service, overall service, standard of homes and rent collection (see the latest Charter data for Reidvale here)
  • Reserves in excess of £2m.

GWSF director David Bookbinder said: “This proposed takeover should not be happening. The decision has been steered by what are effectively external parties, all with the apparent approval of the Regulator.

“We recognise that from time to time, a Transfer of Engagements may end up being the better option for an association’s tenants. But nothing we’ve read in the Association’s engagement plans – including as recently as last month – or in other publicly available documents suggests that its issues couldn’t be dealt with by a committed staff team and governing body.

“GWSF’s primary purpose is to promote community ownership, so it’s impossible for us to remain silent when we see a community based housing association disappearing and the evidence suggests it could sort out its issues and continue to thrive as an independent organisation.

“In my address to our Annual Conference last month I warned members about the degree of control which a combination of external influences could have on an association facing problems. At Reidvale this has included a professional ’housing consultant’ co-optee recommended by the Scottish Housing Regulator (SHR), and professional consultants acting as interim directors and ‘transfer specialists’. These consultants have a history of working closely together and in some cases will obviously benefit financially from the course of action they have influenced.

“Steering the Committee in the direction of takeover appears to have been carefully planned throughout. One example is that prior to the Committee taking its decision earlier this year, it was advised that arrangements had been made for it to meet with a consultant who could provide a fully independent view of the options. The chosen consultant was (using their own title) a ‘transfer specialist’.

“In situations where external consultants in these positions know each other and have worked together in other associations, it is very difficult for anyone to make legitimate challenges to stop the takeover process.

“Any larger association bidding for these homes will do so primarily for the benefit it brings to their own organisation, not the community Reidvale serves. Interested associations will have their eyes on 900 debt free homes which will enable them to finance improvement or new build work anywhere they choose in Scotland. This is nothing more than the stripping of the assets that a local community has built up over decades through rents and the initiative of countless volunteer Committee members.

“It’s clear to us that many failings in the process – including the absence of tenant consultation in the Options Appraisal in contravention of regulatory standards – have been ignored by the SHR. The SHR ‘talks up’ the interests of tenants when it suits them to do so, but remains silent when it doesn’t.

“The SHR’s steering of some associations towards employing interim directors on a consultancy basis always increases the prospect of takeover, as does ignoring an association’s failure to properly use the AGM process to attract new members to fill vacancies.

“As it always has, the SHR will say it has no merger agenda. But the GWSF considers it has an unwritten ‘merger culture’ rooted in an indifference to smaller scale community ownership which can give tenants real power and influence. Many in the sector now just accept this, but GWSF can’t.

“If community empowerment and community ownership really matter to ministers, we should have a Regulator whose role includes supporting local associations to address their issues and retain their independence wherever this is possible.

“The tenants and then the members of Reidvale will have the final say on this matter. They need to know how things have got to where they have, and they must be accurately and honestly informed as the transfer proposal is considered.”