• Arc4's August Blog

    So it's August already! I suppose when you are busy, that is what happens, time rolls by. Whatever happened to June?

    Of course this is the month when traditionally the place is emptied of people as they venture out on a well deserved break.

    Children are out of school and for those at home more pressure on the family budget. There are some who will not notice that it is August. I have in mind those who do not have a bed of their own to sleep in, rolled up cardboard will suffice for now.

    Those who are able to seek and obtain a temporary home have some relief but are always anxious about what happens next.

    In the meantime, whatever time we might have put aside to study the long awaited but promised Green Paper on Housing Policy and Strategy, we can seek more pleasurable pursuits.

    Being generous for a moment, I suppose I understand.

    What with Brexit, HS2, the Northern Rail fiasco (this from Manchester) and Cabinet resignations, there are other considerations. Oh!, I forgot we have a new Housing Minister (nothing new there I sense you saying). Is that the reason for the non- publication, so that Mr. Malthouse can put his own stamp on it?

    Somehow, I doubt it. Kit, as he wishes to be known, is Member for North West Hampshire succeeding Sir George Young. Now that is some inheritance. Sir George held the constituency for over 20 years and held many Offices of State.

    He was, and remains, a great supporter of housing associations, and vigorous opponent to tower blocks. He spent much time on Merseyside, when the Liverpool Housing Action Trust was in being.

    In that period Sir George showed not only empathy for housing associations, but those who resided in them.

    As a Conservative he was able to tread a narrow path between the Conservative ideology of home ownership, and the nation’s need for publicly subsidised rented accommodation. Once quoted as saying, "let housing benefit take the strain", but also accepting that at the time capital subsidy was also required.

    Since the massive slum clearance of the 50's and 60's, the improvement of older properties and LSVT, just a few housing initiatives have seen the light of day. One of the last was the creation, by Prime Ministerial demand, of a study in what was fashionably termed sink estates (a phrase borrowed from across the pond).

    The Brexit vote saw David Cameron go, as quickly did Lord Heseltine, who had been appointed by Cameron to Chair the study group, a task he did with relish. But the prospect of Boris as PM, and the internal wrangling left Lord Heseltine growing trees and warning of the dangers of Brexit.

    So, successor Kit has some stuff to do. Born and educated in Liverpool, followed by the University of Newcastle, he is no stranger to the north. As a Chartered Accountant, he must know about the issues of housing finance.

    Whether he can do anything about the policies of the housing portfolio he now has remains to be seen, as he is certainly secure in his parliamentary seat (majority of 23,943 at the election of May in 2015).

    He needs more than good luck. Longevity in post would help, but that brings us back to Brexit. Will the Conservatives survive, or will we be looking to John Healy M.P. as the Labour Shadow to assume the post?

    In the meantime, there continues to be a job to be done. Arc4's workload and new business shows that. There is variety too. All the evidence points to the important inter-relationship between health, social care and housing; three fields we know well.

    Enjoy the break, if you are having one. Gird your whatsits for the time ahead, make the voice of housing associations heard.

    We can have a new start with new thinking. We are to have a new Chief Executive at the NHF, succeeding the tireless and thoughtful David Orr, a newly created English Homes and lots of other things, private financial investment included with some pretty big sums from overseas amongst them.

    Do your bit, we will be continuing ours.

    We would love to hear from you. Call us.

    Category: Comment, Housing industry, Social housing, Arc4 Tags: Minister, Malthouse, housing associations
  • Together We Can

    It seems that the government has at last realised that there is a housing problem if not a housing crisis.

    Moreover, it also seems that Ministers have recognised that local authorities and housing associations might provide part of the answer. It’s about time too we think.

    It’s not just providing more homes although understandably that would help.

    There has been massive under investment in the housing market for all households.

    Add to this homelessness, domestic abuse, child poverty and dementia care in older persons housing and the answers are clearly in need of a few different solutions.

    Recent stories in “ Inside Housing” have highlighted novel approaches to trans-regional partnerships, rent setting policies but also a worrying trend of declining spend on repairs and maintenance.

    Mortgage lending is said to be on the slide. Taxes and regulations have impacted upon "buy to let" sales so the picture is not a simple line drawing. Let’s remember the lessons from the history of municipal housing and that provided by housing associations (registered providers, the third arm, not-for-profit, call them what you will.)

    The recently published “Municipal Dreams” by John Boughton, reminds readers that the provision of housing to rent for the working classes, did not always mean they could afford it.

    More likely the homes were a demonstration of architectural fancy, or blind political vote catching, rather than built upon proper statistical analysis of need or demand.

    It was the impact of “Cathy Come Home” a BBC television play some 50 years ago, that pricked the nation's conscience. This led to charitable monies from SHELTER to prop up a failing revenue-based subsidy system.

    Capital grants eventually were introduced, this reduced the ongoing debt, which together with personal rent subsidies led to a more affordable home housing provision. But that was then, this is now.

    Looking forward, we can no longer take it that government will have the same sympathetic support for the traditions of social housing.

    We can expect a harder approach, which will limit the number of chosen partners and will certainly involve “for profit” companies.

    The anticipated Social Housing Green Paper, will no doubt clarify this Government’s intentions. It may well be uncomfortable reading. Retaining the status quo is unlikely.

    The historically favoured providers, if they are to compete, will need to demonstrate outcomes in social and economic measures, not just more homes.

    Market demand is only one factor in this new scenario.

    The continuing pressure on the Government's spending with priorities of the NHS and especially social care, law enforcement, education and defence are all in the queue. So, do not expect special treatment.

    At Arc4, we see all these aspects throughout the many and varied clients. They call upon us to create or validate what they are doing or plan to do. It is fascinating. Call us and share confidentially your views.

    Who said” together we can”.

    Category: Comment, Housing industry, Property, Social housing, Arc4 Tags: Housing, crisis, social, Registered providers
  • "Wir können es schaffen ! - We can do it !"

    "Wir können es schaffen ! - We can do it !" was the message of hope sent by arc4's Derek Long to an Austrian National Housing Federation national conference.

    On the back foot since the coming to power of a Conservative/Far Right coalition in December, housing associations in Austria are concerned about their future, whilst former government members the Austrian Socialist Party SPÖ are looking for ideas for their future policy. Follow the link to Derek's short analysis of UK housing since 2010 and the possible policies the Austrian sector might consider.

    Category: Comment, Social housing, Arc4 Tags: Austria, Social housing
  • Derek Long takes the stage in Austria

    arc4 Director, Derek Long, is to address a prestigious Austrian national housing association conference on the English social housing crisis.

    The only speaker based outside Austria and Germany, he will share the podium with the last Austrian Prime Minister, other national politicians and academics from universities in Berlin and Vienna.

    Category: News, Comment, Housing industry, Social housing, Arc4
  • The windmills of your mind

    arc4 Director, Derek Long, dissects the implications for supported housing commissioners of the government's latest consultation on funding


    Category: News, Comment, Housing industry, Property, Social housing, Arc4 Tags: supported, Housing, consultation, vulnerable
  • Back in the old country

    To make a real impact on rural housing need for older people, Lord Best’s HAPPI 4 inquiry needs to pose some hard questions about our planning system.

    As the All Party Parliamentary Group inquiry into rural housing and older people wraps up its final evidence session, the group will now turn to its final recommendations. Allowing the planning system to focus on older person’s housing need across income ranges could transform the future for struggling villages.

    As the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported in 2012 (Older people’s housing: choice, quality of life and under-occupation. Joseph Rowntree Foundation 2012), significant proportions of older people are likely to be living in unsuitable housing. The lack of suitable housing is a major barrier preventing older people from moving to more suitable accommodation. Yet the effect of rural planning policy, is to discriminate between different groups of older people. This means it erodes the very long term sustainability rural housing policy seeks to deliver.

    Currently, the practical effect of rural exception sites and general development policies in many national parks is to constrain building to affordable housing. It is neither sensible nor just to deny existing older home owners the chance to access more suitable accommodation locally. Failing to create ‘downsizing’ or ‘rightsizing’ options will force community anchors out of villages, just as surely as not building affordable housing drives first time buyers from the communities of their birth.

    Our current stay put or ship out choice represents a bad bargain either way for society, as well as the rural residents it traps.

    Staying put in unsuitable housing could present significant health challenges (e.g. falling down stairs) or prevent the earlier discharges necessary to unjam hospital care. Conversely, forcing residents to leave a community that they love, thereby severing their social networks could create greater pressure on the state to plug the resultant gaps in support networks. And that’s not accounting for the additional isolation and loneliness such uprooting may cause.

    In terms of social cohesion, all older people, but especially long-term residents, make a massive contribution to community life. They are the mainstay of voluntary services, they provide childcare that allows others to work and they sustain local character.

    Above all, older people usually under-occupy family housing, thereby making it more difficult for the community to attract and retain younger households that add the needed balance and vibrancy.

    So, HAPPI 4 needs to highlight how planning policy is failing our older neighbours and suggest ways the planning system can promote rural sustainability by widening housing choice for all older people.

    Category: News, Comment, Housing industry, Property, Arc4 Tags: Housing, older, rural, HAPPI, downsizing, affordable
  • It’s the End of the World as we know it?

    It is over 18 months since Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum, in a deeply prescient piece, announced that the World could be only “two or three bad elections” away from the end of NATO, the EU and maybe the “liberal world order as we know it”. So, with the German Federal election safety negotiated, can we listen again to the REM track with the same sense of amused detachment? Sadly, no.

    If Applebaum accurately mapped the road to power of Trump, the possibility of UK Brexit (and Corbyn) and the rise of the Front Nationale in France, why was she wrong about the bad elections? In truth, the erosion of support for ‘liberal’ world order supporting majority parties continues at pace. As stated here previously, we are reliving the 1930s politics and it isn’t pretty.

    In 2013, the conservative CDU/CSU, the social democratic SPD and the pro-business Liberal FDP, (who have contributed to all governments since normal service was resumed) polled 72.0% of the popular vote. Their share was 81.4% in 2009. Yesterday, these parties polled only 64.1%.

    The key change was the 8% growth in support for the nationalist AfD. This put it over the threshold for parliamentary representation. The well-established minorities of the Greens and the Left put on fractions of a percent, whilst the pro-business FDP liberals added 6% too.

    Where does this leave the ‘liberal’ mainstream consensus? Mutti Merkl’s CDU/CSU will lead the government – although with support below a third for the first time in the post-war era, her authority is eroded. With former coalition partners the SPD, retiring to lick their social democratic wounds, forming a coalition with the antipathetic Greens and the FDP will make Premier May’s negotiations with the DUP look like child’s play.

    The only positive note of the SPD’s leaving the coalition is that by becoming the official opposition, it precludes the nationalist AfD from assuming the chairs of key scrutiny committees in the Bundestag.

    So far, Applebaum’s score card is mixed. Whilst, the US voted for disrupting the liberal world order at every opportunity, Germany and France has, through very different routes, opted for the consensus. In the UK, we’re ambivalently checking out of the EU, whilst trying to retain or reconstruct all its advantages …

    The outbreak of war in 1939, stopped the democratic clocks and the eventual outcome established the political and constitutional basis for our ‘liberal’ world order to emerge. Unless, an unhinged blowhard with a finger on the nuclear trigger intervenes (insert US/North Korean/etc. leader of choice here), the West has four to five years before it reruns these elections. Unless the world economy reboots by then, more elections could turn “bad”. A Trump or Pence candidacy will precede an embattled Macron re-election bid and a post-Merkl Germany. For ‘good’ results to occur, the progressive parties in each country will need to find credible candidates who can articulate coherent alternatives to isolationism and hatred.

    Otherwise, it may be the end of the World order as we know it – and, just now, I don’t feel fine.

    Category: News, Comment Tags: Election, Merkl, Trump, Brexit, politics
  • TINA and the Nays have it

    Don’t believe what you’ve heard, the 2017 Election result was completely decisive.

    And the overwhelming winner was … the Nein Danke Party
    - Labour amassed a 10% vote rise on the Austerity - No Thanks ticket.
    - The Tories amassed a larger vote (and now an arrangement with the DUP) on the Anyone But Jezza platform.
    - In Scotland, the Tories gained 12 seats via the No More Referenda gambit.
    - In Northern Ireland, politics reached the end of a 45 year trajectory, with the No compromise parties now occupying 17 of the 18 seats.

    A subtle realignment is occurring ?
    - Due in part to capturing much of the UKIP vote, the Tory support has become less educated and lower down the social scale, whilst Labour’s electorate has become more metropolitan and higher educated.
    - As I predicted, in the North East the Tories gained big increases in votes and won Middlesbrough SE.
    - Ditto in parts of the Midlands e.g. they won in former strongholds in Mansfield, NE Derby, and also reaffirmed the Copeland by-election result.
    - However, Trump’s win suggests that losing touch with its industrial base doesn’t end well for the Left.

    A famous victory ?
    - Despite Len McCluskey’s contention that this was a Labour victory, after seven years of austerity, the Party has only gained 4 more seats than the 2010 defeat.
    - The Conservatives will remain in charge, short of losing a Confidence Motion.
    - Labour’s 1970s’ experience suggests this could take several years and it looks like a Brexit vote would be the issue to do it.
    - Without the DUP, May is actually three votes short (with a liberal unionist still in play).
    - The result has confirmed my previous contention that a leftist alliance does not have enough votes to win, unless it can (like France’s Macron) attract centrist votes.

    The Nays have it
    Another sort of nay sayer now holds sway
    - May remains in power because there is no conceivable Tory opponent to her yet.
    - The Brexiteers ironically see her as the best bet for their version of Brexit.
    - So, whilst the Brexit process is vaguely on track, the PM will rattle on.
    - As another female PM almost once put it. For the moment, There Is No Alternative.

    Category: News, Comment Tags: Election, labour, Tory, ukip, May, Brexit
  • Letat est Emannuel

    • A big swing to M. Blanc and Mme Abstention
    - A quarter of voters stayed at home (or went away – it’s a Bank Holiday today!)
    - The French Left abstained in 1969, when George Pompidou (ironically, not the centrist candidate, geddit ?!) defeated a Liberal to replace De Gaulle.
    - Ok the level of abstention was (a bit) lower than the 1969, but this confirms with my observation of two weeks ago, that the electorate is not happy with its choices.
    - Of those who did vote, the number of 'blanc votes', spoiled or unmarked papers was 12.3%. This was a record high and double 1969’s level.
    - Suggesting the political disconnect is arguably twice as great as après les événements de 1968.

    • As predicted, the Hard Right were thrashed but …
    - But nowhere near as thoroughly as M. Le Pen was in 2001
    - Marine le Pen (#NotaMarineNoraPen) won over one third of a national vote and still took several départements
    - FN also added to its vote from the first round – the opinion polls suggested about a quarter of the conservative vote would transfer (plus 10% of the Hard Left’s … !)
    - This suggests FN’s imminent rebranding could draw a bit more support if the mainstream conservative party does not rebound.
    - This is a problem in waiting for the Assemblée Nationale elections in June – don’t forget Macron doesn’t actually lead any party.

    • Messages for the UK
    - The opinion polls were bang on
    - To create a consensus, our parties need to focus beyond the lowest common denominator of getting their core vote out
    - People are dissatisfied and need engaging with a coherent vision
    - Beware of the low turnout, Labour – sometimes you get what you didn’t bargain for (see my blog on Tees Valley and the local elections)
    - Choosing not to compromise with other progressive forces can be a risky business for the Left, if you can’t mobilise at least a third of your electorate under one banner

    • The limits of authenticity
    - This result underlines that political authenticity is not enough for an anti-Establishment candidate to win
    - People have to believe in the policies and the competence of a candidate as well as their firmness of conviction
    - Speaking to our own concerns was twice as important for the anti-Establishment Le Pen’s supporters as Macron’s. Yet, she lost heavily.
    - Depth of commitment is no substitute for breadth of support.

    Category: News, Comment Tags: France, French, Election, Le Pen
  • It’s not what you do. It’s the way that you do it!

    • The Electorate has rejected Right-wing policies
    No, I haven’t got that wrong. The Conservative and UKIP share of the vote fell by 5% since 2013. But the key to first past the post elections is the distribution of votes. May’s Hard Brexit stance has consolidated the right of centre votes. However, progressive voters, whose total exceeded the Right’s, are split 60/40 and so are undercutting each other. As the Bananarama almost had it: It’s not how you vote. It’s the way that you do it. And that’s what gets results.

    • The pollsters have got it about right
    Local elections are poor predictors for General Elections. The Conservative vote share was higher at the 1983 and 1987 General Elections than in the precursor locals. This may explain why the Conservatives share was only 11% ahead, compared with an 18% lead in the polls. People may vote differently when national issues come into play. One thing the polls have got bang on, was the collapse in UKIP votes.

    • Differential turnout is a big worry for Labour
    Whilst turnout was, as usual, dire across the country, there were significant differences, which point to Labour’s core vote staying at home. For example, leafy Conservative Solihull turned out 33% compared with solid Labour Sandwell’s 23%. That disparity scuppered Labour’s Metro-Mayoral candidate.

    • There something happening in the North East
    Sue Jeffrey’s unfortunate defeat in Tees Valley was on a dire 21% turnout. However, with 5 out of the 6 MPs in the region, turnout shouldn’t have mattered to Labour. Add in the loss of 22 seats in Durham, some solid Labour council seats being lost this year in by-elections and young MPs standing down and it’s hard not to conclude something significant may be happening below the radar.

    • Voters are not on board for a grand progressive alliance so far
    Since 2015, I’ve advised boards that an anti-Tory approach wouldn’t begin to emerge until after 2020. This premature election may speed that up – but GB voters are not the transferring kind. For example, half the votes in the West of England and West Midlands races, transferred neither to the Labour or Conservative front runners.

    Also the Tories are much better at harvesting UKIP second preferences than Labour is from its putative reservoir of potential progressive votes. In the West Midlands, Labour only gained at best 41% transfers from Lib Dems, Greens and Communists.

    • The mainstream parties have lost ground
    Just as in France, the mainstream parties have lost share of the total vote. (See Durham). The four largest parties (inc. UKIP) got just short of 88% of the projected national vote compared with 91% in 2013. It’s not a tsunami, but, taken with the poor (though better) turnout, our democracy is clearly under pressure.

    Category: News, Comment Tags: Election, conservatives, labour, ukip, north east