Speech

National Housing Federation annual conference 2010

Draft text of the speech - may differ from the delivered version. Introduction Thank you, Matthew. When I came last year I made sure we …


Draft text of the speech - may differ from the delivered version.

Introduction

Thank you, Matthew. When I came last year I made sure we had lots of time for questions and I found it really useful - so I am going to do the same again today.

I think it is important that politicians do more listening, and less talking.

When I was in opposition I listened to young families who can’t afford to buy their own home.

I met tenants who wanted to move, but can’t.

I heard from people who wanted to work but can’t afford to because of one hell of a crazy benefit system that rewards people for staying at home and punishes them for working.

I was lobbied by estate agents and house builders who said they were tied down by pointless bureaucratic red tape.

I spoke to Housing Associations who didn’t want to jump through hoops any longer, just to pass pointless tick box inspections.

I also heard some great ideas about how things could change from people like you. People who are providing great homes in great neighbourhoods.

I know it can be tough and over the last few years things definitely got tougher and it ain’t going to get easier anytime soon.

So we need to face these challenging times together.

Public expenditure - CSR

I know you are waiting for the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review.

I can’t give any detail, but its no secret that there will be cuts to the housing budget.

I know that over recent years you have got used to Ministers coming to conferences like this and promising to spend x million on y new schemes to reach z target.

But this Government was elected to cut public expenditure to address the deficit and housing must take its share of the burden.

If we don’t there is a real threat to the economic future of this country and everyone will suffer.

To put it starkly: if interest rates go through the roof we will see more people losing the roof over their heads.

If inflation soars we all pay more for less but it is the most vulnerable who will suffer most.

So we must cut the deficit but, I think we can also protect frontline services.

Public scrutiny and efficiency in social housing

So first we all need to scrutinise what we are doing and why?

This Government is putting its own house in order, - we are opening ourselves up to public scrutiny like never before.

This transparency is vital to driving down costs.

So we’re publishing all expenditure over £500 on our departments’ website.

It is just the start.

I think that anyone who receives public money - whether they are in central Government or Local Authorities… Be they charities or industrial and provident societies… or quangos or Arms Length Bodies - We all need to do the same and embrace a new spirit of openness.

If you receive the public’s money it is time to open up your books, so that the public can see how their cash is being spent. Not just once a year in a stuffy and unread annual report, but in real-time.

And yes, they want to know how many people think that their job is tougher than being Prime Minister.

And I want to know how it can be justified to pay enormous salaries which are ultimately being paid for either through the hard work and toil of taxpayers… or worse, from the rents of tenants who maybe the people in society least able to afford your salary.

Of course the public also want to know you are providing a great service with their money.

Social landlords have a tremendous track record of levering in massive private investment to build homes and to support community development - a record I know that you are rightly proud of.

Without you there would be an even bigger shortage of new homes. But with public subsidy reducing, you will need to find another model.

Other ways of doing more for less.

Of course many of you are well down the track at squeezing the efficiency and value from shrinking resources.

I welcome recent reports that have set out ideas to reform social housing finance.

Over the last few decades large amounts of the public’s money has been invested in social housing. And for me that goes to the heart of the matter.

How can we get the most out of past, present and future public investment?

Are there opportunities for efficiencies that you can exploit?

Is there scope to sell some assets and re-invest the money in more homes?

How much further can you go by looking for efficiencies and savings?

One thing is for sure - whether we like it or not - there will be no return to the way it was because boom and bust in housing cannot be allowed to happen again.

TSA regulation

I want to turn to Housing Regulation…

We do need effective economic regulation to make sure we get the maximum punch from the taxpayer’s pound.

Investors must have confidence that businesses are properly run.

I have made it clear that our review of the Tenant’s Services Authority will deliver this outcome.

I’ve also made no secret of my view that we don’t need a separate multi-million pound national Quango, which spent £40 million pounds in its first year, just to work out that tenants would like their repairs done quickly!

I know we can reduce bureaucracy, achieve value for money and save scarce resources by scaling back the regulatory burden and decentralising power.

Tenants must be able to scrutinise their landlords’ performance, and hold them to account.

But inspections are of limited value - if all they amount to is little more than a box ticking exercise.

Put it this way… When it comes to the point where social landlords have actually employed consultants to run mock inspection exercises… in order to learn how to get their boxes ticked… you know something has gone wrong.

Of course tenants know from their own experience when things are going wrong.

So I think we need more tenant led scrutiny. I believe that problems between tenants and landlords are best sorted out at the local level rather than through complex inspection regimes and overregulation.

If tenants are unhappy with the service they get, it should be dealt with quickly by their landlord.

If it isn’t fixed, they should be able to go to a tenant panel, their councillors or MP.

If they don’t get any joy, then the complaint could be referred to an ombudsman.

It should be as simple as that - a local solution to a local problem.

I will be sharing my conclusions from the review of TSA shortly, and you won’t be surprised to learn that the outcome will absolutely reflect the coalition government’s commitment to localism.

Community Right to Build

We are committed to devolving power to the people.

Letting people have control over decisions that affect them.

The Localism Bill which will be introduced later this year will pass an unprecedented amount of power to locals.

Out with top down controls, and in with incentives through the powerful New Homes Bonus - working with the grain of what communities want rather than what Whitehall dictates.

Making sure that a slimmed down Homes and Communities Agency are the people you turn to when you want to get things done or if you like jargon - an enabling agent for change.

I want the Agency to hand more of its power and control away to local communities.

I am not simply referring to the possible transfer of its London functions to the Mayor.

I want all communities to have more of a say in what happens.

I know that The National Housing Federation and Matthew Taylor have been calling for rural housing to be more affordable.

That is precisely what the Community Right to Build will do.

Subject to legislation, we will give rural communities the right to build the housing and community buildings that they know are needed.

As long as there is overwhelming support in their community.

And on the subject of overwhelming support, I have listened to a broad range of views, including representations from the National Housing Federation…

And so today I can announce that I have concluded that rather than requiring 90 per cent of residents to vote in favour of a Community Right to Build project…

We will instead be introducing the scheme with a threshold of 75 per cent local backing in a referendum.

This will allow communities to bring forward the development they want, while still ensuring they are supported by the overwhelming majority of the local community.

Conclusion

But the Community Right to Build is just one issue that has got people talking.

Indeed I suspect there will be a whole range of things you want to raise with me now.

I am pleased that you’ve got Iain Duncan-Smith along tomorrow to talk about welfare reform and helping people into work.

I suspect that Housing Benefit reform is something you will want to discuss with me too.

I know many of you are anxious to join the debate about security of tenure.

Some of you will have questions about how the New Homes Bonus will work.

Or maybe you want to discuss our plans to give every single social tenant the right to move.

But what I most want to discuss with you is how we can work together to get both our houses in order… so that we may build more homes and provide a truly five star service for present and future tenants.

So what can I do to help you achieve more with less of the public’s money?

That’s a starter question for you. Now it’s your turn.

Thank you.

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