Transcript of the speech as delivered.
Thanks Sarah [Webb] and thank you for introducing me to the PACT.
I’ll study it carefully as I know it’s full of some really great ideas.
So… Another year, another housing Minister. At least this time the electorate had something to do with it!
During that recent election you had to listen to politicians putting forward their ideas - you may have got fed up listening to us.
You might think politicians talk too much and don’t listen enough.
So I want to use most of this session to hear from you.
But first, I think it’s fair to say that there has been a long tradition of Housing Ministers coming to CIH only to find that they’ve been moved on by the following year’s conference.
If a week’s a long time in politics, then a year has proved an eternity for recent Housing Ministers.
So you’ve seen a lot of them coming and going and each reshuffled Minister tells you about:
- the new targets that have to be reached,
- the way that money has to be spent,
- and the latest pet project to come out of Whitehall.
I’ve shadowed these Ministers as they’ve been pulling levers, pushing buttons and blowing whistles… to no effect.
And I’ve waited impatiently to be here.
So what do I want to do now I have my hands on those levers?
I want to hand them over to you.
Whether you work in Local Government.
Whether you work for a housing association or are a builder.
Whether you are a landlord, tenant, or homeowner.
Whether you are a member of a housing co-op or want to set up a community land trust.
I want you to have the power to make the decisions you know are right for your local community.
Why? Because I believe that the more I let go of power the more you can achieve.
Politicians and Governments do not have all the answers. So instead I am going to place my faith in you.
When I became Housing Minister, I may have had three years more housing experience than most of the recent lot, but I don’t have as much experience as you!
The combined knowledge at this conference far outweighs mine - there are 1,000 delegates here today. Let’s say you have an average of 10 years experience in housing - and maybe that’s an underestimate - so multiply that out and you’ve got 10,000 years of valuable housing expertise.
So I think we need to listen to you.
The old assumption that Whitehall knows best… and that Ministers knew even better was wrong.
- Targets haven’t worked,
- restrictive regulations haven’t worked,
- and simply spending money on too many initiatives hasn’t worked.
So I see my job as setting the framework for you to achieve the changes you want to see. Whether that’s providing more homes or helping tenants have a stronger voice.
And we need to give people the platform to get things done.
When tenants are dissatisfied with the service, they need to see things change.
I have some ideas about how this can be done. They are not fixed in stone and I want to discuss them more with you.
But here are some thoughts.
There could be Tenants’ Panels that genuinely help tenants have a stronger voice in their local community.
How about if tenants could complain to their panel? And what if those panels had real teeth to intervene?
Then, along with elected Councillors and MPs, tenants’ panels could act as a new gateway to the Ombudsman.
Elected representatives would know which landlords provide the best service to their tenants.
Landlords would become more responsive and locally accountable.
And when councillors consider new planning applications for affordable housing in their area, they could easily take the landlord’s record into account when selecting their Social Landlord partner.
So producing better and more responsible landlords wouldn’t be the product of some large national quango… Nor targets… Nor additional standards…
But rather a natural response to a system which properly puts tenants and their representatives firmly in the driving seat for the very first time.
These are my ideas - and that’s what I call real tenant empowerment.
TSA and the HCA
In fact… I place huge premium on tenant empowerment - but I’m far from convinced that a large national quango is the best way to do it.
It’s also no secret that I have been concerned for some time about whether the Tenants Services Authority offers value for money.
To give one specific example, this quango spent close to £100,000 on lobbyists to lobby - amongst others… the Government. And that seems frankly ill-judged.
Therefore I can confirm today that Government is reviewing the role and purpose of the Tenants Services Authority and the best framework for regulating social housing. This will consider the full range of options in line with our commitment to reduce the number and cost of quangos.
I believe that we can cut out unnecessary inspection - decentralise power… reduce bureaucracy… and save money.
But I want to reassure you that Government absolutely recognises the value of independent economic regulation of social housing.
This is why I intend to ensure that economic regulation continues to enable housing associations to secure significant private investment into affordable housing.
I can also confirm that the Homes and Communities Agency will stay. But I think it needs to operate in a genuinely local way - at the invitation of local people who want to improve their communities.
So it will be smaller, more strategic - with the HCA’s functions being delivered under local leadership.
It will be much leaner.
To use the jargon I see it as an enabling and investment body. Or in plain English, the people who help to get things done.
And getting things done will be harder in these tough economic times. There will be difficult decisions. The Budget made that clear.
When the country has been living beyond its means I am not going to stand here and promise what can’t be delivered.
But things will still get done… yes it will be tough but the sky will not fall in.
We’ll need to get smarter about using the resources we do have. Incentivising rather than directing - working with the grain of human nature.
So for example rather than Whitehall telling communities how many homes they need, communities will drive that investment through responding to incentives and will feel the benefit of new homes being built in their area.
Devolving power - Conclusion
And this is an important point. We are not reducing expenditure just to save money, although the fiscal deficit is huge.
As the Chancellor said on Tuesday, the Coalition believes in a smaller state and a bigger society.
So we must do things differently.
Stop setting up quangos.
Stop burning cash on consultants.
Stop putting our faith in expensive IT systems that don’t actually work.
Stop using public money to pay people in the public, charitable and voluntary sector more than the Prime Minister earns.
Instead we will trust you.
Over the last few years many of you have spoken to me, with passion, about the plans that you have.
The changes you wanted to see.
Now I want to give you the power to make those plans real.
So my PACT with you is that I will be handing over power and control to make those changes happen.
I know you will succeed.