APSE's recent Housing and Building Maintenance seminar In Leeds gave me a chance to hear the views of colleagues working in this sector of local government and the issues that were vexing them, three main issues came to the fore.
Firstly, housing need remains the dominant public policy issue and I suspect that this will gain an increasing profile in the lead up to a 2015 UK general election. The last couple of decades have seen very little affordable housing built in real terms and combined with reductions in social housing stock brought about by stock transfer demolitions and the right to buy, at a time when demand is increasing dramatically, this is a major problem. From around 2008 government(s) began to recognise this and started to create limited funding to allow local authorities and their partners to commence with small scale new build programmes. What a boost it would be for local economies in the current climate for government to allow local government more headroom to borrow and build housing again at a significant level to meet local need.
Secondly, the opportunities that are emerging around green deal, energy efficiency and renewable energy. There has been a lot of pioneering work in this area around solar, ground and air source heat pumps and biomass. Many are looking at funding streams for energy efficiency work and as to how they can put together offerings around green deal and whether they should become providers, facilitators or enablers for this work.
Finally, the impact of welfare reform has raised concerns for many in the social housing sector with the transfer to universal credit meaning that housing benefit will go directly to the recipient rather than to the housing provider. Their concern is around certainty of payment, any impacts this may have on cash flow and therefore ultimately investment programmes. Having moved towards localisation of housing revenue accounts last year and committing to 30 year business plans as part of this process, the uncertainty created by the transfer to universal credit is an unwelcome distraction for those trying to access long term investment funding for their stock.