16 December 2014

What Works Scotland and the Housing Sector

Ken Gibb, one of the What Works Scotland Directors, reflects on an event focused around the enhanced delivery of the Government's ongoing housing strategy, and how it is relevant to What Works Scotland.

I attended the sector-wide Scottish housing event at Murrayfield Stadium on November 18 2014. This was a Government-led concerted effort to bring the range of private, public and third sector stakeholders in the production, consumption, management and wider roles within housing together around the enhanced delivery of the Government's ongoing housing strategy. The event was structured and participative with its agenda developed from a number of earlier theme roundtables (I attended one on place and community).

While housing is my substantive research area, I was there also to run a fringe meeting introducing What Works Scotland and suggesting that it had specific resonance for the future evolution of housing policy and practice. I have made a point of raising 'what works', the Scottish approach to public policy and the Christie principles in other housing fora but this was a good opportunity not just because of the range of key people present but because of calls made during the conference to consider systematic evidence reviews in future policy development.

Why is housing so relevant to What Works Scotland? First, housing delivery tends to be participative and co-produced. This is clearly true for new supply by the market and by the third sector - it has to involve local government and many other actors to make it happen and increasingly we have community interests and residents to consider too. I was in a workshop at the conference on the role of residential investment to improve existing town and city centres and there was much interest in Glasgow’s 'stalled spaces' policy (e.g. Dennistown) underway to get key vacant/derelict sites moving, inevitably requiring partnership approaches.

Second, and by definition, housing is at the core of place-based policies and should be fully in the mix. We are aware of several examples of housing leading or initiating interesting policy innovation - policies that deserve further investigation and research e.g. in Glasgow, the Wheatley Group's work with fire and police to prevent house fires and with ScotCash to create affordable credit for its tenants. At the same time, community-based housing associations in the city are often local leaders and community anchors stretching their activities well beyond traditional social landlords roles e.g. managing the impact of welfare reform on their tenants and seeking to develop.

Third, housing is fundamentally local in the sense that different local contexts will experience different forms of local housing problems and seek to work with the menu of solutions open to actors to tackle those problems. While finance and capacity are obviously necessary conditions to local responses, they also critically hinge on monitoring, intelligence and some form of needs and demand assessment of local housing requirements to aid efficient prioritisation of scarce public housing resources. These approaches draw on quantitative and qualitative approaches combining economic assessment and tools with normative, subjective needs-based methodologies. Despite the rhetoric of prevention and preventative spending, the underlying philosophy concerned with tackling housing problems remains fundamentally numerical and needs or deficit based (and tis is evident from the housing and regeneration section of the National Performance framework and its relevant indicators). These questions also impinge on how the housing sector works with partners to respond to growing care needs within the ageing Scottish population.

The conclusion of the conference stressed that housing does have to evolve and embrace the prevention agenda. The co-chair, Alan Ferguson, called for an evidence review on preventative spending across public policy areas but with its consequences for the housing sector spelled out. This is something that we can and should extrapolate from the prevention work stream underway in What Works Scotland. The Scottish Government has also expressed interest in further work to assess the wider returns community anchors and third sector housing providers contribute to their communities. A third possible area of work is to consider the role housing representatives play in community planning partnerships and to understand the barriers and opportunities to more integrative partnership with this key place-based function. Finally, examples of explicit partnership innovation such as that discussed with reference to the Wheatley Group, will also play a role in our prevention work programme going forward.

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