Commons Gate

The Role and Effectiveness of the Housing Corporation (HC 401-iii)

ODPM Committee 5 May 2004

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Evidence given by West Midlands Regional Housing Board Graham Garbutt, Chairman, and Director, the Government Office for the West Midlands. Steve Gregory, Board Member, and Executive Director, Urban Forum, Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council. The Housing Corporation Peter Dixon, Chairman Jon Rouse, Chief Executive.

Q257 Mr. David Clelland: Could you say a bit more about your relationship with the Regional Assembly and how you think that might change?

Mr Gregory: We are fairly unusual, I think, in the regions, in that we began to produce a regional housing strategy before we were required to. We had been working on it for a couple of years before hand. We have quite a strong and well-supported Regional Housing Partnership that we have had for three or four years. As the Regional Assembly was created, recognising that the Regional Assembly was responsible for the Regional Economic Strategy, the partnership asked the Regional Assembly if it would like to, in effect, host the partnership and make the partnership a creature of the Assembly. We asked the Assembly to delegate to us the production of the regional strategy. So we have tied the Regional Housing Strategy into the Assembly in that way. The Regional Assembly signed off the Regional Housing Strategy, which was then submitted to the Regional Housing Board and ODPM, and thankfully everybody agreed.

Q258 Mr. David Clelland: Would that relationship change if there was an elected Regional Assembly?

Mr Gregory: Yes.

Q259 Mr. David Clelland: How would it change?

Mr Gregory: I think if the Regional Assembly were elected, it would take greater responsibility for those actions. There would not be a following on from the Regional Assembly to ODPM; they would be responsible for implementing the strategy that they had agreed.

Mr Garbutt: If I could add to that, I did quote in the paper, paragraph 436 of the May 2002 White Paper, your original choice, which is very explicit in the sense that the responsibilities currently carried out by both government offices and the Housing Corporation would in future in regions which have DRA would be transferred to the elected Regional Assemblies. So I think the question is whether we at the moment are, as it were, trying to create conditions which could ease that transition in the future or whether we are trying to create something which is simply satisfactory to the existing regional partners, if you like. It seems to me quite important that we do not do anything which impedes the opportunity to move in that direction in the future. But, to use your earlier word, Chairman, I guess the question is whether there are tensions in managing that process in the immediate future within the current assemblies, which, of course, are not directly elected, but I am sure everyone knows, bodies of about 100 people drawn from different sectors, and they may feel now that they would like to have a greater role in making decisions and, as it were, containing accountability through those assemblies. That is difficult for me, because my accountability, of course, as Chairman of the Board, is to ministers.


Q309 Mr. David Clelland: What factors make construction more expensive in the south than in the north?

Mr Rouse: The cost of labour.

Q310 Mr. David Clelland: Labour costs are so much different, are they?

Mr Rouse: They are significantly different.

Q311 Mr. David Clelland: Have you any statistics on that?

Mr Rouse: Rather than give you an off-the-cuff answer which may be wrong, why do we not give you a supplementary piece of evidence on that.

Q312 Mr. David Clelland: Yes, but surely materials--

Mr Rouse: Materials, there are some differences, but not as significant as labour; labour is the key factor.


Q365 Mr. David Clelland: I may be wrong but I get the impression Mr Dickson's pulse rate speeds up a bit whenever we mention the Audit Commission. Can we return to the relationship between the Audit Commission and the Corporation, how can the current protocol between the Corporation and the Commission be made more robust to avoid turf wars breaking out? How can the regulatory regime of the Corporation and the inspection of the Commission be made clear and unambiguous?

Mr Dixon: I think they are as it happens. I think it is the commentary which creates most of the problems. We have I think a very good working relationship with the Audit Commission in terms of what they do and what we do. They inspect housing management services, we regulate housing associations. I regard those as totally different activities. Their people on the ground talk to our people on the ground, we have a working protocol which works and it is fine. I did find their evidence surprising, as I said, because that seems to me to be not necessarily as well researched as I would have expected of them. We do not have a problem either organisationally or individually in the way that things are working. I do not think we need to do anything radical with the protocol at all. As it happens we are having a working meeting with the board members of the Audit Commission next week and we are talking through a number of these issues, if there are any; I do not think there are. No-one likes being inspected, nobody likes being regulated. I think everybody makes more about the issue than actually exists.

Q366 Mr. David Clelland: Would you not prefer the Corporation carried out its own inspections?

Mr Dixon: No, I would not actually. I think it adds legitimacy to the process that it is independent. I quite like that I am afraid.

Q367 Mr. David Clelland: What is your opinion about the Audit Commission's proposals for inspection? They have the proposal to inspect all housing providers in the same way, is that really feasible? Housing associations and local authorities, can they be inspected in the same manner?

Mr Dixon: If one could get complete read across I think it would be good. I do not think I have seen enough of the detail yet to form a view as to whether that is going to be possible. There has to be an understanding and acceptance that housing associations are not the same as local authorities, they are different bodies, they are independent, they are not part of the public sector and they are doing some different things. There may be some areas where you cannot get complete read across. Where you can get consistency I am all in favour of it.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

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