Looking across the country from the East Midlands it’s easy to feel like we are always the devolution bridesmaid.
Helen Greig is External Affairs Manager for the East Midlands region
15 October 2018
The pilots for Housing First going to the devolved authorities of Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, the £4.56m of housing funding to the East of England are like seeing what we could have won if anywhere in this region had managed to get past the final hurdle of setting up a combined authority and applying for devolution. But nowhere did. Some tried, most notably Greater Lincolnshire who came very close (to the surprise of most people who considered Nottingham, Leicester and Derby as the obvious devolution marriage) but for various reasons we were jilted.
So what now? Sit back and watch the rest of the country leap forward in terms of their devolved decision making and grants, gradually improve the housing offer and infrastructure in their regions, whilst we watch the East Midlands slip further behind? I don't think so. And nor do our members. There is a frustration with the lack of devolution – or rather, the lack of what devolution is bringing to other areas – but there is no resignation. We are proud of our region (which, to pre-empt the frequent question I get asked, incorporates Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Rutland and Northamptonshire) and want the best for the social housing tenants who live in our 149,129 properties. They should not lose out because the politicians could not make it work.
But are we looking at it all wrong? It might feel slightly Pollyanna-ish to try and find the silver lining to this cloud but the lack of structure of a combined authority anywhere gives us the absolute freedom to unite as an entire region solely for the cause of housing. We are not limited to what a mayor is particularly passionate about; we are not time limited by elections. So could we make this work anyway for our communities?
The obvious issue is finance. Admiral though it would be to have a united region of housing associations trying to achieve what the increasing number of mayors are working towards, let’s face it – Phillip Hammond is not going to give us any money. It’s that simple. We can access funding through alternative routes, sure, but not at such scale.
The other big issue is unity. We may have ‘more in common than that which divides us’, to quote Jo Cox, but the figurehead of a mayor cuts through the petty squabbles and different agendas to force unity – unity that may feel initially uncomfortable because it is strange, but unity that is crucial for making real change.
But I don’t think it’s beyond us. And I think we should try. Let’s show our leaders in the East Midlands that we can make this work for our communities – and who, knows, we may even convince them to have another go.
At the National Housing Federation, we promise to help housing associations influence devolution to create the best possible environment for social housing and your customers. The devolution hub is at the heart of how we will deliver on this.