The speech given this week by Theresa May at the National Housing Federation’s Summit has provoked a host of reactions from housing professionals – many of them negative. Was it a cheap stunt? Was it nothing more than just platitudes? Was the £2 billion of capital funding announced for 2022 an empty gesture?
I believe the prime minister’s appearance is to be welcomed and here are four reasons why.
1: PR coup – As a PR man it is impossible not to be impressed by the sight of an otherwise embattled Conservative prime minister receiving a standing ovation from many members of an audience of housing professionals. May aimed to secure positive national media coverage for her announcement and she succeeded.
2: Friends in the right places – It is good that housing is seen by Theresa May and her advisers as somewhere she can receive positive headlines. Who would have thought we’d ever be saying that about a Conservative prime minister in the wake of the grant and revenue cutting years of David Cameron and George Osborne? It is clear evidence that relations between Downing Street and social landlords have transformed in the past three years. The presence in Number 10 of former housing minister Gavin Barwell and the recently appointed Toby Lloyd from Shelter are clearly being felt.
3: Reputational impact – The excellent Benefit to Society campaign highlights the need to tackle negative stereotypes of social housing tenants – especially among journalists. Having the prime minister endorse the efforts of social landlords and their tenants to create successful communities is clearly a positive step. It raises the profile of the work of social landlords, and also helps open channels of communication with journalists that may otherwise not be possible.
4: Strike while the iron is hot – The prime minister used her speech to promise £2 billion of capital funding from 2022. While that is welcome, those who point out that this announcement is not, at this point, anything to get overly excited about are correct – four years is a very long time in politics. However, May also called on housing associations to push themselves to take on more development risk and build more homes – this is of greater immediate interest. Many housing providers are stepping up to the plate and building more, but a helping hand from the government or their agencies can go a long way to maximising this effort. The housing sector has not enjoyed such strong support from Number 10 in generations. So, whether on land or increased strategic partnerships, the time to push for better deals is now.
Stuart Macdonald is Managing Director of See Media