Learning from history
By Barry Malki
The Welsh Government’s rent settlement announcement at the beginning of the year was greeted with dismay by many social housing providers in Wales. It has already resulted in many assessing cost-cutting strategies, and may result in a significant reduction in community investement activities by some Welsh housing associations.
“The announcement for next year will mean we have to find an extra £500,000 compared with our early budget projectsion,” Alan Brunt, CEO of Bron Afon, told Inside Housing. “It’s too early to tell, but this could mean for example that we have to put on pause some of our planned community investment programmes.”
This seems to me to be a worrying case of recent history repeating itself. In 2015 there was a spending review which lead to 1% rent reduction for social housing in England which resulted in an urgent, cost cutting exercise across many housing associations. Community investment was seen an easy, and quick win to find savings.
It always struck me that it was a short-sighted approach. Many of those choosing this option didn’t seem to have a deep understanding of the cost of not doing community investment. As result of these cuts I heard many anecdotal reports of the impacts being felt by organisations following these cuts in funding, such as increases in arrears, evictions, ASB, complaints, but there was very little hard evidence available about this.
As well as those reciprocal business impacts, there was also a significant loss of social impact, with many communities feeling the consequences of one or more major stakeholders withdrawing their support. I fear that cutting these services had a negative impact on the wellbeing of communities, although we will never know by how much.
Following the Grenfell tragedy, engaging and supporting residents is a key priority politically, as well as on the agendas of conferences across the country. I am regularly meeting many organisations who are rebuilding their community investment functions or strategies, or even expanding their existing work. And, through the Centre for Excellence, we are talking to and working with groups who want to further the understanding of community investment in the sector to ensure that it is no longer seen as the first place to make cuts during times of financial constraint.
I hope we don’t see history repeat itself in Wales. After only six months of developing the Centre of Excellence, we’ve seen amazing work being done in Welsh communities and met incredibly passionate people. We hope to continue this on a national scale and bring further insight to the value of community investments teams.