Monday, 7 June 2010

Housing New Ideas

Lets get rid of Jim Hacker
Special Investigator

THE RIGHT HONOURABLE Him Hacker, MP promised to carry out the governments pledge to slim down the Civil Service, to wipe out the interference from Whitehall and Town Hall busybodies. But how many people realise that the Civil Service is growing, like Topsy, every day?
        I have discovered that no less than four Ministries check the supply of the same army uniforms. The Ministry of Defence checks to see that they get what they have ordered. The Department of Trade and Industry checks to see that they have been manufactured according to government regulations. The Department of Employment checks that the Manufacturer falls in with the Manpower Planning Standards, and Jim Hackers mob just checks up on everybody else!
        Jim Hacker is the most obvious case of overmanning in Whitehall. Lets start by getting rid of him and saving at least one salary.(1)

I couldn't help thinking of the "Yes Minister" programme on "The Economy Drive" at the weekend. when I heard Deputy Sean Power talking about Housing Associations independent from the States.
To get approval, matters regarding housing have to be checked over by Property Services, and finances have to be checked over by the Treasury. It's very like the Yes Minister scenario - administrators checking administrators work, and multiplying staff costs and duplicating effort. That's two extra Ministries checking over Housing, not counting the States Auditor, who probably also gets a look in, and if there was an independent Housing Association, there could be cut backs in Property Services and the Treasury because those functions would be redundant.

Here are some examples of Housing Associations - elsewhere, it seems, this is becoming the way to go. The "Rural Housing Association" also has a voluntary board  of management - which would be a further saving on cuts, while a way of using the expertise of retired people who still have much to contribute to the Island:

Rural Housing Association is a registered Housing Association in Northern Ireland. We build and manage housing in the social housing sector for people in housing need. The site has been developed for the use of our tenants, the general public and others interested in Social Housing in Northern Ireland.

As with all registered Housing Associations, Rural Housing Association is a nonprofit making organization. Our activities are governed by a voluntary Board of management, members of which give freely of their time and expertise to ensure that the Association continues to provide good quality, affordable homes for people in Rural areas who might otherwise be poorly housed or homeless.(1)

The National Housing Federation represents 1,200 not-for-profit housing associations in England and campaigns for better housing and neighbourhoods. It is also extremely transparent with salaries of their chief officers:

'Housing associations provide a key frontline public service to millions of tenants - but are not public bodies. They are independent not-for-profit organisations, which match every £1 of public investment with £2 from their own resources - allowing them to build new social homes at the lowest cost to the taxpayer. 'Chief executives' salaries are set by independent boards following a rigorous assessment of their value to the organisation. We think it is right and proper that this decision should be made by independent boards - the overwhelming majority of which will have tenant representatives sitting on them. 'Housing associations have been trailblazers in terms of accountability. They have published what they pay their chief executives for the past 15 years and this information is transparent and freely available. (3)

This has, however, led to some strong criticism of the pay of the top executives:

At least six executives, including Keith Exford at Affinity Sutton; Mark Rogers at Circle Anglia and David Bennett at Sanctuary; and David Montague at London & Quadrant, earned more than £200,000, it has emerged.  The figures have been uncovered by Grant Shapps, the Housing Minister, who has indicated that the pay packages are unacceptable. (4)

Clearly, if Jersey moved to the Housing Association Model, we would have to be careful that we did not end up with another kind of Web Managing Director on a huge salary. There is always that danger. But in fairness, a table published by the Guardian shows a number of executives on considerably less - around £70,000- £95,000.(5). It still seems worth serious consideration, and I hope Sean Power gets the opportunity to move the States in that direction.
Sean Power may not be the kind of "Yes Man" that the Council of Ministers is looking for, but by looking to play safe, to never have anyone who might slightly rock the boat, we will end with an inward looking, tired, stagnating Government, of the kind that is fiercely protective of existing managerial structures, and where cut-backs will always be given as unacceptable front-line services. We need some innovative thinkers, just as we need some people who will also sometimes, when necessary, reign them back.

1) Yes Minister, The Economy Drive

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