HQN Blog: The councils are coming hurrah, hurrah

Back in the day Richard Branson was a hot air ballooning buccaneer. Now he really is round the bend. What’s his latest publicity stunt? Yes, folks it’s the talking toilet on trains. How the mighty have fallen. By his words you will know the man.

Or indeed the woman. Out of nowhere I heard a posh lady talk to me as I tidied myself on the way to Glasgow. She was saying how much she enjoyed being a Virgin train toilet as it was a step up from her old job as, guess what, a public toilet. There you have it right there. The mask slips. For the grey men that cling to power the private sector is always the right answer. But the world has moved on.

If the current crop of capitalists did not exist, the SWP would need to invent them.  You’ve got to ask if Carillion, Capita, Virgin East Coast, Bovis and Persimmon etc etc are in the pay of Leon Trotsky. What a great job they are doing of building up the left! To coin an old phrase a lot of the private sector is a permanent embarrassment and an occasional disgrace. So why do so many associations try to be like them? It’s time to come into the modern world. Pit ponies could adjust to the light, so you can too. It looks like tenants and councils will hold a lot more sway. What should associations do? Here’s three ideas straight off.

Stop justifying top pay levels by saying you are risk takers. I don’t care how much you earn. But come up with proper arguments for it, not comparables with folk that decent people loath. If you think a bonus scheme is right that’s fine. But apply it at all levels. And there should be no bonuses at all for selling unaffordable homes. That is compounding the felony. It is only a matter of time before house price hyping is a criminal offence. Get out of this while you can.

But do get into working fully with councils. Make friends with them and stop showing off. Taking the landlord role out of so many councils means that it is harder to join up services. You know that’s true. Don’t ask your lawyers how little we can get away with to save money. Instead sit down with the likes of social services and education to work together. Just as we are supposed to. Yes, I know some of you are already doing this. It’s time everyone was on board. Here’s why. According to the RSH’s global accounts associations have got lots of cash. At the same time Northamptonshire, Surrey and other councils are going bust. You know where this is heading. Associations will be asked to stump up to plug some of the gaps. There is an easy way or a hard way to go here. Your call.

What’s the biggest deal of all? That’s easy. It’s about getting alongside your tenants. Councils have the authority of the ballot box. What can associations do to match up? It’s time to look once more to the brave pioneers of Rochdale and Merthyr Tydfil. A well run mutual will appeal to tenants and councils and defuse the claim that associations have lost their way. Go for it.

Let’s end with the question of the moment. When you say it’s time to own our future. Who do you mean by our? If it is just you in your small (or big) patch you have no future. But cut the tenants and the councils in and it could be beautiful. Something to think about as Valentine’s Day approaches.

By Alistair McIntosh, HQN Chief Executive