Benlowndes

a perspective on PR in social housing and regeneration

Category Archives: Public sector

Three thoughts from the #housingwhitepaper roadshow

“I am a man desperately in need of allies to help build the homes that we can agree are desperately needed in this country.”

Gavin Barwell, Housing Minister, 2 March 2017

I was in Taunton this week to see the housing minister’s white paper roadshow.

Gavin Barwell is at least the eighth housing minister I’ve seen in action since 2004. Five of those were on similar visits to the South West when I worked at the HCA.

To say that he’s inherited a tough gig is an understatement. The Housing White Paper has had a mixed response, which isn’t surprising for a sector with so many interested parties.

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Devolution: people care if they’re aware

The West of England’s devolution deal was rubber stamped last night after months of discussion by local leaders.

The agreement unlocks around £1bn in investment in housing, transport and skills. Most people would regard these as important issues that should be locally controlled.

Despite this and the welcome statements that will follow, last night’s response to the news seemed muted.

Councillors in Bristol expressed concerns that the 2,000 responses the recent consultation generated should have been much higher.

The Bristol Post reported these concerns alongside the question: does anyone care?

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Collaboration: more than a buzzword

Calls for ‘collaboration’ across the housing sector are hitting high levels. I have attended conferences recently at which panelists have insisted that collaboration is key to our future. At one event covering areas ranging from the performance of office buildings to the future of cities, speakers used the phrase six times in an hour.

Articles and blog posts stressing its importance are abundant. Google ‘collaboration and housing’ to see for yourself. And local and national government call for a collaborative approach from employees and partners. This can sometimes feel like a call for inspiration.

Meaning of collaboration

In an era of networks, for an industry that has thrived on partnership working, this makes sense. The challenges facing the sector are too big for any organisation to face alone. Those that work together stand a better chance of success.

It is difficult for anyone who works in the sector to argue against this sentiment. But defining good practice in this area – let along making it work – is more challenging. Statements like ‘collaboration is key’ are often used without any sign of how this could happen.

Collaboration between organisations frequently misses the input of the communities or people affected by what they are trying to achieve. And conflict seems built into the system, with some groups feeling their views are ignored. When this happens, positions become entrenched and delivery can grind to a halt.

If we are to benefit from a collaborative approach, there needs to be wide understanding of what good collaboration looks like. And organisations must prepare to change mindsets and structures to embrace it.

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Talking about our devolution: what people told us about the deal

With all that’s happened since June, it’s easy to forget that there’s a big decision ahead about how the West of England runs its affairs.

The devolution deal for ‘greater Bristol’ won’t set most people’s pulses racing. But ask those who live and work here what’s important to them and many will say housing, transport, education, jobs or a combination of the above. As it happens, the West of England’s deal is geared towards addressing all of these issues.

On the table is £1bn to invest over 30 years in housing, transport and skills. Post #EUref, when ‘taking back control’ swayed views about our country’s future, handing responsibility for these issues to local areas seems an obvious step.

It’s probably worth five minutes’ of everyone’s time in the scheme of things.

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Can Marvin crack Bristol’s housing crisis?

When they finally arrived, Bristol’s election results signalled a big change for the city that made the national news.

Despite predictions that the mayoral contest was too close to call, voters gave an emphatic victory to Labour’s Marvin Rees. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn saw fit to travel to Bristol to congratulate his new mayor.

As I live outside Bristol, I didn’t vote in the mayoral elections. But I followed the contest with interest and was not surprised by Labour’s win after a drawn-out and sometimes tetchy contest.

On many measures, Rees inherits a city in better shape than in 2012 when independent George Ferguson became Bristol’s first elected mayor. It weathered the recession well and has the most productive economy outside London. Its Enterprise Zone in Bristol Temple Quarter is creating more jobs than any similar local scheme. And the arena project is becoming a reality, more than 20 years after it was first mooted.

These achievements should be recognised as a testament to Ferguson’s leadership, although many of his trenchant critics won’t see it that way.

But there are big challenges that Rees must address amongst the many pledges he made during the campaign.

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Bristol Arena: now the hard work really starts

Councillors’ approval of Bristol’s flagship arena project is a welcome twist in a story that goes back two decades.

Bringing a big city arena to Bristol has been a long-standing cultural ambition. A huge collective effort has been put into getting the vision for a gleaming 12,000-capacity venue and a redeveloped cultural and residential quarter beside Temple Meads to this stage.

The former Diesel Depot site which will host the facility has lain largely fallow for years since it earned its name for engine goods storage.  And there are many good reasons for the seemingly slow progress.

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Devolution deal or no deal?

“This [deal] puts us in the Premiership in terms of major city regions in the UK. It’s going to be good for the whole population in terms of jobs, housing and transport.

“It also addresses some of the issues such as poverty, fairness and equality.”

Bristol’s elected mayor George Ferguson, 16 March 2016

A conversation about how the West of England can take control of its destiny may be starting to happen. And not before time…

After years of discussions, a devolution deal with Government promises to give the area’s local authorities more power over important issues like housing, transport, planning and skills. If ratified, it would unlock £1bn for local growth projects and provide councils with clout to make a bigger difference in these areas.

But there’s a sticking point for some that could derail the deal before it gets going. The government wants to see a ‘metro mayor’, who would chair a combined authority to oversee a joined-up response to the way these major matters are managed. Given the level of concern about this, it’s not certain that all councils will sign off on the deal.

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If where you live matters, join the #WEbuildourfuture conversation

WEbuildourfuture images

(Created by JBP)

A big conversation is happening around Bristol that could shape local housing and transport for decades to come.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been working with colleagues to get ready for a major consultation which could map where thousands of new homes are built across the West of England over the next 20 years.

The phrase ‘West of England Joint Spatial Plan and Transport Study‘ won’t set pulses racing. But the issues it covers should interest anyone who has views about where they live, how they get to work or school or whether they will be able to keep a roof over the heads in future.

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Three reasons why I’ll champion the HCA’s work

Five years, one month and a day after joining the HCA, I departed last Thursday to take up a new job.

I’m returning to agency life at JBP, an extremely well-respected company which specialises in PR (in all its forms) consultation and public affairs. From tomorrow, I’ll be a senior account director in its Bristol office and I am hugely looking forward to the opportunity.

That’s not to say that it was an easy decision to leave the HCA. After all, I was able to influence discussion around a hugely important area of government work. I had a flexible and fair employer and I enjoyed what I did. In the end, I moved because it offers me an opportunity to progress my career in areas that are most important to me.

I will still champion the HCA though and there are many reasons for this. Three of them have stood out in recent conversations. Read more of this post

#ukhousing jargon: what we can do about habitual horrors

“Some people love speaking in jargon, using fancy words and turning everything into acronyms. Personally, I find this simply slows things down, confuses people and causes them to lose interest. It’s far better to use a simple term and commonplace words that everyone will understand, rather than showing off and annoying your audience.”

Richard Branson on why we should ditch jargon

Nonsense I have an issue with jargon, and it’s not because I’m a pedant…

At its worst, it alienates those who we’re trying to reach and highlights a disconnect between us and the rest of the world.

It also makes no business sense, because it wastes the time of the person who is giving and receiving the information. Those are strong reasons to stop the ‘cut and paste’ approach that litters business correspondence and get back to basics.

Whilst the world of housing (particularly the bit in which I work) isn’t alone in having its own ‘special’ phrases, it’s clear that we have a problem when it comes to clearly explaining what we do. Ask anyone who joins the sector from another industry (as I did once). They’ll probably tell you much of their first few months were spent wondering what people are talking about in meetings and struggling to decipher emails.

If people who work with us feel like that, what does a small business or resident think when trying to find out about something like a new development in their community, for example?

There may be a case for using jargon sometimes; if the audience understands it, using specialist terms can be an efficient way to make a point. But context matters and dumping technical information into a note intended for someone who isn’t an expert bugs those who are on the receiving end.

And don’t even get me started on acronyms (another post for another day)! Our language is littered with them, ranging from the reasonable (HCA, DCLG) to the odd (LA for council) and plain daft (GCN? Great crested newts, or just newts!).

Sure, comms people with their ROIs, metrics, SOVs and other clever words have their own idiosyncrasies. But this should concern anyone who cares about whether people ‘get’ what we do. Read more of this post

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