Building partnerships – Partners in Housing

Revans examines the central role local strategic partnerships are
to play in the government’s community renewal strategy
– and how housing trusts need to e involved.

When the
government published the national action plan for neighbourhood
renewal in January, improvements to housing and the physical
environment were highlighted as central to its overall goal of
tackling the unacceptably bad conditions in poor neighbourhoods
across the country.

prominence given to improving housing and the physical environment
was not, however, automatic. Rather their inclusion in the list of
the strategy’s key outcomes was only secured as a result of
criticisms made during the consultation stage of the government’s
failure to understand their relevance to neighbourhood renewal.

The four
other key outcomes selected were employment, education, crime and
health. “The inclusion of housing and the physical environment as
an additional outcome following the consultation recognises the
poor state of housing and the physical environment in many deprived
areas, and the part it plays in social exclusion,” the strategy
action plan concedes.

overarching vision of the strategy, then, is to narrow the gap
between the most deprived neighbourhoods and the rest of the
country in relation to the five chosen policy areas.

In terms
of housing and the physical environment, the key target is reducing
by a third the number of households living in non-decent social
housing, particularly in the most deprived areas, by 2004.

authorities and registered social landlords (RSLs) are expected to
take the local lead on this target, and all social housing should
be bought up to a decent standard by 2010. Key measures to help
achieve this include an extra £1.6 million investment in
housing over the next three years, an extra £80 million a year
for housing management by 2003-4, and an expansion of the transfer
of local authority homes to housing associations and other

authorities have also been given a clearer leading role in
preventing and tackling abandonment, and the Housing Corporation is
piloting the funding of demolition to ensure supply does not exceed

To meet
a national commitment to achieving a turn around in declining
housing demand by 2010, the strategy calls on all local housing
authorities to work with their partners to monitor the incidence of
low demand in their area across tenures and address any problems as
part of their local housing strategies. The regional and national
picture will be monitored by the government offices for the regions
and the department of environment, transport, and the regions

just as the growing problem of low demand housing has been
recognised before – both the urban white paper and the housing
policy statement highlighted the issue last year – the strategy’s
proposal of a solution based on the concept of joint-working is not
altogether original.

it is on the very strength of the wealth of evidence and experience
of so many other joint-working initiatives over the years that
local strategic partnerships (LSPs) – the key bodies responsible
for driving and implementing the strategy – will be based.

But the
key difference this time is that LSPs are intended to be
all-encompassing comprehensive bodies which result in
rationalisation of the number and remit of local partnerships and
strategies rather than further duplication.

many other recent developments, LSPs are also likely to develop
nationwide rather than just in small pockets across the country as,
although theoretically voluntary, they are likely in the long run
to become pre-requisites for access to future funds and
flexibilities. The receipt of money from the three-year £800
million neighbourhood renewal fund for the 88 eligible areas, for
example, has already been made conditional on their establishment
of an LSP by 2002.

Local Government Association warned: “It is likely that in future,
some funding will become conditional upon the existence of an
effective LSP. The LGA therefore recommends that authorities with
no existing strategic partnership take steps to develop one

LSPs are
expected to “take ownership” of the strategy’s targets and develop
their own set based on how things should change over time in their
most disadvantaged neighbourhoods. They will also help local
authorities to develop and implement their community strategies and
local housing strategies.

But this
strategic activity will also need to be focused at a neighbourhood
level. Two rounds of neighbourhood management pathfinders with
£45 million funding are being launched to take this idea
forward over the next three years, with the strategy action plan
specifically identifying RSLs as potential leaders of such

In most
cases, LSPs will cover the local authority area. Although they will
often be led by local authorities, where they are built on existing
partnerships leadership arrangements will not need to be disturbed.
Local authorities will, however, still be expected to be members of
an LSP – along with RSLs, tenants, local residents, and other
public, private, voluntary and community sector agencies.

How the
balance of the partnerships develops from there will depend in part
on the local priorities identified and therefore the key agencies
required to deliver change. But involvement at some level will be
crucial for all agencies if they are to have a say over how
community strategies are developed and how money is spent.

A survey
of local authority approaches to social inclusion and anti-poverty
carried out by the LGA in March found that, of the LSPs either
established or in progress, two-thirds involved housing providers.
However, neither the level of involvement, nor the definition of
“housing providers” was clear.

just as housing was somewhat of an afterthought as a key theme for
the strategy, so it appears to be in some areas in terms of LSP
membership – particularly in relation to RSLs.

Seviour, chief executive of Leicester Housing Association, said
that a problem of the strategy was that it mistakenly assumed that
statutory agencies all have “a benevolent approach to
power-sharing” with other community agencies involved in
regeneration, and that local authority housing departments also
“speak for the housing association world”.

said that, in the East Midlands area, LSPs were not proving to be
as all-encompassing as expected. “We are very much involved in
regeneration,” he said. “Therefore I find it curious that, although
we are in touch with the strategic partnership bodies, we
individually have not had a single invite yet and, as far as I am
aware, none of the other RSLs have either.”

housing policy officer at the LGA Gwyneth Taylor denied that the
situation was the result of any reluctance to involve housing
providers, but rather the result of the practical difficulties of
getting a greater number of people round the table.

housing departments should certainly liase and be in contact with
RSLs in the area in order to ensure that RSLs do have that input
and throughput to [LSPs],” Taylor said. “The difficulty is that
there are so many of them. There can be as many as 30 or 40 in one
local authority area. It is difficult to say that every one of them
could be on the board.”

She said
problems were exasperated by historic differences between housing
and other service providers, including their funding mechanisms,
their emphasis on physical problems, and their tendency to be

Adams, chief executive of Lewisham-based Hyde Housing Association,
argued that housing and improvements to the physical environment
had both been “played down” too much in the strategy.

“The one
thing that is common to everyone is the quality and nature of their
housing,” Adams said. “If we are looking for something that bonds
people together, housing is a good starting point.” He described it
as a missed opportunity for using community interest in housing
issues to encourage their involvement in wider debates.

Aaron Cahill, policy officer at the National Housing Federation,
said the situation was finally improving. “Historically, housing
associations and in some ways housing departments, have been
sidelined,” he said. “But that’s getting easier. LSPs are going to
have to explain why [housing providers] are not on board, rather
than explaining why they are.”

So, with
housing and the physical environment now formally included in the
social inclusion agenda – if somewhat belatedly and in some areas a
little reluctantly – what does this mean for the way housing
providers work with each other and with other agencies to achieve
neighbourhood renewal?

will obviously hold the key to the answer to this question. LSP
membership – or, at the very least, regular contact with it – is
therefore crucial. Decisions relating to the five policy outcomes
will be made by the LSP, so it is essential that all the related
agencies retain their say on those. But it will also give agencies
the chance to influence policy outside their own areas, providing
genuine opportunities for truly joint-working.

When the learning disability white paper was
published two months after the strategy action plan, its vehicles
for change – the learning disability partnership boards – were
immediately placed within the LSP framework. If this is a sign of
things to come, we can assume LSPs will play in a role in other new
bodies too – including, presumably, the care trusts outlined in the
new Health and Social Care Act.

In the strategy action plan, the government
has committed itself to “clarifying the links between different
partnerships – and particularly through specific partnerships and
LSPs – whenever new guidance is produced”. The power of LSPs and
involvement in them, then, should not be under-estimated.

Urban renewal: Broadwater Farm estate, Haringey,

partnership: Neighbourhood office set up in 1983 to manage the
estate. Office now wants to “formalise the ways of working” by
setting a more structured neighbourhood management approach under
the government’s neighbourhood renewal strategy action plan.

partners on board: Neighbourhood officer works for Haringey housing
department, but is based permanently on the estate and acts as
point of contact between the community and all other council’s
departments. Same police officers dedicated to the estate
long-term. Local college involved in training and employment
projects. Health authority and trust helped set up estate’s health
centre. RSLs involved in re-development projects. Contractors
agreed to employ local labour. Community involved in big decisions
with tangible outcomes, such as the new concierge entrance scheme
and the health centre.

Neighbourhood officer Paul Dennehy said: “What happens on the
estate when it is working best is that I may have better working
relationships with colleagues from police, health etc than I do in
the directorate. We kind of see ourselves as colleagues. We work in
a friendly and supportive way with each other.”


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