How can we make joint partnerships with local authorities work?

17 August 2017

Whilst it’s difficult to find someone who thinks working in partnership with local authorities is a bad idea, it’s probably not possible to claim that enthusiastic joint working is the order of the day, yet.

Gone are the days of offering token support for a local housing strategy, in exchange for site or grant allocation and keeping nomination rights low. We know that genuine and transparent partnerships are a far better approach, both from a business perspective and to achieve our shared aim of providing good-quality homes in sustainable and successful communities, at an affordable price.

Joint working is not always easy, and relationships have to be built and nurtured. There is still the spectre of competition hanging over us, and the need to drive ‘value’ from every transaction. Many housing associations often work across multiple local authority areas, with different ways of working, variable structures and devolution powers. Democracy can be slow and messy, as can party politics and the pressures of upcoming elections and the like. Housing association boards are charged with delivering good value and effective use of their power and resources.

Yet none of the above is unsurmountable, and I would argue that it is worth investing considerable effort to advance joint agendas. Some of the potential outcomes include:

  • efficient use, and transfer, of skills across organisations
  • shared risk, where mitigation options can be spread across two organisations
  • making the best use of the resources available to both parties – local authorities often have land, whilst associations have access to funding, and both have information and experience
  • a more strategic approach to development with better outcomes based on shared research, local knowledge and understanding of the big picture
  • business success – the local authority works towards meeting local housing needs, whilst the association builds homes, increases its stock and, ideally, improves efficiency and quality of service.

With a case like that, who could argue against joint working and partnerships? No one. So why isn’t this all in place and ticking away merrily?

As I have said, it requires effort. We have to embrace openness and seek real trust in the other party. As usual, that will come down to people and relationships; we can have the best arrangements in the world, but they count for nothing if the people delivering them don’t sign up to shared objectives and values.

This in turn comes from strong and clear leadership. So I urge all of our leaders and decision-makers – embrace this approach, start from a position of believing that objectives are shared, and let us develop real partnerships to deliver together.

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