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Guest blog post from John Coburn at the Housing Association Charitable Trust (HACT).

Guest blog post from John Coburn at the Housing Association Charitable Trust (HACT).

Whether its George Osborne or Ed Balls, all politicians are talking about rebalancing the economy and devolving more power and money to our great city-regions.  The election campaign has begun.  And there is a welcome consensus on the role that our metropolitan cities and regions play in driving economic growth and in attracting investment and skilled workers. The government announced last week allocation of £5bn of funding through local growth deals.

Evidence submitted to the City Growth Commission and published this week shows consensus on the importance of a range of housing types and tenures to supporting cities to fulfil their economic population. In the Connected Cities report released yesterday, housing is considered alongside transport and digital connectivity as a key component of infrastructure. Crucially, in Westminster, there is growing understanding that new affordable housing is going to be a key ingredient in driving successful local economies and sustainable communities. Housebuilding should be considered a crucial economic  issue too. New housing and new transport connectivity are the only way the labour market can respond to the changing nature of employment demand as our economy involves.

It is in the low-wage and low-skill sections of local labour markets  where housing associations operate their expertise. As major business players in local economies, interested in long-term stability as organisations, their potential has too often been overlooked.  Housing associations are big employers, delivering apprenticeships, providing skills and advice and training, and enterprise support to residents looking to start their own businesses.   Indeed they are the unsung heroes getting those furthest away from the labour market into work.

Last Friday, HACT and Inclusion published a report providing insight into how housing providers’ can  strengthen their role in supporting residents into employment.  And there are great examples, like Affinity Sutton’s Ready2Work scheme where they are making the connections between their residents and local employers, ensuring that their residents are work ready; and then  guaranteed a first interview.  And Richmond Housing Partnership (RHP) through the Give us a Chance Consortium have developed ‘Proving Talent’ a paid apprenticeship model for young people that is working closely with local prime contractors on the Work Programme. Exciting opportunities like the Start Up Micro-Enterprise project with a group of Manchester housing associations offer routes through which resident entrepreneurs can fulfil their potential.  How the city region, AGMA, can support such initiatives and SMEs will be critical in developing a flourishing environment for business.

With Local Economic Partnerships (LEPs) maturing into a more significant role leading economic strategy, there is a real opportunity for housing associations to offer their expertise on what needs to be done on skills and investment locally.  There are some great ideas put forward in the City Growth Commission’s Human Capitalsreport on how all local areas should be able to obtain control of government spending on skills development and develop localised labour market policy.  As argued by the Commission, economic growth potential exists in progressing the low-skilled and the poorly-paid. Housing associations are working to unlock this potential for the benefits of their residents, neighbourhoods and cities. Whether controlling adult skills budgets locally, piloting workforce development budgets or creating sector specialisms at JobCentres; these are all conversations that housing associations should be a part of.


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