Could social housing be as personal as private ownership?

The private sector provides lots of choice. Could the social housing sector do so too?

The private sector provides lots of choice. Could the social housing sector do so too?

Could chains in social housing – Council or Housing Association homes – help more tenants to have the home they’d like?

People who’ve bought or sold houses know about ‘chains’.  Estate agents will advertise ‘no chain’ against a property they are marketing as an advantage.  And if you want that ‘no chain’ property then that’s great – but the odds are that you would prefer another.

As a house buyer, one chooses a property within one’s budget in the area you want with the characteristics you fancy.  You put in your offer.  If it is accepted you wait patiently until the chain moves.  You may have to find a buyer, the seller may have to find a property they want, but in the end a whole chain of people have their housing wishes satisfied at once.

In social housing, most moves are of the ‘no chain’ variety.  You have to be very lucky to be near the top of the waiting list and get a home that is something like what you want.  You may have to compromise size or location, but as a tenant you are somehow expected to be grateful for anything you can get – especially when housing is in short supply.

Most areas also allow people to ‘swap’ homes.  But rarely is this more than a direct one to one exchange.

I think we should be able to do better.  Imagine the following, all living in social housing.

  • Michael has recently retired and lives in a one-bed ground floor flat with his dog but would now love to have a garden.
  • Audrey is still living in the three bed property her family grew up in, but the stairs are difficult to manage and the garden is too large.
  • Paula is also in three bed property with her two teenagers.  She wants to support her elderly mum who has just had a stroke, but lives on the other side of town.
  • Gary and Julie now have three children in their small two bed terrace and the arguments are starting…
  • Paula and Marc are expecting their number one, but are still living with Paula’s mum and dad in their two bed bungalow.

Following current practice you might be able to suggest some exchanges.  Perhaps Audrey could swap with Gary and Julie, at least Audrey’s garden problem might be reduced.   Or maybe Michael’s flat would suit Audrey – though Audrey’s house would be rather big for Michael and his dog.

It is really not very satisfactory.

So what happens if we make it into a chain, like the private sector does?

  • Paula and Marc can move to Gary and Julie’s small terrace
  • Gary and Julie can have Paula’s family three bed house
  • Paula can move to Audrey’s house on the other side of town near her mum
  • Audrey can have Michael’s flat and
  • As soon as a small house or flat with a garden becomes available for Michael, the whole chain moves and everyone can be a bit happier!

This works in the private sector.  And I want it to work in the social housing sector too.

There’d need to be safeguards – like tenants would need to be up-to-date with their rent and property be in reasonable condition.

Wouldn’t it be great if this wasn’t just a system in Derby, but across the country?  It could then open up employment opportunities for people currently fearful to apply for a job beyond commuting distance from their current rented home.

Now all we need is the IT, the safeguards and a willingness to give real choice and flexibility to people in the social housing sector, and hopefully improve social mobility too!

Who will help to make this happen?

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I’m just back from Radio Derby

Today’s question: Would it make any difference to walkers in the New Forest whether cyclists all had bells on their bicycles?

This feels like a storm in a teacup to me but it is the reason why I was asked to go in to Radio Derby this morning: A debate in Parliament about walkers in the New Forest concerned about ‘rogue’ cyclists rushing silently past them.  Earlier in the programme there had been an excellent discussion with Tony Roelich of Derby Cycling Group, highlighting the importance of courtesy.


The bell on my Brompton bicycle. I find a cheery ‘Good morning!’ or ‘Cyclist approaching’ is kinder to alert others.

Putting a bell on a bicycle sadly doesn’t mean it will be used correctly, especially by ‘rogues’ (whoever they might be!).  And would enforcement of bells on bicycles be a good use of public resources?  What about bells on mobility scooters, or runners, or horses?  And what about people who are deaf, or engrossed in conversation, or deep in their own thoughts, or listening to music.

Tony got it right.  The key message is really that all users of public spaces should be aware of, and courteous towards, each other.

The radio debate went on to try to identify the worse people on our roads.  Lots of different categories were mentioned later in the programme.  Cycling home, I realised that my pet hate is people who shout abuse at other road users.  If something needs saying, say it politely, your message is more likely to be respected.  It’s courtesy, again.

Meanwhile, it’s been good to hear people phoning in to say that a polite call from an approaching cyclist is more use, and than a tingingly bell.    Let’s hope that our MPs see sense!


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Derby City Council’s Cycling Champion

I was surprised and amazed tonight.  Derby City Council made me their cycling champion, and the position wasn’t even on the agenda!

Proving small cycle improvements, like this on Brierfield Way in Mickleover, can open up new routes for cycling.

Providing small cycle improvements, like this on Brierfield Way in Mickleover, can open up new routes for cycling.

I don’t think of myself as a keen cyclist, it’s just that cycling is a really good way of getting around in a city.   Parking a bicycle is rarely a problem compared to parking a car, and one can pause to chat, drop in at a shop or stop to answer one’s phone.

You don’t have to pay for petrol or diesel (or electricity), there’s no road fund tax and repairs generally cost much less than for a car.  You also exercise as you go, saving time and money compared to the gym!

So what do I hope to achieve?

Not surprisingly I’m still thinking about that one, so watch this space.  But if you’re reading this, do share your ideas with me.  We can achieve much more together than I can alone.

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Wearing Theresa May’s shoes…

Imagine if last summer you were in Theresa May’s shoes; you’d just inherited a party and country that had voted to Leave the EU, while you had (reluctantly?) voted to Remain. Setting aside your own preferences, but remembering that you have a party to hold together, what would you do?

Decisive action was needed. Leadership. Brexit must mean Brexit and we must make a success of it.  But how?

How we negotiate the process I would have left to the constitutional experts. I’d not try to second guess the Supreme Court and I’d make a point of strengthening democracy and giving back power. There’s nothing to be lost in being gracious.

Guiding the nation to success would be my role. So first to identify the challenges, then find the solutions.

Challenges are still appearing, but if we’d started by asking for them to be declared we’d probably now (March 2017) be further on. They would include:

  • Replacing the skills and energy of EU citizens who are currently vital to our economy. We’ll need to replace them without increasing net immigration from other areas, as that was such a key issue in the referendum. This will include NHS staff, domiciliary and care staff, farm workers, scientists and engineers, skilled tradesmen and entrepreneurs.
  • While there is a freedom to reallocate EU funding to deliver UK needs, there will also need to be a transition to post Brexit UK without too much disruption. So how would UK priorities differ from EU ones? We’ll need to think about agriculture, manufacturing, research and development, social investment and more.
  • On trade we’ll need to think about whether we’d be best inside or outside the Single Market – not just a knee jerk reaction but a rational assessment, considering the different impacts on different sectors. How much can trade outside the EU expand? Do we have enough people with the right skills in marketing and languages to exploit the opportunities – if they aren’t already doing so. And for key sectors, like food, do we need to become more self-sufficient?
  • We’ll need to consider the masses of regulations that have come from Europe. We could start with the very few that we actually voted against, but maybe presume that the others we need to retain, unless. there is good reason to reject If we are to have closer relations with other countries than Europe, maybe we will want to align to others’ standards for procedures and equipment from aeroengines and accountancy to pesticides and workers’ rights. We need to know what the implications of change might be.
  • Last, but not least, we need to consider our society. How can the families and friendships that have developed across Europe over the last 40 years (and more) be considered an asset, a help to stabilise and support our changing relationships, not a problem to be resolved?

I’m pretty sure that Theresa May has not done this exercise, as if she had, one of her top priorities should have been NHS staffing. If she’d been thinking as I’m suggesting she would not have cut bursaries for nurses just when we’ll be needing more nurses as we Brexit.

But then I usually wear more practical shoes that Theresa!

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