A new report from the think tank ResPublica warns that the localism agenda will fail unless the disconnect between government and local actors such as housing associations is overcome.
The report argues that despite the lack of resources for local authorities and support for voluntary groups, government can still deliver on the localism agenda by harnessing housing associations to meet local needs.
As well as being providers of affordable homes, housing associations have a wider mission and role. They already contribute an annual investment of £756 million to community and neighbourhood activities. Whilst many communities by themselves do not have the resources to take up the opportunities created by the Localism Act – such as community rights, budgetary challenge and neighbourhood planning powers – housing associations can act as vital capacity-builders and vehicles for community ambition.
The report argues that housing associations should integrate this social role into their core business model, and regularly report on their social impact in delivering services, supporting local organisations and enabling community ownership. Tenants and the wider community should be given a new ‘right to challenge’ to hold housing associations accountable to this role.
Co-author of the report, Pete Duncan, said: “Localism to date has not capitalised on existing resources and local actors. Housing associations have a presence and a vested interest in almost every neighbourhood. They have the skills, capacity and resources to be bolder and more radical for the benefit of residents and wider communities. Government needs to adopt a more strategic, organic and integrated approach in order to achieve the ambitions of the localism agenda.”