Black’s Blog: Issues from the Reidvale transfer saga

Black’s Blog: Issues from the Reidvale transfer saga

Never mind what you think about it, the rejection by shareholders of Places for People’s bid for Reidvale Housing Association throws up some big issues.

Let’s start with the Scottish Government’s desire to encourage “community wealth building”. What that means isn’t clear to everyone, but you can be fairly sure that the local ownership and control of 900 viable homes in an established community fits the description. Places for People is a not for profit landlord, but it’s huge and controlled from far away.

On our podcast Paul Sweeney MSP makes the point forcefully that the Scottish Housing Regulator should be “reprogrammed” by the Scottish Government to encourage and support community-based housing associations to remain in local control.

I completely agree that takeovers by large, distant organisations should be resisted, but in reality every community-based organisation has rocky patches. Finding committee members to oversee professional managers can be hard and the level of regulation means retired accountants and lawyers are more comfortable with the paperwork than others with different backgrounds.

The Regulator can go into a struggling association with the aim of finding any safe and viable way of protecting the interests of tenants, including transfers to English-based behemoths; or it could defend the principle of local community ownership and set out to maintain local control. Paul Sweeney suggests joint working with other local social landlords, which seems like a logical way forward. Interestingly John Mason MSP says none of them were interested, which I find surprising. No doubt they could be asked again.

The second big issue which concerns me is that tenants voted for a five-year rent freeze, big investment and a takeover by Places for People, and that has been snatched away from them. Generally, something that sounds too good to be true is …. not true, but presumably the Regulator would have been watching closely to ensure PfP kept their promises.

Paul Sweeney and the campaign against the transfer maintain that tenants did not have the full range of information when they made their decision, and I have no idea if they did or not. However, there was a majority vote, on a reasonable turnout. Our other guest on the podcast, Lesley Baird, has spent her career empowering tenants, providing impartial advice on proposed stock transfers and tenant participation generally.

She convinces tenants that it is worth coming out to vote when stock transfers are considered because tenants’ decisions will be respected. Not this time, though. And while Paul Sweeney says that many tenants are regretting their vote, I guess there will be others who are furious.

It’s not so long since tenants had no say at all in takeovers or mergers. The only people who were asked to vote were the members, or shareholders. Generally shareholders don’t have to be tenants. They may have been tenants, or they may be people who served on the Committee twenty years ago, or people who have moved out of the area. (I write as a £1 shareholder, not a tenant, of a social landlord).

Certainly, they may have the best interests of the association at heart, but they don’t have the same stake as tenants who actually live in the houses, pay the rents and need the repairs. Lesley Baird believes it’s time to take a look at the whole process to see where the power should lie. Perhaps a simple majority of tenants is not enough, but if two thirds of tenants decide to merge, should that trump the members?

Lesley may have a point, but in the meantime, I think we all need a better understanding of the role of members and how we can support them. Every association should be asking …

  • how many members do we have?
  • what is the proportion of tenants, owners and others?
  • how many have we recruited in recent years?
  • do we provide them with any information beyond the AGM papers?
  • how many of them are personally known to senior staff or board members?
  • when did we last ask our members anything?

Yes, more work for busy staff and committee members, but Reidvale has demonstrated to those of us who had forgotten that members have the ultimate power and they should not be taken for granted.

Ultimate power? Listen to the podcast to find out what Paul Sweeney MSP thinks would happen if the Regulator directed a transfer to Places for People, in spite of the members’ vote.

Further reading:

  • You can catch up with all the news on Reidvale Housing Association here.

The Scottish Housing News Podcast is co-hosted by Kieran Findlay and Jimmy Black. All episodes are available here as well as on the following platforms:

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