David Bookbinder: Reidvale transfer process descending into farce

David Bookbinder: Reidvale transfer process descending into farce

David Bookbinder

The proposed takeover of Reidvale Housing Association in the east end of Glasgow could be seen as a farce if it weren’t so disturbing, according to the Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations  (GWSF) director David Bookbinder.

This week, Reidvale announced that the preferred bidder for the takeover was Places for People, the London-based, UK-wide ‘placemaking and regeneration company’, operating and registered as Places for People Scotland, formerly Castle Rock Edinvar.

Reidvale’s latest Transfer Newsletter says that PfP is promising a five-year rent freeze. GWSF notes that this is despite current rents being among the lowest in Scotland (the 3-apt average is just under £70 a week).

This compares with Reidvale saying that its own Business Plan would see rents going up 10% every year for the next eight years to meet investment targets. GWSF says it’s not clear where the 10% figure comes from as Reidvale doesn’t publish its Business Plan.

Reidvale HA owns 897 homes, with no outstanding debt against any of the stock. In contrast, Places for People Scotland has over £15,000 outstanding on each of its current homes.

What tenant is going to turn down the offer of a five-year rent freeze? The gap between their own rent and what’s paid by new, incoming tenants isn’t an issue for them, unless of course they apply for a transfer.

It’s clear from the language being used in the Newsletters that the transfer is being sold with such vigour by Reidvale that tenants surely have no chance of understanding the wider, long term picture. Any receiving association can say they’re cheaper if their performance is so much poorer.”

Data available on the Scottish Housing Regulator website shows:

David Bookbinder: Reidvale transfer process descending into farce

And against a rent freeze promise like this, the fact that PfP’s overall group structure is mind-bogglingly huge isn’t realistically going to feature in tenants’ minds. Nor, for example, how long it’s guaranteed that the local office will remain open and fully functional.

It’s also of note that Places for People Scotland’s current Rules state that its Board members are appointed and can be removed by the parent body Places for People, as well as PfP being able to appoint staff to the Board. So an England-based Board will have absolute control over (what used to be) Reidvale, in perpetuity.

GWSF accepts that transfers of engagement sometimes need to happen, but in this case we strongly believe it could be avoided with the right support from the Regulator and with staff and committee members motivated to try to keep alive one of the most iconic community-based housing associations in Scotland.

The default position for any association which encounters problems should be that it can usually be supported to survive. Right now, it’s far too easy for consultants and others to go into a troubled association and drive their own transfer agenda, with acquiescence from the Regulator.

In the long-term only legislative change will change this. But in the meantime, there is nothing to stop ministers from signalling a shift in approach, especially given all the current talk around community wealth building.

Reidvale Housing Association has provided a response here. Places for People Scotland chose not to provide one.

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