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About this book

Few single policies have had a more profound impact on the modern British housing system than the wholesale transfer of public housing to 'new social landlords' - primarily Housing Associations. This important new text provides a comprehensive account of the causes, processes and consequences of stock transfer.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Modernizing Social Housing

Abstract
This book examines a process that, over the past two decades, has seen the transfer of more than a third of Britain’s council homes from local authority ownership, management and control to the independent non-profit housing sector, generally known as the housing association sector. By 2009, in almost half of municipalities in England and Wales ‘council housing’ was a thing of the past. As the quotes above indicate this change process has been subject to many interpretations. For some it is seen as part of an ideological project, for others it is seen as a pragmatic response to meeting tenants’ aspirations as the following quote from the Labour Government’s first Housing Minister indicates: ‘I have no ideological objection to, nor ideological obsession with, the transfer of local authority housing. If it works, and it’s what tenants want, transfer may be the appropriate option. What matters is what works’ (Armstrong 1998: 4). What is not in doubt is that there has been a massive switch of ownership and management of former council housing to third sector housing associations.
Hal Pawson, David Mullins, Tony Gilmour

Chapter 2. Tracking Stock Transfers

Abstract
A small district council centred on the commuter settlement of Amersham may seem an unlikely site for the start of arguably the most fundamental restructuring of British social housing since the Second World War. Yet the December 1988 handover of Chiltern Council’s housing stock to Chiltern Hundreds Housing Association is generally seen as marking the beginning of the stock transfer revolution. In fact, Chiltern was only one among a sizeable body of councils drawn to the transfer option in the housing policy ferment of the late 1980s. Earlier in 1988 it had been reported that 30 local authorities across England and Wales were ‘seriously developing transfer plans’ and that up to 200 had made transfer-related enquiries to central government (Platt 1988).
Hal Pawson, David Mullins, Tony Gilmour

Chapter 3. Stock Transfer Motivations and Processes

Abstract
Promoting and delivering stock transfers is neither easy nor painless. For elected councillors, it involves exposure to significant political and financial risk, as transfer proposals are inevitably controversial and ballot endorsement can never be taken for granted. For senior management, the process is highly time-consuming and often necessitates extended working weeks and endless evening meetings. For middle managers and staff, transfer preparations bring uncertainty about job security generated by the prospect of major upheaval. For tenants, a transfer means a switch from a familiar landlord to an unknown and usually untested successor body. For central government, the post-1997 promotion of the transfer policy has required Ministers to face down vociferous critics (including party colleagues) and, again, has involved a degree of political hazard given the danger that — as in the Birmingham 2002 bid — a flagship project may be voted down locally. And, with transfer ‘transaction costs’ averaging £430 per home transferred (NAO 2003: 34), ministerial support for the policy surely implies a conviction that it generates substantial benefits.
Hal Pawson, David Mullins, Tony Gilmour

Chapter 4. The Politics of Stock Transfer

Abstract
Some early proponents argued that transfer would ‘take the politics out’ of social housing. By this they were generally referring to the internal politics of local government in which the housing service was sometimes seen as a pawn in games between political parties and between service departments. There were also concerns about clientelism and the way in which some ward councillors sought to influence lettings and management issues in their patches. Stock transfer was presented as a combination of managerialist common sense with the involvement of people of goodwill (without a ‘political axe to grind’) in governance. This ‘de-politicization thesis’ is common in both the discourse of stock transfer organizations and public policies concerning transfer and is found amongst some opponents of transfer who see transfer as part of a long-term trajectory in which housing questions are removed from political debates (see, for example, Kaufman in DCH 2006) as well as by advocates of transfer who favour a pragmatic approach to housing.
Hal Pawson, David Mullins, Tony Gilmour

Chapter 5. Governance and Accountability Consequences

Abstract
The spectacular implosion of the UK’s top banks in 2008 cast a renewed spotlight on corporate governance failings in large private enterprises. How, it was asked, could the boards of HBOS and Royal Bank of Scotland have provided such weak oversight of senior manager activities? Were the banks’ directors in fact properly qualified for their role and were they properly accountable to shareholders? What was the balance of power between non-executive and executive directors and was there a risk that ‘the very experience which is the reason for their appointment may itself have become out of date … past experience was no help in responding to the … huge technological and psychological shift in banking between 1990 and 2008 — it was the young executives who had the real experience of the new world’ (Rees-Mogg 2009). Such questions are neither entirely new, nor of exclusive relevance to the world of private business.
Hal Pawson, David Mullins, Tony Gilmour

Chapter 6. Organizational and Cultural Change in Stock Transfer Landlords

Abstract
A powerful narrative depicts stock transfer as a journey from municipal paternalist culture to customer-focused, business-driven, performance culture. This can be seen in national policy documents supporting transfer as ‘a substantive change of culture in the management of … housing’ (DETR 2000b: 63). Albeit primarily motivated by financial drivers transfer is also seen as facilitating ‘modernization’ to improve service delivery. Mintzberg (1993), a pre-eminent management theorist, argues that an agency’s performance failings may reflect a sub-optimal ‘fit’ between its form and culture, on the one hand, and the demands of its external environment, on the other. Hartley and Rashman (2002) follow this thinking in their work on stock transfer by emphasizing reform of organizational culture as the key to securing performance improvement.
Hal Pawson, David Mullins, Tony Gilmour

Chapter 7. Impact on Housing Stock, Tenants and Communities

Abstract
With stock transfer being a well-established policy there is now a considerable body of evidence on its medium and longer-term effects. Chapters 5 and 6 have investigated impacts on the ways that social housing is governed and the ways that social landlords operate. This chapter draws on findings from evaluation studies and other sources to assess impacts ‘on the ground’. First, we discuss the effect of transfer on housing stock condition. To what degree have transfer-triggered capital works remedied long years of constrained local authority investment opportunities and what challenges have transfer housing associations faced in keeping their spending plans ‘on track’?
Hal Pawson, David Mullins, Tony Gilmour

Chapter 8. ALMOs: Short-Term Expedient or Long-Term Alternative

Abstract
By 2009, almost 1.2 million homes had been transferred from councils to housing associations in England (see Chapter 2). However, this represents the cumulative impact of a process unfolding for two decades. The portfolio of homes managed by local authority Arms Length Management Organizations — ALMOs — grew to over 1 million in just six years from 2002–2008. By the end of this period, more than half of the housing remaining in council ownership was being run by ALMOs rather than directly by local authorities. Created ostensibly as ‘delivery vehicles’ to oversee property upgrading to meet the government’s Decent Homes Standard, there are mixed signs as to whether ALMOs will become an enduring component of England’s social housing landscape.
Hal Pawson, David Mullins, Tony Gilmour

Chapter 9. Local Authorities and Housing After Stock Transfer

Abstract
Thanks to continuing stock transfers, council housing has now disappeared from half of England’s local authorities. In Wales nine authorities had completed or were about to complete whole stock transfers totalling 55,000 homes by 2009. In six of Scotland’s local authorities — including the largest city in the land — council housing is no more. In addition, as discussed in the previous chapter, a large tranche of English council-owned housing has been hived off to semi-independent ALMOs. By 2009, only a third of England’s local authorities (34 per cent) retained council housing on the traditional model. The local authority housing department of old is, therefore, already very much the exception rather than the rule. Any continuation of existing trends would see such authorities reduced to a small minority by 2015.
Hal Pawson, David Mullins, Tony Gilmour

Chapter 10. Conclusions

Abstract
Britain’s social rented sector continues to account for almost a fifth of all homes and remains relatively large by international standards (Fitzpatrick and Stephens 2007, Whitehead and Scanlon 2007). By 2009, however, the sector was considerably smaller than at its 1980 zenith when it encompassed almost a third of all dwellings. More dramatically, while defying predictions of total extinction, the number of council owned-and-managed homes had, over this period, contracted to less than a quarter of the 1980 total.
Hal Pawson, David Mullins, Tony Gilmour
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