16th December Journal Column

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Last month, the government published a wide-ranging review of the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) that aims to help improve its efficiency and provide greater focus to its housebuilding work.

The review stated that the agency must have a clear principal objective of delivering housing. Going forward, it will need to remain a delivery agent for essential government programmes but should take a broad approach, using its expertise, land and investment to facilitate and maximise housebuilding. The review recommended the organisation needs to it become more active in the land market, to enter and shape new markets through Accelerated Construction, and to drive delivery of new products such as Shared Ownership and starter homes. The review concluded that the agency should ‘continue in its current form as a public body, but with a renewed and revitalised purpose of supporting housebuilding and increasing the supply of available land’. To achieve this purpose, the review recommended that the agency’s social housing regulation function should become a separate public body altogether. However, they have stated that this is merely an administrative change and will not affect the regulators powers or operations.

Currently, the HCA holds a dual role, as the regulator of registered social housing providers in England and the national housing, land and regeneration agency. The review didn’t criticise the agency, in fact it said that the agency was mostly working well, but suggested that the social housing regulation function become a separate public body only to remove the potential for conflicts of interest. This will allow for a stronger focus on the HCA’s primary objectives of housing delivery, regeneration, growth and devolution. For me, it’s a smart and necessary move, it’s best to avoid conflicts of interest altogether and not put yourself in that position.

The review was carried out between February and April as part of a wider programme of government activity to scrutinise the effectiveness and efficiency of public bodies. Improvements will also be made to the agency’s partnership working, with an additional emphasis on reducing bureaucracy and ensuring staff have the right set of skills for the future.The HCA Regulation Committee has welcomed the government’s decision to separate the regulator from the HCA, admitting it will strengthen their ability to promote a viable, efficient and well-governed social housing sector able to deliver homes that meet a range of needs.

Gavin Barwell, housing minister, said: “We are determined to create a housing market that works for everyone and the Homes and Communities Agency and regulator will play an important role in delivering the homes this country needs” – and I don’t think we can ask for much more than that!