Monday, 19 October 2015


Carol Matthews
and the 
unravelling of 
a housing 
Image result for Brandon Lewis MP. pictureSharing is all the rage in Whitehall as the Government tightens its grip on local authorities and gets them to pool their staffs and  resources. This week housing associations were  also being urged to do some sharing and the Housing Minister Brandon Lewis (right)
asked the associations to share their chief executives.
This idea  may sound revolutionary for many, but it is nothing new to the Liverpool based housing giant, Riverside Housing Association.
Followers of this blog will recall that three years ago Riverside pioneered
sharing when one of its regional directors said he was prepared to share do his job and be a police and crime commissioner at the same time.
Sadly, sharing jobs in this way did not work out as they were intended by the Riverside regional director, Patrick Leonard (below). While keeping his Riverside job he campaigned  as Labour candidate in the election for Cumbria Police and Crime Commissioner. 
He failed to get elected. And shortly afterwards, he resigned as Riverside`s Carlisle Regional Director.
Image result for Patrick Leonard Riverside pictureThe bizarre story could be used to illustrate the perils of sharing. But above all, the sheer impossibility of such a  sharing scenario  illustrates Mr Leonard`s lack of judgement and also Riverside`s lack of judgement.
With a background like  this, is there any wonder that things are now starting to unravel for Riverside? Many similar instances are starting to emerge of Riverside`s lack of judgement during the  ten years  Mr Leonard was regional director.
Mr Leonard`s boss  was Liverpool-based Carol Matthews, Riverside`s Chief Executive Officer. She has been quoted recently as saying that there is now a recognition at Riverside that things” have not been good in Carlisle” and that  Mr Dean Butterworth, the current director, inherited a lot of problems from his predecessor, Mr Leonard.
Ms Matthews  cannot escape her responsibility too for these Riverside problems 100 miles away in Carlisle.She is now said to be tackling these Carlisle problems.
Two hundred miles away in a different direction - in London - the government housing storm is gathering pace. The government  wants to increase home ownership and impose deep welfare cuts, partly through  cutting social rents.
And that creates more problems for Ms Matthews. The major problem is that Riverside faces a £100 million loss of revenue in the next four years  and a possible loss of charitable status which  would result in the loss of many more thousands.
How does Ms Mattews respond?
This is what she said in her  recent article in Inside Housing:
“The temptation is to howl. However, I think we need to be very careful. From the perspective of many of our customers, some of the government’s housing policies are great news, even if they are only the swings to the roundabouts of cuts to tax credits, benefit freezes and lower caps.
Who wouldn’t welcome rent reductions when affordability has become such a challenge, and the opportunity (at least for some) of a fighting chance of gaining a first step on the homeownership ladder? 

So there is a strong case for getting alongside our customers, and showing support for some of the government’s housing objectives, in so much as they are trying to help low-income families ‘get on’.

But that does not mean that our support should be unconditional, and where we see negative consequences, we should not feel fettered in speaking out, especially where there are constructive alternatives.

Once we have reflected, we need to develop a new, positive narrative about our identity, reaching beyond politicians, dare I say it to ‘middle England’ and the media they consume.

We need to describe the housing crisis in terms they recognise, and demonstrate the amazing things we are already doing to address it, even if we are a little more selective in our use of case studies.

At the same time we should articulate a new vision for a strong, efficient and independent sector, which is both a ‘safety net` for the most vulnerable, and a ‘springboard’ for all our customers to improve their lives – whether that is about the provision of basic shelter and the first steps to recovery for a young person who is homeless,a new home with budgeting and employment advice for a newly forming household, or a leg-up into homeownership for a working household.

The common denominator is always providing new and better homes, in order to improve lives through creating opportunity.

And at a macro level, we need to make a more powerful case for the role good housing has in the success of UK plc, and indeed in the regeneration of our regions as the devolution debate unfolds. 

Surely housing is as important a piece of national infrastructure as transport or energy? We know we need much more of it, but let’s ensure we’re seen as the ‘go to’ providers, because we are bothered about the people who live there.”

Carlisle Tenants and Residents Federation which has campaigned for several years against Riverside`s bossy and uncaring regime has this to say to Ms. Matthews:

“We note that things are now starting to unravel for Riverside in Carlisle, and as a result, some of  the issues we have campaigned about are now apparently being tackled. But much of  your article has a hollow ring, Ms Matthews. The phrase 
`The amazing things we are already doing`... does not ring true. Nor does` getting alongside our customers`...and `let`s ensure we`re seen as the go-to providers because we are bothered about the people who live there..`.
Bothered? The 6,000 Carlisle tenants and leaseholders have still to be convinced that you are bothered, Ms Matthews."

CarlisleTenants` and Residents` Federation publishes this blog. Information about the Federation is available on 01228 522277 or 01228 532803.

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