The Big Society - Public Administration Committee Contents


Written evidence submitted by Faith in Affordable Housing (BS 70)

The Faith in Affordable Housing Project Group welcomes the opportunity to respond to the PASC inquiry:

—  Faith in Affordable Housing (FiAH) is managed by Housing Justice, the national voice of Christian action in the field of housing and homelessness. Housing Justice unites Christians and churches of all denominations to work to prevent homelessness and bad housing, and provides practical support to churches and other faith and community groups engaged in work in the areas of homelessness and housing.

—  FiAH project evolved from the publication of Faith Inaction (Bessant, 2006), which looked at the development of affordable housing on glebe land. The findings were taken up by the Affordable Rural Housing Commission which recommended that the Church of England (and other denominations) look in detail at its use of glebe land for the delivery of affordable housing, as a follow up to its 1990 report Faith in the Countryside. Housing Justice was at the same time revisiting the Churches and Housing Guide: Using Church land and property to provide affordable housing (CNHC 1994). Members of the two groups were brought together by the National Rural Officer for the Church of England, and the project became managed by Housing Justice.

—  The FiAH guide www.fiah.org.uk (2009) considers ways in which churches - across denominations - can contribute to the provision of affordable housing. In late 2010, FiAH secured funding to support the appointment of a part-time Project Officer for three years to help to implement research findings and facilitate solutions that are acceptable to churches and communities in order to increase the supply of affordable housing.

—  The project covers both urban and rural areas of England and works with communities and churches of different Christian denominations; bridging the gap between churches and development partners, such as housing associations and individual communities.

—  The Project Officer aims to provide impartial advice and assistance to those within the churches who are responsible for property and finances, and works with churches and communities to find solutions that are beneficial to the Church both financially (ie by creating capital or a new revenue stream) and in terms of ministry and (eg by providing a new worship area, increased ecumenical working, or providing meeting places and services for the wider community).

—  The project's focus initially is on the East of England (ie Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire), with coverage being extended into a second regional area within three years. The project also responds, on a reactive basis, to approaches from Churches and other stakeholders from areas other than the East of England, as capacity allows.

—  FiAH is developing a database of affordable housing developments on Church land and property, a database of key contacts to assist Churches with developments, and an updated Guide, including a record of good practice case studies and land disposal procedures.

The following points relate to the questions posed in the PASC background paper.

1.  DEFINING THE BIG SOCIETY

Big Society should be about creating a just and equal civil society and about people working together to support each other and care for those in need. It should aim to empower people who are disadvantaged by society and enable them to develop and play an active part in their community. It needs also to confront barriers that prevent equality.

2.  IMPACT OF EXPENDITURE CUTS ON THE BIG SOCIETY

Communities will struggle to play an active role in delivering public services without support to enable them to increase their knowledge and understanding from either local authorities or Third Sector organisations; many of which are struggling to survive. Existing partnerships are at risk of being dismantled leaving further gaps in service provision. Local authorities and Third Sector organisations that survive are likely to have fewer staff and therefore less expertise to give support.

Communities may be deterred from taking forward community development projects if they believe that support (both financial and educational) is not forthcoming. For example, communities may be discouraged from instigating an affordable housing project in their community, if they felt that funding to develop such homes was going to be very difficult to obtain.

3.  THE ROLE AND CAPACITY OF THE VOLUNTARY SECTOR

The Third Sector has a wide capacity to deliver, but not without funding. Reduced investment in public services is likely to increase the pressure and demand for the services provided by the Third Sector. Whether the Third Sector will have the capacity to increase their role in public service delivery will depend on their ability to access funding for their own staff and other overheads. The role that such organisations play in addressing inequalities and giving a voice to disadvantaged communities is vital to the success of the Big Society, but will be difficult to achieve when resources are scarce.

Collaborations with other organisations may ease the pressure on some and provide more effective delivery of services, however local authority expenditure cuts may mean that it is less likely that such partnerships will include both statutory and Third Sector organisations and as the competition for resources increases, tensions between these organisations may increase.

4.  PROBLEMS AND CHALLENGES OF INCREASED COMMISSIONING

Without support to voluntary and community groups, some will struggle to deliver services on a continuing basis. Voluntary and community groups may not be able to plug all of the gaps across all service areas left by diminished public services, or pick up the delivery of services in less proactive and more disadvantaged communities, where it might be more difficult to engage with the local residents.

5.  RIGHT TO FORM CO -OPERATIVES

The Community Right to Build provides a mechanism for community organisations, such as co-operatives and CLTs, to bring forward development without having to apply for planning permission, providing that it secures over 50% support of the community through a referendum. It is understood that the Local Planning Authority will have a duty to assist community groups to bring this forward, but it is too early to tell what form of assistance this will take. It is also understood that there may be government support and seed-corn funding, but the details have yet to be published. There would need to be significant support for communities for the CLT and co-operative movement to expand beyond a few communities with skilled and educated residents. Education, on-going support and finance will need to be available to enable most groups to navigate the complex planning and regulatory system and have sufficient funds to bring forward developments. Without this, many may be deterred from initiating their projects in the first place.

6.  GOVERNANCE AND ACCOUNTABILITY ISSUES

Governing the services delivered by local communities will require a careful balance between monitoring the outcomes of the services they deliver and not imposing stringent evaluation processes that then either drive the shape of that delivery, or distract time and resources away from their core aims. New community groups, social enterprises, co-operatives etc., may require governance support, which could be delivered by other Third Sector organisations if funding was available to do so. Gaps and duplication in service provision should be considered.

7.  IMPLICATIONS FOR CENTRAL GOVERNMENT REGARDING COMMISSIONING

The availability of sustainable project funding for community groups and the Third Sector that support them is a major issue. There is a risk that some communities will be disadvantaged as public services are withdrawn. The less self-resilient communities (not just geographical communities, but also communities of interest) who do not have the capacity to participate may loose services that they rely upon, for example services provided for homeless people or for those with mental health issues.

8.  THE PLACE OF LOCAL AUTHORITIES IN THE TRANSFER OF POWER

In relation to the Localism agenda and the Right to Build, proactive and empowered communities will be enabled to take forward their ideas, and CLTs and other local trusts will be provided with the opportunity to keep housing and other community facilities as community assets. However, it could also give more power to those who oppose the development of affordable housing. It is understood that the cost of preparing a neighbourhood plan, which may include the provision for affordable housing, will need to be met partly by the local authority, i.e. the neighbourhood forum or parish council. This is a very heavy burden to place on communities and may mean raising the parish precept quite considerably in smaller areas.

9.  POTENTIAL CONFLICTS AND UNIVERSALITY

There is a risk that if there is no financial support for the organisations that support communities to deliver "Big Society" then only those communities with skilled, educated, wealthy individuals with spare time will do so. What will happen in less proactive and more disadvantaged communities? These communities may decline as their ability to help themselves is limited. In areas of social housing, the move to fixed term tenancies may threaten community stability and lead to a more transient population, impacting upon the ability to organise sustainable community groups to deliver the Big Society ethos. Conflicts may arise between the "have" and "have nots" as universal provision becomes increasingly a postcode lottery.

March 2011



 
previous page contents next page


© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 14 December 2011