As we begin to implement our Real Estate Investment Trust which will bring private and institutional investment to the affordable and specialist housing market, my attention was drawn to a housing report, commissioned by the government from the chairman of the 3i investment group.
Sir Adrian Montague's report highlighted the need for encouraging funding from the investment community into social housing. It also stated that housing minister, Grant Shapps considered the idea of such merit that he was surprised no one had yet done so.
I, on the other hand, am not.
Since the beginning of the year, my team and I have engaged in extensive dialogue on exactly this subject with officials from the Department for Communities and Local Government, as well as with Her Majesty's Treasury. The topic, encouraged by statements from Mr Shapps, has been how to encourage more private investments into social housing. To date we have had no support whatsoever.
Another meeting has now been scheduled with the cabinet office during which myself, SAF Director Juliette Tarrant and our shareholders, will be making our case for private investment yet again.
Stop dancing around
This is no time to sit around. Inactivity continues to cripple our economy while hundreds of thousands of people live on the strees on in unsuitable accommodation.
By launching the UK's first social housing REIT we are doing our bit. The government should do the same by turning off the tap to the banks and directing those resources into kick-starting the economy and building desperately needed housing.
My friend and co-director Juliette always says "Stop dancing around your handbag and say it as it is." so I shall. The government is committing a cardinal sin: paralysis of analysis. In his housing statement last November, Grant Shapps said clearly that the government would encourage the role of the REIT in delivering social housing. Every single day since then, we at SAF have been working tirelessly to making that happen.
But aside from receiving an invitation to a consultation on the role of REITs and a few meetings, we have received absolutely no support from Mr Shapps and his colleagues. Because while officials from the Treasury, Department for Communities and Local Government, and the DWP are interested and have requested that we keep them up to speed with our progress, they claim that it is not the role of government to support private enterprise: not even when the mission of the enterprise is to help solve the social housing crisis.
The Montague report
I read Sir Montague's report with the backdrop of having spent eight months of laying the groundwork for the UK's first social housing REIT. In that time, we have made giant strides and are now ready to deliver. The government, however, is stuck at the beginning.
At a time of national emergency, the Conservative policy of reducing government input and engagement is entirely unacceptable and unhelpful in meeting the need og some of society's weakest. No government would be able to justify a hands-off approach during a time of war. Yet, in one of the most serious economic downturns of our time, it seems the coalition is comfortable doing just that.
The miracle of little ships
Perhaps I was naive when I thought the coalition would be able to deal with the current financial crisis. I believed that we would get a strong lead and that we who wished to pitch in and help would be welcomed with open arms. Imaging my disappointment. A government should not simply sit in a glass house and point out what needs doing. It should roll up its sleeves and get its hands dirty along with the rest of us.
We have labelled the delivery phase of our REIT 'Operation Dynamo' - ambitious in the hope that £700 million pounds of house building can help energise a tired and stagnant market. Appropriately, the name also sums up the 'miracle of deliverance' when 338,226 soldiers were safely evacuated from Dunkirk harbour in 1940.
The government cannot simply sit back and rely on the miracle of the little ships while offering no support and very little encouragement to those on the front-line. What needs doing has already been identified - more than once and by more than one person. Now help us do it.
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