NEW BLOG an Englishman’s Home…

Posted: 07 November 2011, in Blog

An Englishman’s home…

Thank God I’m not involved in RSLs. I admire RSLs (Registered Social Landlords) but I could not stand the interference they have to put up with. This comes from politicians, Councils, the Housing Regulator, OSCR, funders and Uncle Tom Cobley and all. No wonder male pattern baldness is endemic amongst their leadership.

I heard on Radio Scotland that the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Annual Report highlighted the deficiencies of public bodies (inc RSLs) re their complaints procedures. Since when was a Housing Association a public body thought I.

Granted, they provide vital public services and they operate in a highly regulated environment etc but why are they deemed to be public and operating under the auspices of the SPSO? Does a private company e.g. SERCO providing public services for Councils have to meet these criteria too and if not why not? Check out what SERCO say about working with councils at this site and note the reference to large scale investment (£220M) by them and their Audit Commission citation as “best practice partners”:

Is the treatment of social enterprises indicative then of the nature of Social Economy/Enterprise – Public Partnerships where junior partners (us) get what the senior partner (the State) allows us to have? However, in a Private – Public Partnership are power and control constructed entirely differently because the State does not even consider it has the right to interfere in the inner workings of a private and independent business?

Reflecting on this, my view is that of all our social enterprises, RSLs are best placed to make positive structural changes in our communities. They have the scale, management ability and resources that most other social enterprises can only dream about. Unfortunately they are constrained by the State from being truly entrepreneurial. Private sector companies in Partnerships with the State don’t have artificial constraints placed on them preventing them from running their businesses as they see fit especially if other business opportunities arise so why does it happen to social enterprises?

Here is the problem. State folk don’t understand social enterprises or markets and don’t like dealing with risk and reward in a social enterprise context. However, if it is the private sector they are dealing with, they fall over – Trams anyone?  So, they assume their role is to manage the entrepreneurial actions of social enterprises and RSLs. Perhaps they don’t trust them to act responsibly without Big Brother looking over their shoulder.

Take this example; RSLs are subject to EU procurement rules. Why? This is stupid. They are not State bodies and they need to be free from all the bureaucracy that that implies. Only then can these social entrepreneurs deliver what we all want; successful communities. RSLs if freed from artificial barriers to social entrepreneurship could achieve so much more.

In proscribing the activities of RSLs, the State continues to work against what it says it wants; successful communities. This is because it can’t let go. Imagine all those politicians and bureaucrats unable to interfere in every aspect of housing and regeneration matters – what would they all do instead?

This is not to say that housing does not need a National Strategy, Management Standards and fairness at the heart of its provision – take allocation for example. The Housing Regulator could ensure all this on behalf of Parliament with all our support and best wishes.

Equally, if you take the public pound you would expect to meet certain operating criteria contained in the partnership/contract – but that should not include being told how to run your own business in other spheres. What RSLs don’t need are barriers to their entrepreneurial endeavour because they have been wrongly categorised as more public than other social enterprises and not as private/independent as commercial businesses.

So let me repeat myself. “Social enterprises are independent from the State full stop. They can work in partnership with the State full stop. They can make profits full stop. They can refuse to work with anyone including the State full stop. Their mission is their own business full stop”.

I’ll leave you all with a wee scurrilous idea. If you want to be an unregistered social landlord set your business up as a private business and just do it in the most ethical way you can, raise capital and build your business by reinvesting your profits. Become a landlord, employer and community member “of note “. Take independent control of the word “social” as applied to how you go about the business of running your housing/regeneration business.

You definitely won’t meet any social enterprise structures and governance criteria but you might achieve more “good” than if you were operating with one hand tied behind your back – because the State thinks of you as a public body and that you can be told what to do, what not to do and how to do “it”. After all if huge global private businesses like SERCO can hoover up State business without interference, why can’t the rest of us?


NOTE: This blog does not necessarily reflect the views of the Scottish Social Enterprise Coalition or endorse any political position.