The Northern Housing Consortium (NHC) represents the views of housing organisations in the North of England; this includes local authorities, ALMOs and associations that provide social housing for tenants. Tom Neely, Housing Practice Lead at Berwick Partners, speaks to Tracy Harrison is Chief Executive of the NHC about her thoughts and opinions regarding opportunities in the North given the current economic climate. Plus, of course, what the NHC is doing for its members.
Prior to joining the NHC in 2006, Tracy held a variety of senior marketing and business development posts in blue chip private sector organisations, including Fast Moving Consumer Goods giant, Robert McBride, and Sage Software. With the housing sector’s ever-increasing focus on driving efficiencies, Tracy has been instrumental in ensuring that NHC offers its members products and services which support them with achieving this aim and developing solutions which can help improve the service they offer to their customers. Tracy has also helped to develop NHC’s influencing activities, particularly around placemaking and addressing quality issues within the North’s housing stock. Tracy is also an Independent Board Member of The Gateshead Housing Company and a Trustee of Age UK North Tyneside.
What advice would you give right now to the Housing sector?
Well, as Chief Executive of the Northern Housing Consortium, I obviously view this from a Northern perspective.
These are undoubtedly challenging times for every organisation; however, I think the social housing sector is actually in a really strong position. These are counter-cyclical organisations and government will rely upon the sector to continue to build even during a downturn, as it historically has done. Our members have clearly demonstrated their role and value as community anchor institutions during the crisis and have really stepped up to support their communities. There is now huge potential for housing in the North to make a significant contribution to government’s levelling up agenda and to the North’s economic recovery post-COVID.
In the current climate and market, what do you see as the potential opportunities?
We see net zero carbon as a huge opportunity. Across the North, approximately 25% of all emissions come from existing housing stock and so we need to deal with this. Retrofitting these homes will be necessary to deliver on net zero, and in the social sector there is potentially a viable delivery mechanism. Improving the North’s homes could create 20,000 jobs and provide a direct and positive impact on local supply chains. It will put money back in people’s pockets through energy bill savings and reduce pressure on the NHS.
The Chancellor’s recognition of the job-creation potential of a home retrofit programme in his Summer Economic Update was very encouraging and we’d like him to push even further with this concept which would help people living in the North in so many ways.
We would like to see the Chancellor’s next step be to bring forward the promised £3.8bn social housing decarbonisation fund – so that councils and housing associations can retrofit homes at scale and speed. This will maximise the job-creation potential of retrofit and contribute to Government ambitions on net zero and levelling-up.
We also see the North’s delivery of new homes as integral to the wider economic recovery. The North needs a housing offer to meet the needs of its current and future population – around 50,000 new homes every year. Building new affordable homes, and readying sites for future housing growth of all tenures will provide an immediate, tried-and-tested boost to the Northern economy. It will contribute to Government’s ambition to boost housing supply across the country.
What do you see as the future for Housing Sector?
It’s an exciting time for the sector and the transformation in the way that people work will potentially have a positive impact on people’s lives and wellbeing. I also feel that the way our members interact with their customers will change and certainly we are seeing plans for digitisation of services have been massively accelerated as a result of the pandemic.
During your career to date, what have been the biggest learnings?
Remain open to new ideas and opportunities. Surround yourself with those you can learn from. Empower your people and trust them to do a good job – they very rarely let you down. Don’t take things too much to heart – not everyone will like or agree with you. Don’t be afraid to be your true self or to show vulnerability. And ‘luck’ happens when hard work and preparation collide!