The Regulation of Registered Social Landlords (Wales) Bill

Oct 17, 2017 | Articles, Assembly Business | 0 comments

Plenary Tuesday 17 October 2017

15:02:38
Gareth Bennett AM

Gareth Bennett AM

Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)

Spoken Contribution – 15:02:38
Watch this contribution on Senedd TV | View this contribution in the Record of Proceeding document

Thanks to the Cabinet Secretary for his statement today. Of course, we all want to facilitate the building of more affordable homes, as Bethan Jenkins stated earlier. Some of the detail in this proposed Bill does seem slightly potentially confusing. Of course, I haven’t read all of the explanatory memorandum either. In fact, to be honest, I haven’t actually started it. So, I take on board that the devil is in the detail.

Now, the Minister states that RSLs fund a significant amount of their building activity by private sector borrowing. This is somewhat vague, as it doesn’t tell us what percentage of the RSLs’ funding does come from the private sector and hence what percentage comes from the public sector. So, I would ask if it’s possible that he can clarify this. My understanding is that, regardless of the technicalities of the terminology, if a housing association in Wales got into financial difficulties, then it would be the Welsh Government, effectively, underwriting the debt. So, could the Minister clarify this point and whether this actually changes in any material sense under the provisions of his proposed legislation?

Regarding the actual interaction between housing associations and the private sector, we have had recent news, a couple of days ago, about the Principality Building Society making a significant investment, so we know that housing associations are having considerable interaction with the private sector. When Trivallis, which largely operates in the Rhondda Cynon Taf area, undertook their last large-scale development, which was in Aberdare, it was done in partnership with Bellerophon, a private developer. Bellerophon developed private apartments in Cardiff Bay, which then funded the Aberdare social housing development. So, I would ask the Minister: is this the kind of funding model that he thinks the housing associations should be following in future?

Returning to the specifics of the legislation, the disposal of land—this was tackled by David Melding and by Bethan, so we have gone into this. We seem to be moving from a situation where, if housing associations wanted to sell off land, it would require the express consent of the Welsh Minister, to a situation where they only need to notify the Minister. So, given that there is a major housing shortage in Wales and we need to encourage housing associations to develop the land that they have, in what way does it improve the situation for the Welsh Government to make it easier for them to sell off the land, and is there an issue of accountability?

We have touched on the accountability issue, and the issue of councillor representation on the housing associations’ boards. Now, it does seem potentially problematic if you are going to reduce the ability of the councillors to influence the housing associations on their boards. Now, I take on board that you’ve said—was it you or was it David Melding? Somebody said that most of the councils themselves were actually in favour of this, so I’ve noted that. But, again, there is going to be an issue of accountability. So, you yourself mentioned that there will be strong scrutiny of the housing associations, so I would ask how that would actually operate in practice. And I think Bethan Jenkins made the very good point that the tenants’ rights are going to be of paramount importance. And, if you do reduce the influence of the councils themselves, again is it possible to increase the influence of the tenants? I know you’ve said that you’re going to look at that, so, if you’ve got anything else you could add, I’d be grateful.

Carl Sargeant AM

Carl Sargeant AM

Party: Welsh Labour 

I thank the Member for his contribution. He started saying that the Act was confusing, and then he said he hadn’t read it, which was even more confusing, on the basis to make an assumption like that—. First of all, the whole purpose of the Bill is to take this off the public borrowing sector because of the amount of money that is borrowed by housing associations. We would top our borrowing commitment in Government, and therefore we’d have to take that money from somewhere else. We’d have to make a decision to invest in social housing and remove that money from health or another organisation. So, this is a really important process, and the consequences of doing that are therefore deregulating a sector. However, I did say earlier on that our framework powers that we have in place give us a very strong position of influencing the RSLs in the way that they operate.

I think the Member, alongside Bethan Jenkins and others, has said about the influence of the boards is an important one, and particularly tenants’ representation. I’ll work with you to make sure that we get maximum support for that as we take the Bill forward. The Member raised also about particular funding models, about Trivallis in particular and the Bellerophon model. I don’t have any views on which financial models RSLs should use, but what I do know is that their current relationship with the private sector is a good one, and we must maintain that longer term, otherwise for the fact, as I said earlier, we will not be building 20,000 more new homes in Wales.

I will give the Member and Members some more detail as we move forward, but, in particular, I don’t have the detail in terms of the division of Welsh Government funding versus private sector funding, but I will let the Member know that in my response as we move forward. But I hope that the Member can bring himself and his party to support the process of this very important Bill as we move forward.dd, I’d be grateful.