Housing is an integral part of infrastructure
"We engage in a range of skills and employment opportunities that benefit the local economy."
Chan Kataria, emh group Chief Executive
In April I welcomed East Midlands Chamber and business and political leaders from across Leicestershire to our offices. This event was part of a series of regional consultations on the industrial strategy in response to the government’s Green Paper and what role the region can play in improving growth.
It was important that we hosted this event as it gave us the opportunity to place housing at the heart of the debate about economic growth and improving productivity.
The snap general election will inevitably put the implementation of this Green Paper on hold, but we still need to get our views on the industrial strategy across to political candidates and voters. It is now more crucial than ever that we put housing at the top of the political agenda, and the best way to do this is to demonstrate our contribution to growth and development.
This is particularly critical in a region like the East Midlands, which has the second fastest growing economy in the UK.
The Green Paper outlines 10 strategic pillars that are necessary to improve growth in a post-Brexit UK. In terms of productivity, the UK lags significantly behind our counterparts in France, Germany and the US. The successful implementation of this strategy is crucial if we are to address the productivity gap.
One of the strategic pillars is upgrading infrastructure. Housing is an integral part of infrastructure but in the industrial strategy it is not explicitly identified as such, in the same way that energy, transport, water and digital are.
According to a survey carried out by the Leicestershire Local Enterprise Partnership (LLEP), businesses identify lack of affordable housing as a key barrier to economic growth.
The multiplier effect of housebuilding on the local economy is well known. Over the next few weeks it is important to get our message across to politicians that providing affordable homes close to employment opportunities can only benefit local economies, especially the positive impact on productivity that comes from a workforce having quality homes in the right location.
Above all, we have the ability to act in a counter-cyclical way due to our long-term sustainable assets and commitment to local areas where we work. During the financial crisis, housing associations continued to build homes when others stalled.
Another pillar in the industrial strategy relates to the development of skills. Here again, housing associations make a major contribution. As major employers in our markets, we engage in a range of skills and employment initiatives that benefit the local economy. Like others, we at EMH Group have apprenticeship schemes and are in the top 100 apprentice employer list. We have strong relationships with local colleges and other educational establishments.
The ability to encourage mobility of labour across the country in order to attract people with the right skills into an area will be crucial in the post-Brexit world, where free movement of people is likely to be curtailed. The work that associations do in providing affordable homes and building skills has the potential to play a significant part in meeting the aims of the industrial strategy.
Yet another pillar in the industrial strategy is clean sustainable growth and affordable energy. Housing associations are at the forefront of building energy efficient homes, which are good for the environment, help to address fuel poverty, and improve quality of life for residents. For instance, in Leicester we are building the largest Passivhaus scheme in Europe. These are 68 energy efficient and affordable homes without any gas or electric heating. This is environmentally friendly and improves the quality of life for residents.
We also use other green technologies in new developments, such as air and ground source heat pumps and waste recycling systems. As well as the benefits for our residents, they offer growth opportunities for these industries through increased demand.
I could mention the work we do on digital inclusion, community initiatives, work in sustaining rural communities, and care and support services. These all influence the ability of our consumers to actively participate in society and contribute higher productivity.
It is time to remind all political parties that housing associations are integral to a successful industrial strategy. What better time than now, when the parties are drawing up their manifestos?