Michael Cameron - SFHA finance conference - 17 November 2021
I really welcome this opportunity to reflect on what has been the most incredible period, and it’s important that we all do that. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on what you’ve taken from the last twenty months and what you think it will mean for us all in to the longer term.
I’ve said on a number of occasions now, that social landlords were amongst the first on to the frontline in local communities to support people through the challenges of the early days of lockdown. They moved at pace to adapt to that new and challenging environment. We’ve seen landlords using their knowledge of their tenants and local communities to respond to their most urgent needs.
They’ve worked hard to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on their tenants and other who use their services. Early on, they prioritised that work over other more routine activity. And, of course, social landlords had to respond quickly to the introduction of restrictions that formed the national response to the pandemic.
For many landlords, that meant stopping much of what you would see as core activity, or at least this was reduced to a much more limited scale. A notable impact of the first lockdown was the near-total halting of repairing and letting empty homes – arguably one of a landlord’s most fundamental activities. And of course that has been a major contributor to the very significant backlog of people in temporary accommodation. It’s a stark illustration of how interconnected our housing system is, and highlights the importance of enhancing and safeguarding the resilience of core operational activities.
The Social Housing Resilience Group played a pivotal role in providing a forum where all of the key players came together to understand the impact of the pandemic and to develop the guidance that was needed to support landlords through the initial lockdown and beyond. And the Group has a continuing and important role to help landlords respond to the changing levels of restrictions.
On top of the recovery from the pandemic, we know that landlords will have to respond to a range of new and emerging challenges, including:
- the most challenging economic context in a generation, with many tenants and their families facing increasing financial hardship;
- the climate emergency and the drive to decarbonise heating in homes;
- growing problems in supply chains for materials and labour, that are driving up costs;
- potential increases in pension deficits, and the resulting increases in the contributions that landlords have to fund; and
- the need to invest to protect from increasing incidents of cyber-attack.
And that’s not an exhaustive list, and it only includes the ones that we can predict.
I think that agility and responsiveness are likely to be increasingly important as landlords adapt to the world that is emerging from the pandemic. Building and testing organisational resilience, including the capacity to handle unexpected events, have become even more critical elements of business planning. I think it will be hugely important for each of you to understand what your organisation will need to do to be resilient and to stay resilient.
And we are starting to give some thought to what a regulatory focus on resilience might look like.
The coming period may be the most testing that social landlords have ever had to face. But social landlords in Scotland have weathered many storms over the years in which they have been building homes and sustaining communities. That’s a track record we can take comfort from.
All of this suggests to me that there will be a clear need for the Resilience Group, or a similar forum, to continue the collaboration to support landlords to respond to what is an increasingly complex, volatile and uncertain world.