By any measure, 2010 has been a hell of year. On a personal level, it saw me relocate, switch jobs and get to know a new part of the country. For the sectors in which I work and the country at large, it was a year that saw a shift towards a new ‘reality’, sometimes at a bewildering pace.
For me, it can be summed up as a tough but rewarding 12 months. I’ve met some interesting people (a few of whom are detailed below) and worked on plenty of great projects along the way.
Below, in no particular order, are the five things I will remember most about 2010 (from a professional perspective). There are others I would perhaps rather forget, but I dare not blog about them (that’s PR for you).
1. Starting work at the Homes and Communities Agency: job switches are always a big deal, but the ingredients of my becoming the South West communications manager at the HCA combined to make this a massive change. Moving ‘in house’ from an agency role (which I loved), working in the public sector for the first time and getting to grips with different systems and an entirely new patch threw up separate challenges that anyone who’s changed jobs will recognise. Add in my joining the agency just before year-end in March (an extremely hectic time), then moving straight into the election period (more of that later), an era of new Government and latterly the restructuring of the agency, and it’s easy to view the year as a blur. Despite this, and partly because of it, I’ve enjoyed the role massively. I’ve discovered that the agency does a great job, often unsung but widely appreciated on the ground, and employs talented, committed professionals. Communications will have a vital role to play in supporting the changes the agency needs to make in 2011. I hope I am able to play a part in this. If I don’t, I am still pleased to have made a contribution to its work in 2010.
2. New government, new politics: May’s general election was always likely to set a new direction for the country, and the public sector in particular, irrespective of who won. Few seemed confidently able to predict the result, even after the votes were counted. What happened next, whatever one’s personal views are, has been the story of the year for politicos and the ‘man on the street’ alike. For the affordable housing and regeneration sector, it has resulted in a host of new policies (largely framed by the localism agenda) and a new way of thinking (partly driven by the fact that we must deliver more for less). As Nick Clegg stated in his pre-election TV hustings, the old way of doing things is no more. The HCA quickly grasped that fact. The challenge of articulating this new way of working to our partners remains.
3. Grant Shapps visits Swindon: the Government was barely two weeks old when Housing Minister Grant Shapps came to Swindon on his first departmental visit to help launch the start of work on a HCA-funded development. His visit to The Triangle saw Mr Shapps share a platform with Grand Designs‘ very own Kevin McCloud, who is spearheading the joint venture responsible for delivering the 40-home development. Mr Shapps got to hear of the HCA’s role in supporting and investing £2.5m in the scheme before rolling up his sleeves and examining the hemp-based material used to insulate the walls in the new homes. Some pictures from the event are below (courtesy of Hab Oakus, the joint venture leading the project involving Hab and GreenSquare).
4. Sir Bob says ‘bye bye’ to the agency: I remember saying when I was interviewed for my job in November 2009 that I was a big fan of Sir Bob Kerslake and that he was a factor influencing my decision to apply for the post. It’s a measure of how quickly things change that a few months later we were announcing that he was to be Permanent Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). We had met when I worked for the Sheffield Star, where he was chief executive of Sheffield City Council for 10 years, and a couple of times at the HCA when he visited the South West. I remember feeling gutted when I heard he was leaving. The news was understandably important for staff, with briefings arranged to reassure them about what it meant for the agency. Statements were also prepped in response to media queries asking whether this heralded ‘the demise of the HCA’. Those who were ‘in the know’ (including councillors who Sir Bob met in Swindon before leaving the HCA) welcomed the fact that one of local government’s leading figures would be driving the localism agenda from the top of DCLG. It’s a strong endorsement of the HCA’s role in delivering on this agenda too.
5. Tenants get what they deserve in Neath Port Talbot: the consultation on the proposed transfer of council homes in Neath Port Talbot to a new social landlord was the last one I worked on at IPB Communications. It took place against the backdrop of a particularly hard-fought campaign led by opponents of the proposal. Their oft-repeated (and wrong) claim that the Council spent more than £5m on the consultation was particularly galling for those of us who were delivering the work. It would have been easy amidst this to overlook the fact that at stake was almost £700m in investment to bring more than 9,000 homes up to the Welsh Housing Quality Standard and keep them there for a generation. This was far beyond what the Council could afford. Tenants had to vote to transfer to deliver this funding. In the end, they did so resoundingly, by 3,600 votes to 2,758, shortly after I had moved on. It hasn’t stopped opponents crying foul, but I have no doubt that this was the right result and was delighted to hear that tenants had supported the proposals, unlocking the investment their homes need. They deserve nothing less.
Happy new year to one and all. Here’s to 2011.