Ben Lowndes #viewsoncomms

A perspective on PR, development and life in the South West

Reasons to be upbeat after Homes England launch

So, after months and months of preparation, Homes England has arrived.

The Government announced today that the body formerly known as the Homes and Communities Agency has changed and will play a key role in delivering the 300,000 homes a year it has promised.

The change was trailed by the HCA over many months and was planned for last year after it was announced in the White Paper. The housing sector appeared to welcome it, judging by the use of the #WeAreHomesEngland hashtag on Twitter this morning.

It was great to see staff at all levels of the organisation get involved in the conversation too. A small indication, perhaps, of the confidence teams have to publicly support the organisation’s purpose. This is going to be important if small businesses who don’t know the organisation are to understand how it can help them.

I missed the start of the Twitter conversation, so set up a spreadsheet in Google Drive to automatically capture use of the hashtag. This found it was posted or shared more than 150 times during the day since I set it up, so let’s say there were around 200* from the first tweet. Either way, it’s fair to say it was well received online without a huge build up.

What’s in a name?

The move comes days after the HCA’s sponsor department’s name also changed to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (and the tricky acronym MHCLG). Some asked whether any of this makes any difference, which is a fair question.

But context is important. After such a huge 12 months for housing, which has propelled it to the top of the government’s priority list, it shouldn’t be dismissed by those working with the sector. Here are a few reasons why.

Firstly, and fundamentally, Homes England has more money to invest in all tenures, from helping homeowners through Help to Buy to providing funding for social housing in areas where need is acute. As someone who worked at the HCA when funding for social housing was being killed off, it’s significant to see support for it back on the table at all.

Secondly, the language is more confident and challenging than before. Homes England doesn’t appear to be concerned about urging the sector to ‘step up’ and help it deliver. Senior staff speak about ‘disrupting the market’. There’s talk of taking legal action to buy sites where homes are needed but aren’t being built. And the Chief Executive Nick Walkley (follow him on Twitter if you’re into housing) is a clear and direct communicator. I have only met him briefly once, so can’t say I know him well. But he appears to be the sort of CEO that good comms people would love to work for.

Finally, the body has the backing of a Secretary of State who is genuine in his determination to address the crisis and realises that it can’t be done without Home England’s expertise. Need convincing? Check out his speech on the state of the housing market in Bristol days before the budget. His criticism of councils with no long-term plans in place and people who don’t accept the need for more homes felt pivotal in securing housing’s top status billing in the budget.

As always with these things, the devil is in the detail. Others will have a better grasp of this than me.

But watching and reading the reaction today, it felt like an important moment. For those who’ve been asking for certainty, support and a place at the top table for housing, that time has arrived.

Eyes are on the sector this year and it needs to deliver. I’ve not been so excited to be working in it for a long time.

And I’m looking forward to seeing what a better housing market will look like.

*Update* As of midday on 12 January, I’m told that the hashtag was used about 300 times since the launch started. 

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