Friday, 30 January 2015

Thirty years in the making

Thirty years in the making

I can’t describe the excitement amongst my colleagues when the council announced that it was going to be building its first new council houses for more than thirty years.

Sue (centre) and I were delighted to join Emma Reynolds MP  last October.
With more than 12,000 on the waiting list – there’s a chronic shortage of council housing in our city. There are a plethora of reasons for this – the evolution of Right To Buy being one – but I’ll leave the whys and wherefors to the politicians to debate.

What I do know though is that the 40 or so new homes being built at Thompson Avenue in the Parkfields area of the city are going to make wonderful homes for the families who received their keys earlier this week.

I’ve watched with real interest as the site has developed over the past few months and back in October I went for a tour around the development with the Chair of our Board, Sue Roberts MBE. We’re going to be managing the new homes so it was quite fitting that the day we went was the day before her wedding anniversary (she won’t thank me if I say how long ago her wedding was!) But what was fascinating is that her wedding reception took place at the pub where the new houses will now stand. I thought that was quite fitting. Council housing must run through Sue’s DNA!

It was lovely to see the new homes being built. They were modern and energy efficient with lovely garden areas and I’m sure there’ll make wonderful family homes for many years to come. But of course what we really need now is more.

Massive credit needs to be given to the council for building these new homes and I’m delighted that we’re going to play a small role in some small new-build projects with the council over the next couple of years. But of course this is really only tinkering around the edges when it comes to solving the housing crisis in the UK. The National Federation of ALMOs say that the next government has the ability to free council’s up to build more homes. In fact, they reckon that councils could build up to 60,000 much needed new homes over the next five years – just by increasing the amount of debt councils can borrow against their housing stock. The case is compelling. It says that 92p out of every £1 spent on building stays in the UK and that 56p of this returns to the Exchequer - with 36p of that bringing direct savings in tax and benefits. In times of austerity – building things seems like a very sensible thing to do!

Now of course Wolverhampton Homes is apolitical - but with less than 100 days until the general election you’ll no doubt be getting letters, phone calls and leaflets from your local candidates. It’s no up to me to say who you should vote for (but please make sure you go out and vote for someone) but if you get the chance to speak to your candidates ask them what their views are on the housing situation and what they’d do to help solve the crisis. I’ll certainly be asking candidates who knock on my door that very question.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Credit where it's due this Christmas

Credit where it’s due this Christmas

I have to admit I’d never really heard of the shopping phenomenon that is Black Friday until last week.

But the news coverage and some of the, quite frankly bizarre, footage we’ve seen of people literally fighting over the last item on the shelf really shows something quite worrying.

We all love a bargain; especially in the lead up to Christmas. Apparently, on average, we’ll all fork out more than £500 on festivities and present buying this year.

It’s easy to get carried away. But then I look at some of the tenants I’ve met in recent months. Struggling to pay their rent, not eating meals themselves so they can feed their children, relying on food parcels, struggling to find work.

Affordable borrowing with the credit union
The pressure to spend at Christmas - and to spend way beyond our means is there for everyone to see. Whether it’s scrapping over a bargain at Asda or desperately trying to find a few extra pounds from anywhere to get that present that you know that someone you care about really wants. And quite often it’s the really important bills, like rent, which suffer.

And that’s where pay day lenders make their money. They know that people are desperate and they know that people are borrowing more than they can afford. So they hand out the cash, at extortionate rates, and create what feels like a perpetual cycle of debt…a cycle, which for many tenants in Wolverhampton it feels near impossible to break.

Earlier today the Wolverhampton City Credit Union launched a campaign to get 10,000 members.

I know some people will say that encouraging people to take out loans full-stop is irresponsible. But borrowing money, sensibly and affordably is fine. That’s exactly what the credit union allows people to do. It allows them to access affordable credit - to buy things like school uniforms, their football season tickets or maybe even a holiday. Or to help them out when something goes wrong – like the car breaking down. It’s a community-based ethical bank who estimate that last year alone saved its 5,000+ members more than £655,000 compared to if they’d borrowed from the likes of Wonga.

I’m delighted that my colleagues at Wolverhampton Homes are saving with the credit union. Through our payroll, more than 10% of my colleagues pay in to a credit union account every month. As indeed do I and the Chair of our board, Sue Roberts MBE.

Christmas is an expensive time of the year. But if there’s one thing I’d like for Christmas this year, it’s to see the back of unscrupulous money lending.

Forget Black Friday bargains – opening an account with the credit union could just be the best investment you’ll make.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Over 40 reasons to be proud at Pride

Saturday for me was all about Pride. Pride for the LGBT* community in Wolverhampton and also pride for my colleagues who were there in the parade and on our stall.

Over 40 of my colleagues were at Wolverhampton Pride, including members of our Proud to be Me Network, other colleagues and board members - a mix of LGBT* and straight allies. Everyone was standing proud to support LGBT* equality in our city.

This is the third Wolverhampton Pride we’ve supported and this year we felt it was so important that we were one of the main sponsors.

However it’s not just an issue that’s important once a year; At Wolverhampton Homes we are working throughout the year to become one of the best places to work for LGBT* staff in the UK and to provide great services for our LGBT* customers.

For over 18 months, our Proud to be me Network have been the key part of this work. They are a growing group of over 20 LGBT* and straight ally staff who are playing a vital role both within Wolverhampton Homes and in the community. They support and advise staff and work closely with LGBT Network Wolverhampton to make sure our services meet the needs of everyone.

I am so proud of the work they have been doing and I’m so proud that we had over 40 colleagues supporting them at this year’s Pride.

I was also really pleased to see the reaction of the people in the city, taking photos and videos on their mobiles and getting involved in the carnival atmosphere. In the year that same-sex marriage became legal it’s wonderful to see LGBT* equality becoming more of a mainstream issue.

Together we’re making a difference and Pride gives us a chance to celebrate that fact as well as show our support. Hopefully one day we won't need Pride because, no one will care who loves who, and people will accept people for who they are. That is my utopia because I truly believe that everyone has the right to be themselves and to be proud of who they are.