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Hear the one about the Archbishop and the Poker Player? – @PaulDolan at #NHF13

Paul Dolan, Chief Executive, Sadeh Lok, gives his views on the final day of annual conference.

The last day of the conference started with the Archbishop of Canterbury and finished with an ex-professional poker player. Top marks for speaker diversity. In between the main stage sessions, a panel of planning experts and an eminent Oxford University economist.

The Archbishop was refreshingly self-deprecating, including reference to his recent dalliance regarding £75,000 of the church’s money invested in Wonga. Perhaps it’s the fact that he is a believer, in the important role of housing associations that he was so generously greeted. He described housing associations as one of society’s ‘best kept secrets’. His view is the general public don’t realise the positive impact associations have on society. He suggested the church was not a powerful enough organisation in its own right to deliver the societal changes required. His offer of working together perhaps suggests the embers of a re-discovered partnership for housing.

Just as we were on the motivational up we were brought crashing back down through the technical realities of the planning system. Policy Exchange decided to hijack the stage with an impromptu presentation. Fascinating as it might have been, my own selfishness focussed on the crisis of developing the executive housing market on ‘marginal greenbelt’ in Barnsley a point raised by Andrew Carter Deputy Chief Executive of Centre for Cities.

Now my knowledge of the planning system is certainly nowhere near my knowledge of Barnsley, the home town. We have touched all the way through this conference about resilience. Organisational resilience and community resilience. Resilience of communities is exemplified very well by many economically disadvantaged communities like some of those referred to in South Yorkshire. It would be nice if we could sometimes stop the theoretical self-indulgence, the intellectualisation of the obvious and collaborate mind and body to provide real life solutions. I’ve always been an idealist…

We then moved onto the economist for a check on UK PLC’s economic current and prospective progress. First the good news. Employment is growing, yes faster in south than in north with 40% in London, but nonetheless growing. Wonder what percentage are low paid and part time? Car sales are up, possibly not due to income growth but due to the PPI bonanza, and house buyers are waking up. Clever Mr Osbourne with his pre-election house price stimulation initiatives. Owner occupiers across the country can now sleep safely in bed. The bad news is the influencing factors for our future prosperity are in no small part dictated by what happens in the US. Look what’s happening to the Profit and Loss (P&L) of cities like Detroit.

Long term borrowing rates are now on the upward turn despite a pledge to forward guidance from the new Bank of England governor. Point 2, fertility rates in the UK are failing against a background of the ageing population. The result, older people working and living longer and younger people paying for it with reduced incomes. Point 3, the growing global population, increasing the demand for commodities and therefore pushing up their price and the changing global labour market.

Younger generations will need far more flexible housing options as internal migration increases based on shifting job markets across the UK. Most interestingly the economist reckons we’re going to see a re-emergence of the ‘landlady/lord’. Not the brewing variety rather that popularised by Leonard Rossiter as Rigsby in the 1970’s. I knew we’d get back onto the private rented sector somewhere.

Finally we tuned out of this year’s conference with Caspar Berry, Cambridge University graduate, ex professional poker player and advisor to the James Bond franchise on gambling etiquette.

He told us about taking risks in life and that decision making is about taking control in an uncertain world; that all our lives are a poker game. I suppose reflecting on all the presentations across the conference the common denominator is the requirement for a new sense of vision and purpose. After all, it’s clear although the rules may have changed and the stakes are higher, our job is to continue to ensure our residents and communities are not left with the odds totally stacked against them.

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