Housing associations provide the affordable housing that millions of people across the country rely on, and Mr Shapps believes bringing housing associations under the Freedom of Information Act could make it easier for tenants and the public to find out more about how their landlords work, and what their taxes pay for.
Speaking at the Chartered Institute of Housing conference, Mr Shapps called on housing associations to follow the Government’s lead and open up to more public scrutiny to help them drive efficiency and provide a better service to tenants.
Mr Shapps said the Government had put its own house in order by opening up to public scrutiny like never before, and it is now the turn of housing associations to embrace the new spirit of openness and become more transparent and efficient. He reminded housing association boards that, as social businesses, they should keep the salaries of their chief executives and senior officers under tight scrutiny in order to squeeze the maximum efficiency and value from shrinking resources.
The Ministry of Justice is currently consulting on potential inclusion of a range of further bodies under the Freedom of Information umbrella, and will now draw up plans to consult with housing associations on their possible inclusion in the proposals.
Housing Minister Grant Shapps said:
"Housing associations have a long and distinguished track record of providing the affordable homes the millions of tenants rely on. But with more pressure on the public purse than ever, all organisations that receive public investment should become more transparent and open to the taxpayers who put the pennies in the purse. Tenants should also be able to scrutinise and understand the way in which their landlords take decisions.
"That’s why I’m delighted that housing associations will soon be consulted on whether they should be included under the Freedom of Information Act. Transparency is not just a nice-to-have, it is vital for driving down costs and ensuring more is achieved with every taxpayers’ pound. Over the last few decades large amounts of ordinary peoples’ cash has been invested in social housing, and the public now deserve to know if there are opportunities for efficiencies that can be exploited, so the very most is made of their past, present and future investment.
"The public want to see value for money in organisations which receive significant public investment. So senior staff in housing associations who are earning high salaries should ask themselves whether they are justified, and whether it is a good way for a social business to spend money that is provided through the hard work of taxpayers, and the rents of tenants."
Ministry of Justice Minister Lord McNally said:
"The public deserves a Government that is open and accountable for its actions, and the Coalition believes that the same should apply for any organisation that performs functions of a public nature.
"This consultation with Housing Associations is linked to a wider programme of work that the Ministry of Justice is undertaking to extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act, which already provides a vital tool for people to find out whether thousands of UK bodies are acting in the public interest and providing value for money.
"We are already consulting a variety of additional bodies, such as the Local Government Group and Harbour Authorities, about their possible inclusion. We will also be bringing forward soon legislation to bring the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Financial Ombudsman Service and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service within the scope of the Act."
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