Stop nominating yourselves for awards

When he’s not busy being a full-time carer, council house tenant and housing blogger, Rob Gershon likes to unwind by playing videogames.

Part of him wishes he’d done that, instead of writing this, the literary equivalent of standing next to people blowing bubbles, pin in hand.

Let’s get something straight from the outset: Whatever the hell is happening in housing policy under an increasingly vicious government, I genuinely believe there are hundreds, if not thousands of people involved in housing who are doing good work, and that some of them are still doing this good work in the best interests of their tenants. You probably all deserve a medal.

This work is not improved by holding award ceremonies.

I am not going compile a list of award events, in the gap between last night’s quadruplet of self-appreciation and writing this.

Frankly there just isn’t time to go and look them all up. Somebody suggested to me that there are at least 50 award ceremonies every year that concern housing organisations. This estimate might be overly modest.

This is a major part of the problem. Celebrating something for its value is arguably noble.

It might inspire others to better things, it might provide a morale boost to people involved in particular projects, it might give a higher profile, within the sector or the media, to the good works people do. This recognition is meaningless if there’s at least one award ceremony for every week of the year.

Before we look at the individual award ceremonies, we should remind ourselves that the government is openly hostile to housing associations.

Even Nick Clegg (Yeah, bedroom tax Nick Clegg) can see this, and he’s not exactly the sharpest tool in the housing box.

During the budget, in the formulation of the Housing Bill and in the still-unclear “voluntary” (quiet in the stalls!) Right To Buy Deal brokered by the National Housing Federation, it’s clear that one of the things the government is unhappy with housing associations for is their seeming inability to control profligate spending.

We’ve seen through media briefings and that lovely Jon Snow from Channel 4 news that individual associations have expensive CEOs and senior staff teams who collectively command salaries that could annually fund housing developments on a scale that wouldn’t have been exempt from affordable housing contributions in the good old days before starter homes.

The problem with housing awards isn’t the commendable desire to recognise quality work, it’s the total lack of self-awareness about how this looks to people who aren’t inside the insular housing bubble. When you’re involved with this stuff, you can’t see how it looks from out here.

From out here, the awards just look like last week’s Bromford Bash, an annual event organised by a single housing association to reinforce a single housing association’s ideas about a single housing association, at a cost of £100,000.

I did try and ask staff members about whether this was wise at a time when the housing minister is suggesting associations share CEOs, but nobody has got back to me yet, despite their reassurances that they couldn’t BE more value for money.

Let’s have a quick spin through the four awards ceremonies held on just one night.

First up, and perhaps most egregious, are the “Top 50 Companies in Customer Service” awards, featuring Genesis Housing. What do you have to do to be considered one of the Top 50? Why, you just have to send the company that arranges the awards some money, and then you are considered for an award.

The second awards night was the one that I feel most conflicted about.

It’s the CSI Awards for tenant scrutiny.

This one is a little bit awkward because one of the sponsors is 24housing, an organisation that I quite like, but that also holds its own annual awards ceremony.

More importantly, tenant scrutiny is something that should be celebrated. In an environment where tenant scrutiny should form the backbone of the regulatory requirement for resident involvement with housing associations, something feels out of place where only people who have been nominated for a commercially funded award are considered for public recognition.

The third awards ceremony taking place last night was the “Women in Housing” awards.

I should make it clear that the absolute best people I know in housing are women.

Given the repeated failure of men to sort the world out, I’m all for women having a go at it.

It’s an event supported by TPAS (and 24publishing, I think I’m going to get into trouble) and I can’t disagree with its premise, but these are times of austerity and housing associations still don’t appear to have completely closed the gender pay gap.

Now is not the time to be asking for between £1400 and £1900 for a table for ten people and £140 per room per night per delegate that stays over, as Brandon Lewis breathes down your neck about efficiency.

Fourthly, the most innocuous of the awards ceremonies, the Chartered Institute for Housing’s “Midlands Awards Dinner” 2015.

At a time when cuts to government grant and difficult economic times have seen the CIH post an accounting loss, it’s understandable that they’d sell sponsorship packages for between £750 and £4000 for organisations to support and attend the awards dinner.

Quite apart from having a “Young professional of the year” category which allows people up to the age of 35 to be nominated, this is just one of a host of CIH regions that will host similar, and not so similar events.