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Does Harrogate matter?

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It's here again - the CIH annual conference. The big one, the conference that matters - the event which brings together the housing sector, leading economists, politicians, academics, workers, developers, suppliers, tenants, ALMOs, housing associations, local authorities, trade bodies and think-tanks to think about and shape the issues of today and tomorrow.

It seems only five minutes since we listened to CIH chief executive Sarah Webb deliver the Housing Pact 2010 - and what a delivery it was, impassioned, articulate, purposeful, constructive. But did it matter? Did anyone listen? Did it help shape the thinking behind the ideology, behind the detail of the proposals impacting housing organisations and the customers we serve?

Last year CIH and its members and supporters asked the Government to continue to invest in new homes; to protect standards and investment; to set housing providers free from burdensome regulation; to protect investment and support for older people and care services; move swiftly from national to local targets; and to protect the environment in the form of support for energy efficiency in the existing housing stock.

In return, we offered to make public investment go further; drive forward sector-led continuous improvement; deliver value for money and customer-focused services; provide preventative support to save NHS resources, support HRA reform, empower communities to embrace localism, and support retrofitting,

Of course, the ink was already dry on much of the thinking behind CSR 2010, the Localism Bill and welfare reform plans well before we put together the 2010 Pact. A quick scan suggests we were partially successful - we are operating in the toughest economic and policy environment for many years.

For CIH this is a challenge and an opportunity. As the natural home of sector-wide good practice and innovation and we've never worked harder to support individual members and housing organisations through this period of change.

The 2010 Pact directly influenced the work of the CIH last year and how we delivered services and support - and many of the themes continue as priorities for further practical support and policy influencing.

But that was last year and the world is moving on. Will Harrogate 2011 matter - do we have a voice? The timing is good -the government is settling down after the initial policy blizzard and cuts of 2010.

The work we do to put together the 2011 Pact will build on the foundations laid last year, and perhaps we should view is as part of a three-part series - the 2012 Pact will coincide with amid-term government. The work we do now will help shape the pre-election policy landscape.

The 2011 Pact will be presented to the Housing Minister on June 23. It will help inform the work of CIH over the next year. You don't need to attend Harrogate to get involved - visit to help shape the sector's commitment and priorities for the next 12 months.

So does Harrogate matter? Of course, next year the annual conference is in Manchester and some are already mourning the move from the genteel boulevards of the Venice of the North to the grittier urban vibe of the Third City (sorry Manchester, I'm a Midlander and Brum will always be the Second English City for me).

What's important is that the CIH annual conference continues as housing's pre-eminent event - bringing housing people together to have a united voice, a voice that's heard at the highest levels. So to everyone attending Harrogate next week - enjoy that last cuppa at Betty's, please make your voice heard in helping shape the PACT 2011, and see you in Manchester in 2012.

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