Thursday, February 11, 2010

The TSA and co-regulation – reasons to be cheerful?

At one of plenary sessions at the National Housing Federation’s National Board Members’ conference at the weekend, the delegates were asked to put up their hands if they were optimistic about the future for housing associations in the brave new world of the Tenant Services Authority.

The TSA’s new approach to “co-regulation” (neatly described as self-regulation with a backbone of intervention in the Cave review of social housing regulation) is a new departure. The TSA is having a bonfire of over 50 pieces of regulatory guidance.

From now on housing associations will be regulated on the basis of “outcome” rather than “process”. It’s not a new idea – “by their fruit you shall know them” has been around almost 2000 years. It may be more tricky in practice for regulators to sit on the hands and await outcomes – especially if things go wrong elsewhere and fear of blame fosters risk aversion. Moreover, it is worth noting that a good process is not guarantee of a good outcome even with effective risk management – we live in uncertain times meaning that bad things happen to good organisations and vice versa.

All this may be academic - the TSA may well end up slung onto its own bonfire by a quango-culling Conservative government.

Nevertheless, a more targeted approach to regulation must be a good thing for housing associations – especially as it is associated with a re-orientation towards customers through resident scrutiny. As well as a welcome development, it does pose challenges – grown-up governance requires an end to clinging to regulatory guidance as a substitute for serious thinking.

So I did put my hand-up. I hope my optimism is not misplaced.

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