Branch Secretary :

London assembly questions housing association CEOs

Catalyst boss Rod Cahill fails to impress


Management communication with staff was allegedly helped by derecognising trade unions, at least according to Catalyst housing association boss Rod Cahill.  Not surprisingly, this statement in a reply to the Greater London Assembly Housing Committee utterly failed to impress assembly members. The exchange was part of a question and answer session between the Commitee and housing association CEO’s. Committee vice chair Tom Copley made clear that he wouldn’t accept that explanation from a private company let alone from a charity and his point was echoed by committee chair Sian Berry.


Not concerned to give accurate answers


In his reply Cahill claimed to have derecognised Unite, in fact he derecognised Unison which was the main union at the time.  He claimed that Catalyst had encouraged union membership which is strongly disputed by staff.  He also stated that union membership was just 10% of the workforce and this is also incorrect.  Clearly Rod Cahill was not concerned to give accurate answers to the committee on this topic.  


Sian Berry


We had written to the committee echoing the concerns expressed by many tenant groups at the increasingly commercial financialised nature of housing associations and pointing out that this was also reflected in the way many treat their staff.  There has been a widespread move away from good employment practices with some associations going as far as derecognising unions.  Just as Unite has fought bad employers in other sectors we will challenge housing associations.  If Ryan Air recognises unions, why not housing associations?


Increasingly financialised and unaccountable


In our letter to the committee we wrote “Our experience in Unite is that the worst associations are amongst the worst employers that we deal with.  This change has accompanied changes in the way tenants and residents are treated and we believe the two are closely linked.  Organisations which go to great lengths to avoid acknowledging a legitimate independent voice for their employees are unlikely to be open and responsive to tenants or the wider community.  We believe that they have become increasingly financialised and unaccountable; the clear priority is increasingly to please banks and investors above other stakeholders.”

Tom Copley


The London Assembly is investigating housing associations; while the mayor does not have a specific remit to regulate housing associations the Mayor distributes large amounts of funding and development land, so it is appropriate that assembly members attempt to establish some oversight of their work. Before the session housing association residents and workers gathered outside City Hall to call for greater accountability and for the publication of fire risk assessments. 


Fire risk assessments too difficult for residents


The CEOs said they were working towards making assessments available to residents, but they were not currently available because they were ‘too difficult for residents to understand’ in their current form.  Sian Berry commented that she had reviewed many assessments over the last year and she did not accept that they would be too difficult for tenants to understand and this did not seem to be a good explanation.



When asked whether associations would help tenants with fuel bills if adversely affected by loss of insulation when cladding was removed the CEOs said they were not aware of such an issue which surprised tenants as there is a high-profile campaign highlighting this issue.  



Answers to other questions around resident involvement left housing association tenants deeply unsatisfied.  The sizable attendence by tenants including Shac and other campaign groups is an indicator of tenant concern at the changes in housing associations. 


Paul Kershaw, Chair Unite LE1111 housing workers.


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