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SFHA Chairs’ Conference 2019

Blog by Gerry O’Sullivan, SFHA Chair

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The theme of this year’s SFHA Chairs' Conference was ‘The Link Between Strong Governance and Proportionate Regulation’. The programme was influenced by feedback from previous events and also reflected current areas of interest. 

The conference took place in its regular location at the Westerwood Hotel, Cumbernauld. As usual, there was some wintry weather but nothing severe enough to disrupt travel.

It was a busy event, with good attendance numbers, both residential and day delegates. There was a fine mix of familiar faces and first-time attendees. We were also able to welcome delegates from organisations new to SFHA membership, as well as some non-members

As Chair of the SFHA Board, it was my privilege to welcome delegates and to introduce Sally Thomas, SFHA CEO, who gave a short presentation on conference themes and emphasised the important role of governing body chairs and those aspiring to be chairs. SFHA Board Directors Joyce Orr, Julia Mulloy and Teresa McNally also attended the conference as did Board Director Dougie Mackie – wearing his West Highland Housing Association ‘hat’.

The first plenary session was a facilitated networking opportunity for delegates to share experiences and views with their peers and to identify what motivates them and captures their imagination.

The second plenary session focused on the forthcoming new regulatory framework and took the form of a presentation, followed by question and answer time, with the Scottish Housing Regulator (SHR) Board Chair George Walker and his fellow board member Andrew Watson. While delegates were understandably keen to hear details of the final content of the new framework, George and Andrew shared the information they could, while reporting that the SHR Board had yet to review and approve the final version prior to publication later in the month. There was discussion around the self-assessment proposals and recognition that further dialogue may be appropriate around toolkits and guidance for RSLs (SFHA having published its own draft guidance in 2018, with the intention of updating this when the new regulatory framework is published).

The last session of the first day centred on a new piece of guidance from SFHA, part of the ‘Get Governance’ programme, and focussed on senior staff succession planning. Consultant Linda Ewart, who drafted the guidance for SFHA, outlined the scope and structure of the guidance and highlighted some of the issues particularly relevant for governing body chairs when the senior officer announces they are leaving.

The opening plenary session of day two dealt with Freedom of Information, which is due to be extended to RSLs in the not too distant future, although the timescale remains unclear and is subject to progress at the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Information Commissioner, Daren Fitzhenry, who has presented at a number of SFHA events over the past number of months, provided a summary of the requirements of the legislation. Delegates also heard from Jean Duncan of Edinburgh Leisure about its experience of planning for, and being subject to, FOI since April 2014. Delegates were very interested to hear about some of the practical considerations and welcomed Jean’s offer to share relevant materials and documents.

Delegates also took part in a range of workshops, covering the SFHA Innovation Project, payment of board members, community benefits, and SFHA Model Rules Review.

The final plenary session of conference was entitled Stronger on the Other Side.  Martin Wilkie-McFarlane of Wellhouse Housing Association (and a co-opted SFHA Board Director) and Julie Smillie of Molendinar Park Housing Association, spoke about their organisations’ experience of statutory regulatory intervention and some of the human and financial costs incurred. Both organisations have emerged stronger, and remain fully independent, following statutory intervention. Martin and Julie both sought to identify practical steps which should be of interest to all governing body members. The degree of support both organisations had received from other individuals and organisations during the intervention period was noted and welcomed. This session was very warmly received by delegates who praised Martin and Julie for their openness, honesty and courage.

I closed conference with thanks to all involved in planning and managing the event, especially SFHA staff. My strong impression is that there was a good atmosphere at the conference, with lots of discussion and good delegate interaction. The delegates I spoke to enjoyed the event and found it useful. Delegates will be asked for their feedback, and conference presentations will be available on the SFHA website in the events section.