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SFHA Chairs’ Conference January 2018

Blog by Gerry O’Sullivan, SFHA Chair

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The title of the SFHA Chairs’ Conference 2018 was ‘A Conference With a Difference – For Chairs, Led by Chairs’. The structure and programme for the event was heavily influenced by feedback from previous events and the work of a planning group (thanks to the group for their work). 

The event took place in its regular location at the Westerwood Hotel, Cumbernauld, and was attended by over 60 delegates, of which around 30% were first-timers at Chairs’ Conference.  I feel that 60 delegates provided about the right number for this sort of event, big enough to have delegates from a range of member (and two non-member) organisations but not so big that delegates feel lost in the crowd.

As SFHA Board Chair, it was my pleasure to welcome delegates and to introduce the first session – an opportunity for delegates to take part in an open networking discussion, in groups. Rather than appoint scribes, we used Slido, an online interaction tool for events and conferences, to capture issues and ask questions, some of which fed into later sessions, the rest will be gathered by SFHA and used to inform future work and events.

The first plenary session after lunch on the first day was titled ‘How to Make Governance Work for You’.  Sally Thomas, SFHA CEO, opened the session with a short tour of some of the issues and challenges facing the housing association sector, including, FOI and GDPR.  James Tickell, the well-known and highly-respected consultant, gave us his take on current governance issues at a broad level, looking at how housing association governance fits in with current economic and societal issues and comparing governance and regulation arrangements in Scotland with the rest of the UK. This session also provided an opportunity to gather up some questions and topics for discussion in the session with the Scottish Housing Regulator (SHR).

The SHR is beginning a review of the Regulatory Framework for housing associations and had published a discussion paper just two days before the conference. This meant that the majority of delegates had not had time to read the paper. However, the purpose of SHR attending conference was not to obtain detailed feedback, rather to introduce the document and give an overview of the main themes of the regulatory review. SHR was represented by Chair George Walker, Deputy Chair Anne Jarvie and CEO Michael Cameron. Following a presentation by George Walker, James Tickell facilitated a question and discussion session which identified a number of areas of early interest in the regulatory review. The SFHA will be gathering member input over the coming weeks to submit a collective response to the discussion paper.

After the business of the day, delegates were able to do some informal networking over drinks and dinner in the evening.

The first plenary session on day two was titled ‘One Structure Doesn’t Fit All – Developing Your Own Governance Structure’. Karen Anderson, consultant and former housing association CEO, talked about the sorts of issues associations ought to consider when looking at their own governance arrangements, having due regard to the regulatory environment. Simon Mountford and Michael Grieve of Scottish Borders Housing Association described their recent governance review – what prompted it and how things have changed.  The presenters then took questions and comments from delegates

During the middle section of the morning, delegates took part in a range of workshops covering topics including, governing body member appraisals and developing coaching skills.

The final plenary session was titled ‘How Will the Economy Shape the Future of the Sector?’, and Sarah Boyack, SFHA Head of Public Affairs, and Edward Harkins of Clyde Valley Housing Association, set out a number of the economic issues likely to affect housing associations, including Brexit.

The conference was closed by Alan stokes, SFHA Policy Lead, who summarised the themes covered during the event. Conference presentations are available to members on the SFHA website

My impression is that there was a good buzz at the conference, with lots of discussion and good delegate interaction. The delegates I spoke to enjoyed the event and found it useful.