Pan-London skills mapping programme, council-led housing delivery

This project was led and managed by the London Housing Directors’ Group in collaboration with the North London Housing Partnership. It was supported by London Councils and commissioned by LB Islington as the North London Housing Partnership’s host borough.


What went in
  • Priority area addressed: skills shortages in borough housing delivery operations.
  • Budget: £45,316
  • Other resources needed: Joint funding from the London Housing Directors’ Group.
  • Time taken to achieve outcome: Report commissioned in December 2019 and presented in June 2020.
What came out
  • Deliverables: A final report identifying skills and training gaps and detailing collaborative options for improving the borough skills deficit.
  • Indication of success: The project ensured wide involvement and buy-in from key stakeholders across the boroughs to both determining the scale of the problem and possible solutions.
  • A statistic to evidence the above: survey responses covering 29 of London’s 33 local authorities and 20 face-to-face or telephone interviews with senior housing delivery officers. Just 3% of survey respondents did not see a need for cross-borough collaboration on skills development.

Executive summary

The London boroughs are seeking to deliver thousands of new homes per year, following decades of restrictions that hindered their involvement in this field. But despite their ambition, they face challenges in accessing sufficiently skilled staff.

In December 2019 Future of London were commissioned to develop a report, part-funded by the Housing Advisers Programme and London Housing Directors’ Group, to map existing skills gaps and establish collaboration options through which the London boroughs could better recruit, retain and train their council-led housing delivery teams. The four options shortlisted from a wider range of proposals – pan-London (1) apprenticeship and (2) graduate programmes, (3) secondments with housing associations and (4) development of a new skills academy – were approved by the London Housing Directors’ Group in June 2020. They are now being taken forward to delivery, with an anticipated pilot launching by September 2021.

The report highlighted the extent of enthusiasm for collaboration among borough officers in this area and established a potentially scalable workstreams that could be amended to support skills development for other council housing department services.

Challenge and context

Councils are seeking to re-establish themselves as builders of new homes for the first time in decades, enabled by the easing of Housing Revenue Account borrowing restrictions and access to financial subsidy via the Affordable Housing Programme. Councils have ambitions to deliver thousands of new council homes a year; yet face challenges in establishing and scaling up development programmes. A significant challenge to this is the difficulties they face in accessing skilled staff, which is particularly heightened due to competition with private sector and housing association housing developers, which can generally offer a higher salary range than the public sector.

The project sought to build on past collaborative projects taken forward by the London Housing Directors’ Group and was delivered in collaboration with the North London Housing Partnership, with the support of London Councils. It sought to establish collaborative proposals that boroughs could take forward to improve their access to trained staff. In particular, this work has focussed on joint ways of recruiting, retaining and upskilling borough development officers.

What we did

Future of London were appointed in December 2019 to lead the delivery of this project and produce a report highlighting existing skills gaps and options that boroughs could take forward jointly to address these shortfalls.

This project involved detailed engagement people managing council-led housing delivery – including officers from borough development teams and those in borough-owned housing companies. This helped Future of London to map existing skills gaps, which was supplemented by engagement with providers to understand training options that are already available from the sector and shortfalls.

In total, the project engaged with senior development officers covering 29 of London’s 33 local authority areas via an online survey and a further 20 face-to-face or telephone interviews were conducted to develop a more detailed evidence base. The project engaged with 14 training providers to understand the coverage of existing training courses.

This evidence base helped support the development of possible collaborative options through which boroughs could better recruit, retain and train development staff. A task and finish group of housing delivery leads was also established, which met monthly to advise on the delivery of this project and help shape and shortlist the options that would be put forward.

The difference we made

The project established a number of key possible interventions that the London boroughs could take forward to address skills shortages in their development teams. Of these, Housing Directors are now working to take forward four of these options into delivery phase following the agreement of the London Housing Directors’ Group in June 2020 – (1) a pan-London apprenticeship programme, (2) a London housing development graduate programmes, (3) secondments with housing associations and (4) development of a new skills academy –.

Among other critical evidence gathering, the project highlighted the areas where significant skills gaps are experienced by councils. The report found that the most needed skills among councils (by percentage of respondents) are: Commercial assessment (28%), financial appraisals/viability (25%), identifying land (19%), investigating project feasibility (19%), initial site analysis (16%), project risk mapping (16%), writing procurement specifications (16%), legal construction contracts (16%), construction innovation (16%), sustainability (13%).

The programme also highlighted the extent of potential support among boroughs for working collaboratively to address this shared problem. Only 3% of borough survey respondents did not see a need for cross-borough collaboration on skills development, while 58% were supportive and 39% did not yet know, likely depending on the proposed interventions brought forward.

What next?

The London Housing Directors’ Group agreed in June 2020 to take forward four options detailed in the paper. These are (1) a pan-London apprenticeship programme, (2) a pan-London graduate development programme for housing delivery, (3) secondments with housing associations and (4) a skills academy programme for existing staff.

The task and finish group established to shape the report recommendations is now leading the further development of these proposals into a pilot stage, which should launch by September 2021.

Lessons learned

The project has highlighted significant appetite for collaboration at a Director level, as well as identifying a number of workable options to take forward. With boroughs also facing significant skills gaps in other areas, the proposals also put forward options that can be expanded to accommodate other service need.


Contact

Alex Sewell (Special Projects Lead, London Councils)
alex.sewell@londoncouncils.gov.uk


The report has not been published online as it is an internal report but is attached for sharing with the programme.