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House price inflation slows to 2.7% across UK cities

House price growth across UK cities has reduced steadily across 2018 and currently stands at +2.7% when comparing December 2018 with December 2017, Zoopla’s UK Cities House Price Index has found.

The slowdown has been driven by price falls in London (-0.2%) and Cambridge, which has seen prices drop 3.8% annually while the rate of growth has slowed across Southern cities.

Richard Donnell, research and insight director at Zoopla, said: “Weaker growth in London, Cambridge and Aberdeen has been a large drag on the headline rate of house price growth across the UK cities index over the last year.

“House prices in London have been falling for almost 12 months while the rate of growth has slowed across cities in southern England, a result of growing affordability pressures, higher transaction costs and increased uncertainty.

“The strongest performing cities are outside south eastern England where affordability remains attractive and employment levels are rising.

“We expect current trends in price growth to continue across the rest of this year, with prices rising in line with earnings for much of the UK but lower growth and some house prices falls in London and the South.

“London will continue to register price falls, concentrated in inner London where prices have grown the most over the last decade. Prices continue to increase slowly in the more affordable outer and commuter areas of London.”

Northern, Midlands, Scottish and Welsh cities all lead the way for annual growth with Edinburgh’s average price up 6.8% annually; Liverpool up 6.3% and Birmingham, Nottingham and Cardiff all seeing prices increase by 5.9%.

There’s a clear North-South divide when it comes to house price growth. The 13 cities in its ‘20 cities index’ posting the highest growth are all located in the North, Scotland, the Midlands or Wales with Bristol in the South West the exception.

Other than Aberdeen, where the housing market has suffered due to oil prices, the ‘bottom seven’ cities are all in the South or East of England.

Some 10 cities have posted double digit growth since the 2016 vote, with Birmingham (pictured) (+16%) and Manchester (+15%) leading the charge.

In a reversal of fortunes, leaders in the broad recovery phase (London, Oxford and Cambridge) are now amongst the very poorest market performers post-Brexit vote.

Southern cities that outperformed during the broad recovery phase are now experiencing significantly decelerated growth, as economic and political uncertainty is more acutely felt here.

Source: Mortgage Introducer

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New flats for rent strategy aims to increase Edinburgh’s affordable homes

A strategy to encourage developers to build affordable flats for rent – despite concerns it could lead to “high end” developments with gyms and cafes, is to be pursued by Edinburgh City Council.

It is hoped a build to rent plan, where developers bring forward homes to let rather than purchase, will lead to house-building at a quicker pace.

The Capital is grappling with rising rental costs. The average monthly private rent in Edinburgh is currently £1,087 – compared to the Scotland average of £799. Over the last year, Edinburgh’s average rent has soared by 4.8 per cent.

Council officials will speak to developers and the build to rent industry to come up with a policy to support the initiative and “accelerate housing development” – with affordable homes set to be key to any strategy.

The council’s planning policy requires build to rent developers to provide 25 per cent of on-site affordable housing. Housing and economy convener, Cllr Kate Campbell, said: “Build to rent can be a positive part of the housing mix in the city.

Because it’s a long term investment, homes tend to be good quality and public spaces are well maintained, with extra thought put into how new developments will become sustainable communities that people want to live in. “The question for us in Edinburgh is around affordable development. Our biggest priority is building affordable homes in the city.

There have been several examples of BTR developments being let off their affordable contribution in other local authorities, particularly in England. “This is not something we would consider in Edinburgh and we want to work with the industry to work out how best to deliver affordable homes in a built to rent context.”

In a report to the council’s housing and economy committee, officers warned that build to rent developments have “traditionally been associated with the high end, upper quartile of the rental market, offering on-site amenities such as gyms, cafes and concierge services within managed housing developments”.

It adds that “high land costs” in the Capital need to be recouped by developers through rent to make schemes financially competitive. Vice housing and economy convener, Cllr Lezley Marion Cameron, said: “I think, given the uniqueness of our housing situation and the cost of living here, we need to be open-minded.

“There is this misperception that it does only cater for the high end. It has been delivered where all the housing through this model can be affordable.” But the council’s head of place development, Michael Thain,  said he “wasn’t aware” of any developments where build to rent scheme had provided 100 percent affordable homes.

Green Cllr Claire Miller said: “In Edinburgh we are facing an extreme housing shortage and build to rent is one of the ways that new homes can be provided more rapidly.

“I support proposals to work with housing associations and businesses to develop the council’s policy on these rented homes. People who rent deserve high quality affordable places to live. “ Conservative housing spokesperson, Cllr Cameron Rose, added: “I think there are many other reasons why the market is releasing housing so slowly and one of those is the council and its planning processes and its slow responses. “It’s not just a question of people holding back to maximise sales.”

Source: Edinburgh News

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Why hasn’t modular housing taken off yet?

Modular has long been hailed as a solution to a housing crisis that has left workers in England and Wales needing to fork out eight times their annual income to buy a house, according to ONS data published in 2018.

The homes are quick to assemble and are cost-efficient, they are built to last and they leave a much smaller carbon footprint than traditional housing. Off-site construction also means fewer builders are required, which solves another problem facing the industry – a shortage of skilled workers.

Last week Birmingham City Council proudly announced that they were to build the city’s first council-built modular home, yet in other countries, modular houses already make up a significant proportion of homes, with around 84% of homes prefabricated in Sweden using timber elements.

So why aren’t modular homes more popular in the UK?

Past misconceptions

Three million new social homes must be built in England over the next two decades to solve the crisis, according to a January report by the charity Shelter. At least 1.2 million homes are needed for younger families, who can’t afford to buy and face a lifetime in expensive – and insecure – private renting.

One of the key issues is that when we hear the term module housing, we often think of the prefabricated homes that were erected to address the post-Second World War housing shortage.

From spring 1946, more than 156,000 pre-fab houses were erected across the UK in record time as a temporary solution envisaged to last no longer than ten years. The houses were typically bungalows and while much-loved by residents, were built in a style which gained a bad reputation for being low quality and unsightly.

Although a few are still standing – a testament to their construction – the homes are poorly constructed by today’s standards.

‘As for the “pre-fab” image, modular homes have very little in common with the inter-war “homes for heroes”‘ says Jessie Wilde, relationships & projects manager at the Bristol Housing Festival.

‘Today’s modular homes are precision-manufactured, energy-efficient homes with high levels of quality control,’ he adds. ‘Their construction methods are more sustainable than traditional methods and modern factories can offer better working environments than building sites.’

Luke Barnes, CEO at Ideal Modular Homes, adds: ‘Some people may have a misconception of modular from post-war homes. However, since the 1940’s there have been major advancements in technology and building materials.

‘Here at Ideal Modular homes, all our properties surpass building regs standards, are precision built in just 5 days and to an unmatched level of quality,’ he says.

Although modern modular homes look nothing like their previous incarnations, some people fear factory-built housing would leave families living in tiny, “identikit” homes. Traditionally, too, homes in the UK have been built with brick or stone rather than wood, which is often used to construct modular housing.

Tackling the ‘change averse’ planning system

There are also challenges when it comes to off-site construction. More money is required upfront to invest in the factories required to build homes, which can deter developers, and they are also costly to run. Factories that create modular housing require economies of scale, but the industry is relatively small (compared to Sweden, for example). There is also a more general fear of change when it comes to replacing the more “traditional” system of house-building.

‘Like anything made on a production line, the modules can be made quickly in high volume and to a quality standard at a low cost,’ says Nick Fulford, CEO of modular housing brand nHouse. ‘As a result many people, including the UK government, see volume modular housing as the solution to supplying enough housing in the UK and improving quality levels.

‘Until recently the modular housing industry was held back by a lack of innovative house designs, inexperience in how to make factories work, an unsupportive mortgage and lending sector and negativity from local planners,’ he adds.

Most local planners are very conservative and ‘change averse’, Fulford says, adding they thought modular homes would be of poor quality and design.

‘Until recently companies have struggled because the experience wasn’t there, the designs were not right, the mortgages were not available and the amount of capital investment to set up a factory is substantial,’ he adds.

Wheels slowly turning

Things are now changing, albeit slowly. Last year, Berkeley Homes announced their aim to build 1,000 modular homes a year out of their new factory in Ebbsfleet, Kent. The insurance giant Legal & General opened their factory in Leeds in 2016, with the aim of producing 4,000 modular homes a year.

Modular homes have been planned for Bristol too, Wilde adds. ‘Modular build is used on constrained and unconventional sites because units can be lowered in by crane. For example, ZEDpod modular homes, exhibited at the Bristol Housing Festival launch, are designed for land outside the development plan such as existing car parks and hard standings.

‘Last October, Bristol City Council committed to investing in six rapid-build, modular homes from ZED Pods. The ZEDpods will be offered to people in housing crisis later this year, subject to planning.’

‘New companies like nHouse have joined the industry offering high-quality homes. There are now around 20 factories up and running and the industry is gaining in experience, the BOPAS accreditation scheme means that main lenders like Natwest and Santander are offering mortgages and the UK government has really got behind ‘modern methods of construction’ like modular.’

The Buildoffsite Property Assurance scheme (BOPAS) is a risk-based evaluation which demonstrates to funders, lenders, valuers and purchasers that homes built from non-traditional methods and materials will stand the test of time for at least 60 years.

Moreover, people who want to own their own homes – and who have been priced out of the property market – are less interested in how their houses are built. It’s more about whether they will last and suit their needs and tastes.

‘With billions now being invested the UK government would like our industry to supply around 60,000 homes a year within a decade,’ Fulford says. ‘So it’s going to be much more common to see all sorts of modular homes around Britain.’

Source: Environment Journal

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London house prices dip over 2018

London house prices dipped in 2018, with uncertainty looming large over the capital in spite of double-digit growth across many of the UK’s other major cities.

Property prices in London tumbled 0.2 per cent last year, according to new data which underlines fears of a slowdown in activity across parts of the capital’s housing market over recent months.

However, other major UK cities have shown more resilience despite confidence hitting the capital in the wake of the Brexit vote, with Birmingham and Manchester seeing prices rise by 16 per cent and 15 per cent respectively since June 2016.

“Weaker growth in London, Cambridge and Aberdeen has been a large drag on the headline rate of house price growth across the UK cities index over the last year. House prices in London have been falling for almost 12 months while the rate of growth has slowed across cities in southern England, a result of growing affordability pressures, higher transaction costs and increased uncertainty,” said Richard Donnell, research and insight director at Zoopla.

Donnell added: “The strongest performing cities are outside south eastern England where affordability remains attractive and employment levels are rising. We expect current trends in price growth to continue across the rest of this year, with prices rising in line with earnings for much of the UK but lower growth and some house prices falls in London and the South.”

Evidence of growth in areas outside of London comes on the same day as the Mortgage Advice Bureau said that there had been a “positive end to 2018 as the market is still busy in the run-up to Christmas”, with areas such as Yorkshire and the Humber, as well as the East and West Midlands, exceeding seasonal expectations.

Source: City AM

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Business impact of no deal Brexit on each region of UK revealed – CBI

The CBI has set out the impact of a ‘no deal’ Brexit on business, across every region and nation across the United Kingdom.

The analysis of government figures underlines the importance of no deal being taken off the table to prevent economic fallout and protect jobs and living standards.

Following last week’s Brexit vote, where the Prime Minister’s deal was defeated, Theresa May gave a statement in the House of Commons on Monday outlining the government’s next steps on Brexit.

Responding to the vote and the statement, the CBI has been clear that a March no deal must be taken off the table. This was backed up with CBI’s fresh analysis on the long-term economic impact of a ‘no deal’ Brexit which included over 40 real-world case studies of companies in every UK region outlining why no deal would be so damaging for their business. Shared concerns include border delays destroying carefully built supply chains and extra costs and tariffs damaging competitiveness.

Read CBI’s latest no deal regional analysis here.

While taking a March no deal off the table would provide some much-needed respite for many businesses, it is clear that the Brexit deadlock will only be broken by a genuine attempt by all MPs to find consensus and compromise. Next week will see MPs debate a series of amendments in response to the Prime Minister’s statement on the government next steps on Brexit, including proposals to rule out a March no deal. Those amendments selected by the speaker on Tuesday 29thJanuary will be voted on by MPs later that evening.  Following the vote, the CBI will be consulting its Chairs Committee on Wednesday to help inform next steps.

Source: PES Media

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Should first time buyers opt for Lloyds ‘no-deposit’ mortgage?

Getting together a deposit is one of the biggest hurdles facing first-time buyers.

Almost half (43%) of 18-35 years old’s say it’s stopping them getting on the ladder, while a similar proportion of parents (41%) say they’d like to help their children financially but need the money for later life.

Lloyds Bank says its latest mortgage product will suit both groups.

The Lend a Hand mortgage requires no deposit or upfront fees. Instead, parents put savings equivalent to 10% of the property’s price in a savings account for three years.

They then get it back, providing nothing goes wrong, having earned an interest rate of 2.5%, currently equivalent to the top rate in the market for three-year fixed-term deposits.

Meanwhile, their kids pay an interest rate of 2.99%, fixed for three years, which is a little above average, but not as high as many first-time buyer mortgages.

And, because you get your savings back, you could potentially use them to get several children onto the property ladder, one after another.

There’s even £300 cashback for the parents and £500 for the kids.

So, has Lloyds solved the first-time buyer dilemma?

‘Help to Buy’ properties are excluded

Help to Buy is a scheme where the Government will loan you 20% of the money for a new home – or 40% in London – interest-free for five years.

However, you can only use it for new-build properties from Help to Buy-accredited builders and, unfortunately, Lloyds’ Lend a Hand mortgage can’t be used for new builds, or properties in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Getting approved for a mortgage isn’t just about the deposit: you need to show you can afford the repayments.

In the case of Lloyds’ mortgage, you’ll need to show you can afford to make repayments on 95% of the property’s value.

Taking the most expensive property permitted by Lloyds – £500,000 – that works out as £2,105 per month for 30 years.

Even taking the average UK first time buyer house price of £212,211 you’ll need to stump up £894 a month and, due to regulations, you’ll get assessed on your ability to pay even more than that.

Should you just give your kids the money?

While it certainly won’t be the case for everyone, many parents of adult children might find they have a little cash to spare, especially with pension freedoms.

Simply gifting your children the money could help them two-fold: it’ll make their mortgage cheaper and easier to get and reduce Inheritance Tax bills.

Here’s why: if you gift them 10% of the property’s value, they’ll only need to get a mortgage for the remaining 90%. They’ll be able to get cheaper mortgage interest rates than 2.99% and access Help to Buy and other assistance schemes.

To the taxman, your gift will count as a ‘Potentially Exempt Transfer’: providing it’s under £325,000, and you live for another seven years, you won’t have to pay any tax whatsoever.

Could you lend your kids the money instead?

Many parents will be tempted to lend their children the money directly and cut out Lloyds as the middleman.

Unfortunately, this is unlikely to work out cheaper in practice.

According to David Hollingworth from mortgage brokers London & Country, many lenders will refuse to accept a parental loan as a source of deposit and, when they do, they’ll factor in the repayments as part of their affordability calculations, creating a “vicious circle”.

Hollingworth warns that this approach could “massively reduce your options”, possibly resulting in a more expensive mortgage.

What if I don’t have any spare cash?

Post Office’s Family Link Mortgage could help even if neither the parent nor the child has money to spare.

It does this by mortgaging 10% of the parent’s property – which must be mortgage-free – with the children making two sets of repayments for the first five years. The children will need to be able to afford these substantial repayments.

Alternately, Aldermore also offers a no-deposit mortgage where the parents are a ‘guarantor’, meaning their house could be repossessed if the children fall behind on their mortgage. The parents just have to pay legal fees.

Smaller operators like Bath Building even offer no-deposit mortgages where the parents’ income will be considered in the affordability calculations – potentially solving the problem of affording repayments.

However, the interest rates on such mortgages can be high.

Don’t forget the rival mortgages

Barclays also offers a 100% mortgage, with the parents putting 10% of the value into a savings account for three years.

Unfortunately, the rate the children pays is marginally higher (3%) and the rate the parents receive is slightly lower (2.25%), although as it’s pegged to the Bank of England base rate it could increase.

However, as the Lloyds mortgage requires you to be a Lloyds current account customer, if you don’t live near a local branch of Lloyds than Barclays could be an easier option.

Source: Love Money

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Why UK Businesses Need to Trade Internationally – The Key Benefits of International Trade for UK SMEs

The Key Benefits of International Trade for UK SMEs – As a business, you’re always trying to find and break new grounds to gain that competitive edge. But, have you considered going global yet?

The history of the world as we know it has been shaped by a complex concoction of ideas, events and people.

But there has always been a strong, undeniable driving force behind much of the development we’ve seen in the post-industrial revolution era: natural resources. The quest for the very best of everything that our planet has to offer has built, transformed and even destroyed civilisations, and international trade is a vibrant reminder of that fact.

Today, no country can afford to sit back and not engage in international trade. Many of Western economic policies stem directly from trade-related reasons and thousands if not tens of thousands of companies in the UK keep the wheel of our international trade turning.

But while all this happens, what does international trade mean for you and your business?

In the more-connected-than-ever world, you can’t possibly afford to ignore the possibilities that exist around the world. If you’ve been apprehensive about the seemingly complex international trade puzzle, let us break some things down for you.

Before that, let’s take stock of where things stand from an SME point of view.

More and More SMEs Are Trading Internationally

Thanks to consistent efforts of successive governments, international trade has seen some promising numbers in the last few years.

Although there has been a marked drop in overall exports in the past two years due to puzzling developments and speculations around Brexit, the overall number of SMEs exporting internationally has increased. The latest figures released by the government indicate that the number of SMEs exporting products and services internationally rose in 2017 by 6.6%.

“With more and more SMEs engaging in international trade (especially exports), it’s clear that it’s indeed possible even for a small business without millions of pounds in cash reserves to expand their operations, customer base and influence around the world with success.”

At 235,000 and counting, the SMEs trading internationally account nearly for 10% of all SMEs in the UK.

Benefits of International Trade for UK SMEs

While there can be cited dozens of benefits of international trade, here are the important ones that UK SMEs need to know:

A. International Trade Allows for the Diversification of Operations

It’s probably the most apparent benefit of going global for SMEs.

As a business trading internationally, you can easily diversify many of your business operations. This includes the two end-points of business – paying customers and suppliers whom you pay. You can access diverse technologies, market opportunities, natural resources and human resources, and make them all work in your favour.

B. Diverse Operations = Better Risk Tolerance

Risk tolerance is a business metric that defines how much of a leeway a business can have against various risks – from market events to uncontrollables like natural calamities.

When you start trading globally, your business automatically spreads much of its risks over a wider geographic area. Of course, this comes with additional trading risks, but they usually offset themselves with associated rewards. Essentially, businesses that import/export can tolerate negative events without sustaining much damage, as opposed to domestic businesses that can suffer irreversible damage.

For example, an unfortunate event like an earthquake can bring your manufacturing operations and domestic demand to a standstill. But if you export the manufactured goods internationally, you can still move the surplus inventory off your warehouses, maintaining the incomings relatively unscathed.

C. Trading Internationally Opens Up New Channels of Revenue

It’s no secret that you can’t have every type of demand in a single market. If you trade only domestically, your operations will always be limited to a certain type of demand. Any fluctuations in those demand forces will have a direct impact on the revenue.

Alternatively, when you trade globally, you can add multiple, previously-untapped revenue channels to your operations. This is just an extension of the previous risk tolerance argument we made, but it’s definitely one of the highlights UK SMEs need to think about.

D. International Trade Isn’t Crippled By Finance Bottlenecks Anymore

The second half of the 20th century was marked by epochal turns. The World War II started a chain of events that was propagated further by the Cold War, followed by the oil-centric upheavals in the Middle East. All these events meant one thing – the money gradually dried up from all international trade that wasn’t related to oil.

Lenders were unwilling to deal with foreign suppliers or banks, making letters of credit an irrelevant option for businesses. Today, we are glad to report, this isn’t the case.

Even a small business with limited capital can easily have letters of credit issued to the supplier’s bank without any problems. Thanks to the good perception UK businesses have in foreign markets, there are fewer things to worry about today than ever. If you’re exporting goods or services, you can just as easily arrange for flexible finance packages that keep the operations running smoothly.

When it comes to trade finance, Commercial Finance Network is an automatic choice for hundreds of UK SMEs. Being an industry-leading whole of market broker, we help UK SMEs access a diverse panel of lenders who bring on board decades of global trade experience. High acceptance rates, customised loan terms and fast approvals are just some of the features that make our trade finance services popular among businesses across the UK.

E. You Can Easily Beat Domestic Competition

Trading internationally means trading on a bigger and wider canvas. By going global, you can make sure that your business has an edge over domestic competitors.

F. A New Lease of Life for the Service Industry

Service provider businesses are among the fastest growing businesses of the 21st century, thanks largely to the internet effect. Given that the UK is one of the most important financial markets of the world, it’s no wonder that UK service providers – especially in the technology, financial and education sectors – have been reaping the rewards of trading internationally.

If you run a service business, you can – at relatively lower cost spreads – access and seize foreign markets.

G. Trading Internationally Promotes Innovation

Innovations isn’t just a buzz word – it’s the primary catalyst for business growth today.

If your business operates in tech, manufacturing or financial sectors, you know this first-hand. Innovation in a far-away market can often have an tearaway effect on your local performance. In such times, it pays to be connected to the world at large – something trading internationally lets you do.

Explore the World of Opportunities With Commercial Finance Network

Whether it’s sourcing better, cheaper equipment from overseas suppliers or exporting goods/services to foreign customers, every well-thought-out international trade move can be a game changer for your business.

At Commercial Finance Network, we help UK SMEs realise their global trading goals with robust, flexible and customised trade finance solutions – from affordable import-export finance to universal letters of credit. Let us worry about mediating with foreign banks and suppliers while you focus on your business.

To request a quote or talk to our trade finance experts, click here.

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Sharp rise in property values for UK’s top shared office space providers

The value of property owned by the UK’s biggest shared office providers soared by more than a third last year.

In a sign of the growing flexible workspace market, the value of the industry’s top ten share office providers’ property jumped 35 per cent to £13.6bn last year.

The new data, released by real estate law firm Boodle Hatfield, also underlined the growth in demand for shorter leases among major companies, with the 2017 average length for a new commercial property lease standing at 7.1 years on average, compared to an average of 25 years in 1987.

Rising appetite for such short leases and shared office spaces has driven an increase in traditional property heavyweights experimenting in the sector, with giants such as British Land, Great Portland Estates and Landsec all looking to tap into the fast-growing market.

“Shared workspaces have now gone beyond being a cool place for media and tech startups – they are now a substantial part of the commercial property market in major cities worldwide,” according to Simon Williams, partner at Boodle Hatfield.

Williams added: “The success of WeWork has tempted some of the bigger traditional players in commercial property into the shared workspace market. The expectation is that there is still significant growth in this market in the coming years.”

Source: City AM

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2018: a review of the year for the social housing sector

In 2018, social housing stepped into the media spotlight, and for the most part, it was for all the right reasons.

Although well shy of the estimated £42bn required for building social homes, Theresa May’s £2bn funding pledge for new housing developments provided a small measure of long-term financial security and confirmed that the sector has an ally in no. 10 Downing Street. The announcement – made at the National Housing Federation (NHF) conference last September – delivered a much needed morale boost to associations across the sector and ensured that going forward, construction planning will become more feasible. However, whilst the outlook for the social housing sector looks that much more positive, the uncertainty of Brexit and the prospect of a challenge to Theresa May’s leadership may temper the good mood; only time will tell.

The government’s financial pledge coincided with a year of financial strengthening. Throughout 2018 many social housing providers continued to develop their in-house finance functions, enabling them to more easily and effectively source funding. With the sector as a whole rising to a position of greater financial strength, we can expect more providers in 2019 to focus on improving IT systems and driving digital innovation. This will include digital housing management systems for better customer service, a growing use of data to offer personalised services and adaptive building systems for quicker design and construction.

2018 also marked the beginning of Homes England and further financial support for the sector. More than just a name change, the new delivery body announced a strategic partnerships project that will help associations with land assembly, financing and grants. As part of the initial wave of partnerships, eight associations will be sharing a pot of £590m with the aim of building more than 14,000 affordable homes by 2022. It should be noted however, that the uncertain nature of the building sector may pose challenges in the form of slow construction pipelines and a cooling private housebuilding market.

At the other end of the social housing spectrum, things started to look bright from a customer service perspective. A number of teams began to move to more innovative customer service models that focused on how they interact with the customer and importantly, give customer’s choice. Digital strategies will underpin this with more providers looking at the services they can transition online in order to offer more effective communication for their tenants. Providers are beginning to realise what the water industry realised too late – that the customer is not tied to them and they will need to invest in the services they provide their tenants in order to keep them.

The drive towards greater customer service is an ongoing trend reinforced by the government’s Social Housing Green Paper, published last August. Whilst much of the green paper fell a little flat (probably caused by the revolving door of politicians who worked on it), one phrase did strike home; ‘sharper teeth’ for the Regulator of Social Housing to ensure social homes are managed correctly and are of decent quality. Now acting as an independent body, the Regulator of Social Housing is expected to take a harsher line with social housing providers. It means that next year we will see more providers called to account and there will be an increasing demand for individuals with governance and compliance skills who can identify and address risk factors rapidly.

There was a notable movement of high-profile leaders throughout 2018. We have seen a raft of executives take the step up to the next level along with a host of commercial leaders entering the fray. 2019 is likely to play witness to more veteran chief executives leaving their posts, posing leadership challenges for providers as well as opportunities for those in the commercial sector who want to transition into social housing.

Looking ahead, Brexit poses an obvious void of uncertainty across the political and economic landscape that, depending on the outcome of the deal, may require providers to seek additional skills and capabilities. However, what is certain is that 2018 has seen foundations being laid for a strong future in the social housing sector. This opportunity for growth and development will bring with it the demand for a number of new skillsets.

Source: Odgers Interim

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How financial services firms can weather Brexit

As parliament considers how to pluck a withdrawal agreement out of the ashes of the previous draft, it is important that the respective interests of the UK and the EU are brought to the fore, particularly for the UK’s highly-successful financial services sector.

The UK wants a deal on services, covering 80 per cent of the economy. The EU wants a deal on goods, protecting its massive trade surplus. Some in the EU also wrongly seek to acquire dynamic control of the UK’s competitiveness – allegedly protecting a “level playing field”, but in reality going far beyond any normal international trading terms.

Two key issues are fundamental for the agreement in financial services: sovereignty and trade. May’s deal falls dramatically short on both, and parliament has rightly rejected it.

On sovereignty, the draft provides for a long-term shackling of the UK to various EU laws through the Northern Ireland backstop. The rules on state aid would allow the EU effectively to exercise unilateral control over UK fiscal policy.

Such an unprecedented, lopsided arrangement would subjugate the UK’s competitiveness, tilting the playing field towards the EU. The EU also seeks to bind the whole UK economy to EU social standards developed for the goods economy, and to environmental standards ill-suited to the UK that drive higher energy costs. These provisions are intended to underpin any future relationship.

On trade, the agreement fails to protect services business. There is a deal in goods, favouring the EU and imposing a customs union through the Northern Ireland backstop, contrary to the government’s stated long-term intention. This would prevent the UK from achieving trade deals in goods around the world and would also restrict it from agreeing favourable services deals.

The transitional arrangement is dangerous for the financial services industry and UK taxpayers.

It prevents the highly-regarded UK regulators from exercising control over the content and meaning of their rulebook, introducing unacceptable risks. It also allows, at least in theory, EU lawmakers to introduce rules detrimental to the global markets in the UK.

The deal then leaves the parties to negotiate mutual access arrangements during the transition. This permits member states to pick away at UK interests whilst dangling the negotiations, and EU state aid law prevents the UK from taking countermeasures to provide businesses with an attractive future regardless.

There is in fact a simple solution which would tackle all of these problems.

Given the relevant UK and EU laws are currently the same, moves can be made to implement a legal mechanism on Brexit, emanating from EU law, that achieves the outcome both parties have agreed they want – in November’s political declaration.

For services, the agreed trade outcome involves the mutual recognition of service qualifications, legal professional privilege and other minor matters. For financial services it comprises enhanced equivalence.

The existing EU law concept of equivalence, already in use with the US and other countries, would permit each party’s businesses to have access to the other’s markets, avoiding the expense of any duplicative regulation and supervision.

UK-based financial businesses providing cross-border services into the EU would be regulated only by the UK, and vice versa, on the basis the parties’ rules achieve the same high-level outcomes.

By thus replicating the benefits of existing EU passporting arrangements, this would save considerable cost, particularly for EU27 customers, and would enable firms to stop their contingency planning for a no-deal Brexit.

The relatively minor shortcomings in the EU’s current equivalence arrangements are fixable by filling in the gaps and ensuring the processes are predictable. Previously, I have proposed a detailed draft treaty which provides a legal framework and indicates how this can be done neutrally.

Equivalence arrangements come with no price tag in terms of state aid, social or environmental rules. These concepts are absent from existing EU equivalence arrangements with the numerous countries that are in place around the world. And equivalence is something the EU needs to declare for most UK businesses anyway, to protect its own economics.

In fact, the EU has already recognised the UK’s central counterparties and securities depositories as being equivalent from the moment of Brexit. Other equivalence declarations are likely to be forthcoming. The lift in agreeing to a more formal enhanced equivalence arrangement is pretty minor.

Importantly, enhanced equivalence would enable the UK to continue to treat Eurozone member state government bonds as sovereign – something the EU desperately needs so banks can hold them economically, in defiance of international Basel rules.

Without this, Eurozone states would find it difficult to raise much-needed capital, and their domestic banks would have trouble dealing in the international markets. The UK can, by using its other levers under equivalence-based arrangements, address surges in eurozone risk.

What matters for a revised withdrawal deal is that the UK’s aims for sovereignty and trade are respected.

For financial services, without a move to equivalence, markets and taxpayers could suffer and much could be lost. Agreement in principle already exists. There is no reason not to cement things straight away, removing the uncertainty that is damaging to all.

Source: City AM