Stephen Williams – 2014 Speech on Community Finance

Below is the text of the speech made by Stephen Williams, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, in Bristol on 13th February 2014.

The government recognises the challenges faced by small and medium enterprises in accessing finance to start up their operations and grow.

In my department we are seeing more and more communities coming together to deal with the issues they face, addressing the things they want to see change in their communities and creating innovative ways to bring economic growth to their communities.

My department has committed over £50 million in the support communities need to make use of the range of community rights powers and other initiatives that were brought into force through the Localism Act. The support package helps groups to become investment ready, develop business plans and carry out pre-feasibility studies. Already we are seeing an impact.

The community right to bid has seen over 800 assets of community value listed which means that if an asset comes up for sale the group that nominated it will work hard to bring it into community ownership. In Hastings, local people came together and created a viable business model for an abandoned pier that will bring economic growth and jobs to the local area.

This is the type of example I think of when thinking about investment for the wider good of communities.

I am pleased to announce that the department will be providing over £100,000 financial support towards the Bristol based community economic development project. I am very keen to support the partner organisations like Bristol City Council, Bristol Enterprise Development Fund, Co-op and Community Finance, Bristol Housing Partnership who are joining up with local communities to develop local community economy plans to boost investment into those areas.

This project will build on the lessons from international programmes in Canada and the United States that have successfully increased neighbourhood employment and attracted further investment into local economies that were otherwise economically marginalised. Officials in my department have started and will continue to work with the partners and communities here in Bristol to get the project up and running.

We want more and more communities to achieve their ambitions, whether to redevelop an abandoned site, to save their last shop or to bring a new lease of life to their town centre using innovative business models that private businesses would otherwise struggle to make viable.

We are already taking steps to create the conditions in which social investment can flourish, through the formation of initiatives such as Big Society Capital and supporting the development of other financial support routes – like community shares, crowd sourcing and social impact bonds.

We also hope that the soon to be introduced measures such as tax relief for social investors will boost social investments.

You would have heard from speakers here today that communities are adopting other finance models such as crowdfunding and community shares as a way of engaging their communities and de-risking their projects. My department is particularly interested in encouraging communities to invest in themselves. We have seen that those who do will often pull together to ensure that their business models are sustained for the long term.

We have funded the Co-operatives UK to develop the community shares unit that will enable growth of this sector. I am encouraged by the growth thus far which in 2012 alone saw communities investing over £15 million compared to £9 million the year before. We take very seriously the protection of investors which is why we are working closely with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to encourage and ensure good practice is adopted within the regulatory landscape.

Today, I am also pleased to announce the availability of a handbook that will help advisers like yourselves better understand and provide advice on community shares. Our hope is that many of you and your partners will champion community shares and encourage organisations to consider this model – especially to help de-risk their enterprises. The handbook can be found on the community shares unit’s website.

We know that communities require a healthy mix of finance to successfully acquire larger community assets and deliver more ambitious projects such as renewable energy schemes.

They may be able to draw down equity capital from grants and other crowdfunding sources, however this is not enough.

Debt capital is often a necessity for social enterprises in reaching their financing goals. We know that secured lending (debt finance) accounts for 90% of financial products used by social enterprises.

There is a significant need among social sector and social enterprise organisations for long term risk-taking capital.

More and more investors are interested in where their money is being invested. A study carried out by YouGov for National Ethical Investment Week found that the proportion of British adults interested in knowing more about ‘impact investments’ (of our financial services) rose significantly from 36% in 2011 to 55% in 2012 – pointing to the public’s interest and concern in where banks invest their money (The City UK).

These are all good reasons for financial institutions to consider and to capitalise on when pulling together and designing products and offers for enterprises.

My department is exploring what more we can do to promote the public benefits of investing in community enterprises and I hope those of you attending here today will consider how you can do the same.

I am pleased to open this debate and will be interested in hearing from you about how you think these trends and findings can become tangible additions to how financial products and services are designed.

Stephen Williams – 2013 Speech on Housing

Below is the text of the speech made by the Housing Minister, Stephen Williams to the National Housing Federation on 19th November 2013.

Very glad to be here. Thank you for inviting me and that kind introduction.

Early days for me in this new role, but I am already very well aware of the important work of the National Housing Federation – the key organisation leading and coordinating the vital work of housing associations in getting new houses built and providing a home for thousands of people across the country.

We are all here today of course to talk about housing associations and the importance of building regulations and standards. This might seem a backwater to some, or a technical and arcane area. It’s certainly a complex area and one I’m still learning about. But the complexity should absolutely not detract from its importance.

If you ask someone in the street what matters in their lives, a roof over their head would feature at or near the top of the list every time.

Housing isn’t always a glamorous issue, but it matters every bit as much as good schools or healthcare. And it’s an area where we have serious challenges to take on.

Some of you might have seen recent claims that 1997 was the year housing affordability started to become out of reach to a groundswell of people – a growing, locked out and significant section of society.

Now we can argue about both the scale and the exact timing of the phenomenon. But it’s clear the phenomenon is real and significant.

We know there are millions of people who want to buy a first home but cannot, and families who have had children and outgrown their home but are unable to take the next step on the housing ladder. We must help and are helping these people, working with you who are on the frontline.

The causes of the problem however are multiple and like housing standards they are complex. Previous governments built too few homes for too long.

We have tackled all these causes:

– our £4.5 billion affordable homes programme – rising to almost £20 billion with private sector funding – is on course to build 150,000 new affordable homes this Parliament

– the national planning policy framework and guidance reviews have slashed many needless pages of red tape, but maintained sustainability policy

– the new homes bonus is giving incentives for new home building

– councils can now tackle empty homes through increased Council Tax on owners who abandon homes

– but on top of this the standards we set for building are also vital

– the quality of what we build will affects how homes are used, how comfortable they are, and how long they will last

– and they affect the sustainability – with buildings accounting for almost half of the UK’s carbon emissions this is a major factor in tackling climate change.

But quantity is important too.

Some costs associated with building are essential – ensuring buildings are safe and warm for instance. Concerns I know you share on behalf of all your tenants. But unnecessary red tape makes building homes more expensive, and puts off house builders, housing associations and buyers. It widens the affordability gap.

So, like everything in politics, the housing standards review has tried to strike a balance. Between costs and quality. Between sensible rules and limiting bureaucracy.

I’m sure lots of you are awaiting the outcome of the review and hoping for something today. We’re not quite there yet.

So while I can’t set out today what happens next, I can at least rule out some things that won’t be happening. To bust some myths, and bring some clarity.

Let me start by thanking you for your helpful responses to the housing standards review. We are highly reliant on external advice and responses from professionals and experts on the ground like you.

The review has generated huge interest – 700 substantive consultation replies. Also several thousand more if you include the emails we received after Stephen Fry retweeted a link to the work. We are wondering whether space standards will come up as a question on QI.

Why are we doing this review? Quite simply to tackle the issues of housing supply, cost and sustainability.

Part of the picture is the regulatory burden. There is widespread recognition of the need to sort this out.

We needed to unpack this “plethora” of standards to see if it really could be sorted out, to rationalise standards to a core of what is really needed.

But I should stress that in this review we are in listening mode – the consultation has been very open, seeking input and evidence.

But we have provoked quite a discussion. Also there has been a lot of misinformation over last few months. Some have said the review is only about reducing costs, to sacrifice quality. Well, no. Not true. A great many have welcomed the reduction in bureaucracy and contradictions about housing standards.

There is no case for having 20 or 50 different versions of the same standards. So why not rationalise these into a single resource?


We have taken important steps to strengthen the energy performance requirements in the building regulations with the recent part L announcement and set out our further thinking on the zero carbon homes standard. These are major milestones.

Did you know that more carbon has been saved, over the years, through the building regulations than from any other policy area in government? That’s another one for QI.

These are demanding requirements – don’t underestimate challenge meeting them. That’s why the consultation said we don’t need extra standards. And the Merton Rule (Planning & Energy Act 2008). Another misconception. The consultation didn’t say it is being abolished. It asked what its value would be in a world where we have set out demanding building regulation requirements. Why have 2 sets of conflicting targets?


I know that security is a particularly important issue for the social housing sector. We are proposing a standard with a baseline level of provision which might apply across the board, together with a higher level which could be equivalent to “secured by design part 2”.


Similarly access is a very important issue, and again particularly for the social sector, as consultation makes clear.

We have worked hard with lifetime homes and wheelchair housing specialists to work up these options, which are very carefully considered. The proposals set out a single, sensible national standard set.


The specialists amongst you may recall the old Parker Morris standards only applied to affordable housing. We have asked for views on whether space standards are appropriate across all tenures, linked to access. This clearly shows that quality considerations are important in our thinking.

Other standards

Some have said the review is stopping other standards (such as materials, or overheating). Wrong again. The review didn’t rule these out. It just asks what is the evidence? What is the standard? Are standards the right route, or is this something the market could lead on instead? We’ll listen if the case is sound.

We have all along said it is about the right tools for the job. If an issue is already covered under one regime, such as national planning policy or guidance, why duplicate it with another? This just adds to complexity, cost and bureaucracy.

Local choice

Some people have suggested the review is anti local, or that any outcome will be difficult or costly to apply.

We have suggested the triggers for standards could be local, so how is that anti-local? Authorities are closest to their local housing situation and know what the needs profile looks like.

If you mean authorities should just be allowed to apply anything they want, regardless of need or cost considerations, well that is not right. Takes us full circle back to the current proliferation, which people have told us needs fixing!


I recognise transition is a complex issue. How and when would any new approach be applied, and what would the impact be on planning, or on the housing quality indicators? We are thinking this one through.

But we would like the benefits of rationalisation to be felt early. It will help make your lives simpler as you plan and bid for new rounds of social housing. It will also reduce your costs.

Tenure issues

I have also heard claims that the review is anti-affordable housing. The housing standards review is cross-tenure for good reason.

We recognise that pressures and demands in your sector are often higher than the private sector (eg access, space, security). That’s why the proposals include these possibilities. The essential elements of the housing quality indicators have been captured.

But we recognise too how affordable housing provision is changing, with more open market competition. Making standards cross tenure accommodates shifts in stock ownership over time – a more flexible stock.


The review has also come up with proposals to regularise compliance checking. We need to reduce the current tangle of different agencies all involved in assessing standards.

We have proposed that building control specialists are best placed to check on technical building standards. This plays to the skills and strengths of this sector and could also help to improve compliance.

We are of course eager to make decisions as soon as possible, but there is work we need to do on the issues which I have discussed. And that will include continuing to talk to many key partners, such as you.

There are a wide range of possible outcomes – reflecting our genuinely consultative approach. These are exciting and creative times, and as a new minister I am enjoying this challenge! We will get there and most importantly get the right result.