Sir Bob Kerslake's inaugural address met with plenty of applause but the role of the Homes and Communities Agency is still a mystery
In London's Docklands earlier this week, Sir Bob Kerslake - former chief executive of Sheffield council - gave his inaugural speech as chief executive of the Homes and Communities Agency at the Housing Forum annual conference.
He said all the right things, talked about the vision for the new super-quango, and finally put a figure on the exact three-year budget he will have to work with - £16.2bn, no mean sum.
However, there are some concerns that refuse to go away about the whole enterprise.
First, Kerslake is still, at the moment, a chief executive without an organisation, which doesn't sound to me like the most high-powered of positions. Taking probably the most respected local authority chief executive in the country - read the interview he gave to Building - away from his job to twiddle his thumbs for a year doesn't sound great on the face of it.
But it's not his fault. The Homes and Communities Agency is being put together by combining the government's social housing agency, the Housing Corporation, its regeneration quango, English Partnerships, and a bunch of central government programmes - like Decent Homes - with serious cash attached. It has taken forever (the story broke well over two years ago) but, to be fair, Kerslake has tried to inject some urgency into the process.
April 2009 was the government's preferred start date for the new body, but Kerslake confirmed on Wednesday that he wants to see it up and running by this Christmas. Good for him. But there's still a hiatus, with all the housing associations and housebuilders wondering who and how they'll have to deal with when the change comes, and whether it's worth pushing forward with deals right now.
Never mind the start date, this still leaves the bigger question of how the agency will work. Kerslake made it clear that it will be very regionally based, led by powerful regional directors - almost like a housebuilder. This should help with the administration. But there is always going to be a concern that it will just be too big and unwieldy to be effective. While a number of people express this view under their breath, no one wants to suggest it out loud - because everyone is desperate for it to work, particularly in the present housing climate.
Besides, the general consensus seems to be that if anyone can make it work, Kerslake can. And boy, it needs to right now. So let's cross our fingers and get on with it.