BER20: From tackling the housing shortage to rebuilding the economy

Midland Heart

This blog post was produced for inclusion in the Birmingham Economic Review for 2020.

The annual Birmingham Economic Review is produced by the University of Birmingham’s City-REDI and the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, with contributions from the West Midlands Growth Company. It is an in-depth exploration of the economy of England’s second city and a high-quality resource for informing research, policy and investment decisions.

This post is featured in Chapter 4 of the Birmingham Economic Review for 2020, on Connecting Communities: What Next for the Region’s Infrastructure?

Click here to read the Review.

Covid-19 has changed all of our lives in ways we could never have imagined. For many, not being able to go anywhere for weeks on end has really emphasised the importance of a good quality home and a strong local community.

These things have been at the centre of Midland Heart’s mission for almost 100 years, and even before the pandemic we had already committed to redoubling our efforts. Last year we launched our new Corporate Plan Making What Matters Brilliant which commits to building 3,000 more homes and investing over £100 million in improving our existing ones.

With the pandemic exposing yet more clearly the huge disparities in both opportunities and living standards in our city, our mission has become more urgent than ever. Through the new homes we build, and the existing ones we refurbish, repurpose and re-let, we will ensure thousands more families every year can finally afford a good quality home. One where they want to live and choose to stay.

We are also going to be right at the coal face, supporting some of the region’s most vulnerable people to live independently. Last year our Money Advice Team leveraged in £2.5 million in benefit entitlements and charity trust funds to help customers sustain their tenancies. They also secured thousands of pounds worth of fuel, travel and shopping vouchers to help customers facing the biggest challenges to reconnect to their communities and the employment market.

The pandemic has led us to reflect on our position as a regional anchor institution too and we recognise the huge responsibility we have to support the economic recovery in Birmingham. Over the years we have maintained a strong financial position which is reflected in our regulator’s G1 V1 rating and A1 Stable Moody’s rating. This financial stability has allowed us to issue our strongest bond issue ever during the pandemic and continue investing in meeting our customers’ needs, even whilst others have had no choice but to down tools.

It’s because of this favourable position that our Board and Executive team decided that we would not furlough a single colleague. We felt very strongly that there were organisations who needed this help and the security it offered far more than we did. While lockdown inevitably meant a reduction in some services, we were able to redeploy colleagues within the business, adapting front-line rotas and ensuring that everyone kept working. All this meant we achieved our highest ever in month customer satisfaction score of 92% in July, with 99% of our customers stating that colleagues ‘out in the field’ respected social distancing guidelines.   

We also continued to push forward with our ambitious development programme, which represents an annual investment of almost £90m in the region. We now have 1,000 homes on site and 1,000 homes in the pipeline, meaning we are already two thirds of the way through our five-year plan to build 3,000 homes. All our sites have now reopened and despite significant delays, social distancing and materials shortages, we are still expecting to deliver 80-90% of the homes we planned to complete this year. With the economy gaining £2.84 for every £1 invested in housebuilding, we are optimistic that our sustained investment will really help get things moving again.

We have kept things moving with our new recruitment drive too. During the height of lockdown, we recruited to over 30 roles ranging from an IT Security Manager to Customer Service Officers and Multi-trade Operatives. Between 1 March and 31 May we ran 58 recruitment campaigns, attracted 3,165 applications, and facilitated 208 video call assessments.

Selections for our inaugural degree apprenticeship programme, which attracted over 600 applications for six places, were well underway at the start of lockdown. Rather than halt the process, we simply moved the assessment and selection process online and our new degree apprentices started with us on 1 September 2020.  All six were recruited from the West Midlands region.

With young people the most severely impacted by the economic effects of the pandemic, we wanted to make sure we continued to deliver a programme that offers them real good quality job opportunities. Our new degree apprentices get to combine a university degree with the practical application of learning at work, no debt, a good salary, and a guaranteed role at the end of five years.

It has always been our philosophy to reinvest all our surpluses into building homes and providing services. This means we are now in a great position to help get things moving again, both in Birmingham and right across the region. Whatever difficulties lie ahead, we’re committed not just to building more homes, but building a stronger economy where our residents and their communities can thrive.

Glenn Harris MBE
Chief executive
Midland Heart