The MPs I have come into contact with in the North East are highly invested in their communities and without exception, are frequently surprised to hear of the scale and extent of our work. Each time I wondered how improve this communication. It is a particular issue for newly elected MPs and we have a few of those, but even the “old timers” who know us better still don’t get the full picture.
I realised some time ago that answer was quite simple - I have to improve my approach. There is really no substitute for focussed relationship development and this takes time and skill. But once developed the benefits to the sector, North Star and the area are intangible. I have heard chief executives say, I have written to that new MP and asked for a meeting and have had no response, so there isn’t much more I can do. Well I beg to differ. These are very busy people, but they have real influence with a strong voice and we are duty bound to be more inventive and creative about getting their attention. It is in our best interests to enable them to understand and work with us and this can only be done at a local level by leaders.
Person to person contact, supported by information, clear communication and updates with speedy responses are essential. You know it’s working when they value your view and consult with you, when they prefer to ring you rather than write, when their tone is supportive and helpful. This doesn’t always happen as people are different, but most will engage if offered the opportunity. I recall with pride a few years ago, two local MPs sending me a hand written letter on International Women’s Day stating I was a women leader who they admired and enjoyed working with. I was flattered beyond belief and have that letter to this day. It was especially helpful given one of them was promoted to a key Shadow housing position. Of course it is frustrating when MPs change and great relationships have developed, but we have to keep with it and more so now with the imminent Comprehensive Spending Review.
So, I will connect again with my MPs, who I believe are in listening mode; they know we are key partners. I will emphasise how high quality housing and good health are intertwined, and I will update them on all the work done during the crisis, the work we have planned to assist in a recession and our ambitions to build more great homes. I will emphasise how housing is at the heart of recovery, how well we know our communities and how trusted we are. I shall listen to their concerns, and will aim to work closely with them in their resolution if possible. Most of all I will ensure they understand us better and are aware of our strengths, capabilities and ambitions. I pledge to do my bit to influence change – will you join me?