From eviction disputes to giving residents a greater say in housing issues, GHA company secretary Gordon Moir is relishing the challenges of his latest role. Andrew Pugh reports
Glasgow Housing Association (GHA) company secretary Gordon Moir returned to his native Scotland last year after more than a decade working in the City.
While the move allowed the Perth-born former legal head of BT Retail a chance to spend more time with his family, it also offered a massive challenge. “It was also the scale of the role that attracted me,” he says. “It covers regulatory, legal, company secretariat, governance, procurement – a far broader role than at BT.
“At the time the organisation was facing some regulatory and legal challenges, and there was also a feeling it had huge potential which it hadn’t really fulfilled.”
That could be down to the sheer size of the organisation – GHA is among the biggest social landlords in Europe, responsible for more than 68,000 properties housing a large chunk of Glasgow’s population.
In 2003 the organisation took over responsibility for managing the city’s stock of social housing from Glasgow City Council. Its chief task was to move the stock to smaller housing associations, a process known as a secondary stage transfer (SST).
The driving principle behind SSTs is to give a greater say to local communities in the way social housing is run and to decentralise power from councils. While the current timetable could see GHA transfer 16,500 homes to community-based housing associations in the next year, its remit goes well beyond SSTs.
In the past year it has built 259 new homes in north Glasgow and started work on another 414 across nine sites in the city. It is also carrying out a £1.2bn programme to upgrade and modernise its housing stock.
One of Moir’s main projects since joining in November 2009 has been working on GHA’s governance structure. “It’s about giving residents more choice,” he explains. “They should be able to decide things like which flats should be demolished and replaced, and what should be kept.”
Unsurprisingly, the financial crisis has resulted in rising volumes of litigation for the organisation, whose tenants live in some of the most deprived areas in the UK.
While Moir and his team have introduced measures to solve disputes before they reach court, a large number of the 30-strong legal team is involved in handling litigation, the majority of which is handled in-house. A rise in the number of residents being evicted for antisocial behaviour has added to the workload.
Shortly after Moir took up the role GHA finalised its legal panel, a process undertaken every three years. It settled on three Scottish firms: Harper Macleod for SST advice; Burness for regeneration and corporate matters; and Shepherd & Wedderburn for procurement issues.
“The panel is working well – it’s a good mix,” says Moir. “A lot of firms applied but those three came out best for cost and quality. I think there’s an overcapacity in the legal market in Scotland, which means there are quality firms available at hugely competitive prices. It meant we got the cost, quality and experience we were looking for.”
The drive to rein in costs in the face of public spending cuts means Moir is now reviewing contracts with GHA’s major suppliers and contractors. It is also a response to the collapse of Connaught Group in September and fears that other contractors could also fall by the wayside.
GHA had multiple contracts with the housing group to build new homes and carry out its improvement programme. The situation was resolved when the contracts were taken over by English construction group Morgan Sindell.
Another potential headache for Moir is that GHA could soon come under the remit of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. At present it operates a voluntary arrangement and Moir expects to be hit with a deluge of requests if the move goes ahead, but this is difficult to predict.
Moir has used his experience of restructuring legal teams during his time with BT. He has reorganised his team so that a senior solicitor is now assigned to each of the organisation’s departments, such as environment or regeneration. And as a GHA executive board member, Moir has also helped introduce a ’rule of three’, whereby decisions have to be signed off by senior figures in the business, finance and legal departments.
Moir says the lawyers have responded positively to the changes. “It means they’re much closer to the frontline and get involved early in decision-making,” he says.
Name: Gordon Moir
Company: Glasgow Housing Association
Position: Company secretary
Reporting to: CEO Martin Armstrong
Annual legal spend:£1m-plus
Total legal capability:30
Main external law firms:Harper Macleod, Burness, Shepherd & Wedderburn