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Posted on April 1st 2015 by admin-movingin

ARLA conference encompasses all shades of political opinion

A sold-out ARLA conference yesterday saw over 600 delegates, and a substantial number of exhibitors, attending a slickly organised and well-presented day of speeches and debate highlighting issues of the moment in the world of residential lettings.

Opening proceedings in the cavernous, blue-lit conference hall at the Hilton Metropole Hotel on Edgware Road in London, ARLA president Valerie Bannister welcomed the attendees and gave an upbeat assessment of the changes in the Association in recent times – notably in how the ARLA board is recruited.

She also announced two new member benefits: a partnership agreement with Warwick County Council as the primary (and therefore consistent) authority in respect of advice and enforcement in matters relating to Consumer Protection Regulations; and a free ‘legal helpline’ in association with Dutton Gregory for members’ use in relation to letting matters.

ARLA managing director David Cox gave an industry round-up speech in which he pledged the association to ‘vigorously oppose’ the banning of agent fees should Labour win the election. The association will also continue to press for regulation of the industry and will pursue the goal ‘piece by piece’.

The Big Housing Debate followed with a lively panel discussion, which included Roger Harding of Shelter and Alex Hilton of Generation Rent, and had delegates heckling from the floor as the sometimes heated discussion ranged across contentious issues such as three-year tenancies, agent fees, rent controls and Section 21 notices.

Other panel members, Property Ombudsman Christopher Hamer; Carolyn Uphill, chair of the National Landlords Association; and Sally Lawson, an ARLA board member; provided rather less provocative contributions that at times brought murmurs of approval from the audience, and outright applause when in respect of proposals for longer tenancies it was suggested that politicians were ‘trying to solve a problem that does not exist’.

Alex Hilton was graceful enough to concede that he was in front of an audience of letting agents who can generally be expected to do things properly.

Lucy Jones and Tom Bill from Knight Frank gave presentations on the state of the letting market including the results of a recent KF survey which shows the drivers behind the growth in the Private Rented Sector, mostly to do with finance and affordability as well as the flexibility of renting, and the attraction of proximity to the workplace and communication routes.

The speakers noted that institutional investors are now entering the market place, providing purpose-built rental property that will compete with homes offered by private landlords. This will contribute to what Tom Bill called ‘the unstoppable momentum’ of the sector.

Motivational speaker Guy Browning then gave a thought-provoking pre-lunch presentation on providing better service and building stronger teamwork.

Sometimes, the first after-lunch speaker at a conference has to contend with an audience verging on the sleepy, but the ARLA organisers had artfully ensured that the day’s keynote speaker would keep delegates alert and interested. And perhaps a little curious.

Alastair Campbell, the man who did so much to shape and guide the Labour government of the Blair years and who to this day arouses strong emotions whenever the words ‘spin doctor’ are used, took to the stage with an easy confidence born of his considerable experience in the Corridors of Power.

If his reputation was not enough to make the audience sit up and take notice, the sudden change in the hall lighting to a rather devilish shade of red would have done. It transpired later in the day that the blue, red, and eventual yellow colour scheme was a nod to the three main political parties.

Campbell gave an entertaining and at times amusing speech themed around the notion of how to achieve an objective via strategy and tactics. Inevitably there were anecdotes about figures from the political world stage, but they served to illustrate the central theme that the will to succeed and the clear identification of the end goal are central to winning through.

Taking questions from the floor Campbell impressed delegates by demonstrating that he had read the recently published NAEA/ARLA Housing Manifesto and that he found it interesting and unusual that the industry is seeking more regulation. His advice to the Association is to make sure that politicians are made aware of the objective and why it is considered necessary.

Your correspondent was slightly unnerved when the question of whether “Farage, Salmon and Johnson are more important for political engagement than the serious mainstream party leaders” popped up on the screens, but relaxed when it transpired that Alex Salmond had been subjected to a spelling error.

Alastair Campbell was promoting his latest book and £5 of the price of each signed copy was donated to Agents’ Giving. There was much hilarity when some wag asked “Can we ‘rent’ your book?” and quick as a flash Campbell came back with the answer ‘Yes, but only if you keep it for three years’ – a reference to the Labour plan to give tenants the right to three-year tenancies. Clearly he is still ‘on message’.

To round off the day, Robert Bollwell of Dutton Gregory gave a summary of the raft of recent and forthcoming legislation that will affect the PRS and the letting industry. He noted that in the 1950s it was usual for some 32 pieces of important legislation to be going through the parliamentary process in a year. By the time of Tony Blair the figure was almost 1,900. And in this last session of Parliament there were over 3,300 items of legislation.

After his presentation Robert was joined on stage by Eye’s legal expert contributor, David Smith of Anthony Gold Solicitors, Nic Perkins of Dean Wilson, and Marveen Smith of PainSmith, for a panel discussion about legislative changes affecting the lettings market. Much of this touched upon issues raised earlier in the day, but from a legal standpoint, and it was significant that all the panellists pointed an accusing finger at the Court process for causing delays and frustrations in matters relating to possession proceedings.

ARLA president Valerie Bannister told Eye that she had received very positive feedback from delegates confirming that the day had been ‘engaging.’

She said: “We have brought real, live debate to the agents and it is a recipe for success when we move to ExCel next year.”

In closing this report, special mention must be made of the conference moderator, the BBC’s Julian Worriker, whose light but highly professional touch and obvious grasp of the subject matters of the day ensured smooth running to time, clarity of questioning, and well-run panel discussions.

As conferences go, this one was impressive, even by the standards of previous years.