BME housing chief urges Boris Johnson to work with sector to heal Brexit divisions

Ali Akbor (Demo)

THE Prime Minister Boris Johnson must work with housing associations if he truly wants to unite the country after Brexit, a Leeds housing chief has said.

Ali Akbor (main Picture), chief executive of BME-led housing association Unity Homes & Enterprise, based in Leeds, has called on the Government to engage with the sector as part of its efforts to bring the country back together after a turbulent and divisive few years in politics.

In his speech outside 10 Downing Street on the day after the election, Johnson said: “I urge everyone to find closure and let the healing begin… We are going to unite and level up…, unleashing the potential of the whole country.”

But he’ll need the help of housing associations to realise this, suggests Akbor, who was awarded an OBE in the New Year Honours List. He has urged ministers to recognize that the housing association sector is close to a diverse range of communities it serves and could assist them in improving lives.

“The country has been through a particularly turbulent political period, starting with the 2016 EU referendum campaign. With Brexit just a matter of days away, it is important that communities now come together in the manner the Prime Minister has stated,” Akbor said.

“People want to believe that the brighter future they have been promised for themselves and their families will be delivered. This is not about party politics. It is about our country and those who live here being the best they can be.

“It is clearly for the Government in general and the Prime Minister in particular to lead on this. But many others stand ready to assist them in this task, not least the housing association sector.”

The BME sector could have an especially pivotal role, according to Akbor; something former housing secretary James Brokenshire recognized during his time in office, as he demonstrated during a Parliamentary reception in 2018 held to celebrate the work of BME associations.

“In his speech, Mr Brokenshire praised BME housing associations for our work in ‘promoting equality and diversity within the housing market’ and ‘helping build the strong, integrated communities that we all want to see.’,” Akbor said.

“And he told the gathering, ‘You confronted racial prejudice and discrimination head-on and Britain is a better country for it. You have also underlined our country’s values as a confident, tolerant democracy in which our diversity is one of our greatest strengths.’

“Mr Brokenshire won a lot of friends that day, not least because he extended a metaphorical hand by making clear that he wanted to work with us. I was sorry to see him leave that post because there has been little evidence of Government ministers reaching out to us since then.”

BME National, the body representing England’s BME housing associations, recently published Homes for BME Communities. The report calls on the Government to implement policies in the areas of ageing well, ending homelessness, equality of opportunity, and thriving and diverse cities. It also commits BME housing associations to play their full part in addressing challenges faced by the communities they serve.

Akbor said the report should be “studied closely” by relevant minsters and their Whitehall officials if they want to make a difference.

“Our country stands at something of a crossroads,” Akbor added. “Brexit is going to happen and the heated arguments over what brought us to this point have to stop. They should be replaced by grown-up discussions on where we go from here.

“Many of those who led the campaign for us to leave the European Union are now senior Government ministers, including the Prime Minister himself. They promised us better, brighter futures and the time for them to start delivering this oasis of hope and prosperity for all is now.

“BME housing associations can certainly assist, on behalf of the communities in which we operate, but the Government must be in listening mode.”



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