Head of Housing Strategy
As Head of Housing Strategy, James advises the Mayor of London and his team on how best to deliver affordable housing for Londoners. Here he talks about how GLA works to be truly representative of the diverse communities it works for. And how, while it can be hard, fast-paced work, the GLA supports and develops its people at all levels.
We’re here to serve Londoners. But we’re not doing our job properly if we’re not able to reflect the views and interests of all Londoners. That’s why it’s particularly important for an organisation like this to be truly representative.
There are around 150 people in the Homes for Londoners team, and they’re all doing lots of different, fantastic things. We’re trying to solve the housing crisis, because it’s one of the biggest challenges facing London. But also, because we live or work here, we see it every day. It’s something that affects us all, and the people we care about.
We need diversity of opinion, interests, and background. Otherwise, what happens quite quickly is that everyone starts agreeing with everyone else. There isn’t challenge and there aren’t different experiences and perspectives, which you only really get if you make a strong effort to ensure your workforce is diverse. With true representation, the decisions that are made in this building will be better decisions.
My job, and the job of my team, is to ensure everyone is pushing in the right direction, and there’s a strategy behind it. I advise the Mayor and his team on how to deliver their priorities, translating quite often high-level political aspirations into practical deliverable programmes and policies.
We also have an important role in establishing the rules in London. So, if you want to build in London, you need to provide affordable housing that’s genuinely affordable, good quality and a minimum space standard. My team also works with the planning team to ensure new homes are good quality.
It’s fast-paced and it’s hard work. There’s always a new challenge, every day. But that’s manageable because it’s a very collegial place to work. There isn’t a blame culture, which I think is quite unusual. There’s a sense that the work we’re doing is really valuable, and it’s helping.
In terms of culture, I don’t think I’ve ever worked anywhere with a more supportive set of colleagues. Certainly, in our directorate, that goes right to the top. Our senior management are really visible and they know what we’re all doing. They take an interest and they say thank you, which is really nice. Equally it’s not hierarchical. Even at a junior level, there are opportunities to get involved in different aspects of work that interest you.
As a dad in quite a senior job, it’s been amazing that I can continue doing a high-pressure job. Sometimes I do have to put a lot of hours in, but I can still get home every night in time to bath my son. I work a 9-day fortnight so that, every other Friday, I look after my son. It’s great because it means he doesn’t have to be in nursery full-time, and I get to spend quality time with him. I really value those Fridays. And when my partner needs to work late, I can be there. It means we enjoy a more equal relationship.
At my level in other organisations, that isn’t the default position. But my manager is really relaxed about it. I think the view is that I’m going to be happier and more productive as a result. My team tell me that, firstly, it’s great that as a man I’m doing this, but also that I’m setting an example at a senior level.
The thing I’m most proud of, during my time at City Hall, is the programme we launched last year to deliver a new generation of 10,000 council homes by 2022. We’ve set aside over £1billion to achieve this.
These homes are going to house low-income families, which wouldn’t have been achieved if it hadn’t been for the work my team are doing. In terms of job satisfaction, it’s just amazing. It shows how much of a difference you can make from this building.
It’s hard to leave the GLA because it’s such a unique organisation. What you’re delivering is tangible, so you can see the impact. At the same time, because we’re operating at this level – supporting the Mayor to govern a city of 8 million people – we can step back, think about strategy and the long-term vision. I don’t think there are many organisations where you have the opportunity to do that.
Being able to influence the decisions made by people like the Mayor of London is a huge privilege. Again, I can’t think of many other organisations where you have that opportunity to be in the room where those decisions are being made.
I think anyone can thrive here. To be frank, it’s often really hard work. You’re working for the Mayor of London and that’s a big challenge, every day. But because you’ve got that supportive environment, it’s manageable. As long as you’re up for working in that kind of environment, where things change very quickly, you can thrive whoever you are.