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More than 500 at memorial service

More than 500 guests have attended a memorial service at Manchester Cathedral for the late Dr. Tom Manion, CEO, Irwell Valley Housing Association who died earlier this year.

Tributes from family, residents and colleagues spoke of a brilliant mind who made a unique contribution to housing policy.

Born in Birkenhead, Tom began his working life as a crane driver with British Steel in Shotton following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.

He was head officer of Corporate Housing Strategy at Manchester City Council and an assistant director for performance and policy at Northern Counties.

He gained his doctorate – a study of British housing policy – from the University of Lancaster in 1982 and worked in the House of Commons as a front bench adviser on the 1988 Housing Act.

All this was fertile fodder for his acrid and accurate analysis of the state of social housing in the late 1990s.

Like most social housing providers, Irwell Valley found itself facing a range of problems. On the one hand, social and environmental issues on its estates were growing; on the other – it was increasingly difficult to collect the rent that would provide the income to tackle these issues.

Traditional methods of delivering housing services were leading to diminishing returns.

What was required was a radical overhaul of the landlord and tenant contract in a sector heavily encumbered by outmoded and inefficient methods of delivering social housing and services to people most in need.

In 1998, a year after joining Irwell Valley Housing Association as its CEO, Tom introduced Gold Service, a reward and incentive scheme, which raised the thorny issue of rights and responsibilities for both social housing landlords and their customers.

He argued – backed by the Association’s own surveys and independent evaluations such as the then Housing Corporation – that tenants should be rewarded for abiding by the terms of their tenancy contracts and those who didn’t  – because they refused to – should be encouraged to change their behaviour through tough rehabilitation and enforcement action.

He also called for a massive cultural change within the top tiers of management to sharpen up their act, raise their own performance and motivate their colleagues to deliver a service that customers valued, didn’t want to lose and to reverse the disproportionate resources spent on a minority of residents who stigmatised neighbourhoods due to their anti-social behaviour.

Gold Service was not met with universal approval.

One CEO described Tom as ‘quack doctor – a snake oil salesman.’ He was also called a maverick – an epitaph he said only weeks before he died that he loathed.

Nonetheless, he received numerous accolades including: Top Ten Influential People in housing (The Independent); Top Ten Innovators in the UK ‘a charismatic pioneer’ (The Guardian); National Customer Services Lifetime Achievement Award (he said it was ‘unexpectedly premature’).

In 2003 he was awarded the Cabinet Office Public Servant of the Year for Housing.

His book ‘The Reward Society’ published in 2013 and shortlisted for a People’s Book Prize went on to pull apart the inefficiencies of the welfare state and other public services and the financial sector ‘casino capitalism’ that rewarded risk over responsibility, with catastrophic consequences.

Twenty years on, Tom’s Gold Service philosophy underpins the direction of social housing provision in the UK – a common sense system that is proven to improve business performance and increase customer satisfaction.