Commons must back Brexit deal to avoid chaotic future

MPs must support Theresa May’s Brexit deal if they are to place themselves on the “right side of history” and avoid plunging the UK into a state of chaos, a prominent vet has argued.

  Dr Jason Aldiss BEM

Dr Jason Aldiss BEM

Jason Aldiss, Managing Director of Leeds-based veterinary services company Eville & Jones, made the call in advance of tomorrow evening’s House of Commons vote on the terms of the UK’s separation from the EU and accompanying political declaration which sets out what a future trade arrangement may look like.

Dr Aldiss has previously voiced concerns that a poorly-managed Brexit process could “decimate the United Kingdom’s veterinary, food and agricultural sectors” and warned that a no-deal outcome would be “the worst of all worlds.”

In a statement, Dr Aldiss said: “I have believed from the outset that Brexit is an act of folly that is bad for the UK and bad for the EU.  But we have reached the moment of truth and it has become clear that Theresa May’s Brexit deal, despite its many imperfections, is the best and only option available to avoid plunging the country into a state of chaos.   

“I have also come to the conclusion that the Prime Minister herself is one of the few politicians who has acted with a sense of honour and duty throughout the Brexit process.

“We are on the precipice of a desperately uncertain future and, despite that stark reality, too many MPs have been making calculations based on what they believe to be best for their personal political prospects or those of their party.

“The country’s path for generations will be deeply influenced by the decisions they make in the coming hours and days.  Their choices should be based solely on what’s best for their constituents and the United Kingdom as a whole.”

Dr Aldiss, who is Secretary General of the Union of European Veterinary Hygienists, said that Brexit holds particular uncertainty for the veterinary profession, together with the food and agricultural sectors it serves.

He continued: “Eville & Jones needs guarantees of post-Brexit access to highly-trained foreign vets to work in abattoirs and on farms, as well as lower skilled workers to fill other essential roles.       

“I had hoped that the Immigration White Paper would have provided some assurances on these matters but its publication has been delayed yet again.  

“The wheels of Government have stopped turning and, without a Brexit deal in place, the situation will only get worse.  We need a sense of momentum to return and that can only happen by the House of Commons supporting the Prime Minister’s proposals.”

Dr Aldiss added: “It is time for MPs to rise to the challenge and place themselves on the right side of history.” 

Senior peer urges Government to adopt UN Sustainable Development Goals

Lord Rogan has called on Ministers to fully implement the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into UK Government policy.

  Lord Rogan of Lower Iveagh

Lord Rogan of Lower Iveagh

The 17 goals, set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, cover a wide range of social and economic development issues including poverty, hunger, health, education, global warming, gender equality, sanitation, water, energy, urbanisation, environment and social justice.  

Speaking in the House of Lords, Lord Rogan - who also serves as Deputy Lord Speaker - paid tribute to former Prime Minister David Cameron for his role in formulating the SDGs when he chaired a panel established by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to advance the post-2015 development agenda. 

“These goals have the collective aim of ending extreme poverty, fighting inequality and injustice, and tackling climate change in the period to 2030,” he said.  

“And not only did Mr Cameron help to develop these admirable objectives, but he fought or them too.

“He told the UN General Assembly in September 2015 that fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals would require ‘actions not words.’   

“He reminded the leaders of developed countries that they should deliver on their overseas aid spending commitments.  

“And he went a step further, telling the presidents and prime ministers of less prosperous nations, and I quote: ‘Eradicating extreme poverty isn’t just something that developed countries can do. There’s a deep responsibility on the leaders of all countries.’”

Lord Rogan told peers that, following David Cameron’s resignation in July 2016, the focus of Whitehall and the wider British public had understandably been on Brexit.

“But despite these distractions, it is vital that the United Kingdom remains to the fore of the effort to ensure that leaders across the world keep to the commitments that Mr Cameron rightly asked of them,” he continued.  

“And this is where I believe Brexit provides the UK Government, under a different Prime Minister in Theresa May, with a golden opportunity to lead the way.

“It is unquestionably the case that, after leaving the European Union, the United Kingdom will be in search of new alliances and new partnerships, and not just in the area of trade.

“The phrase ‘Global Britain is one we hear regularly, although I would expand this term to ‘Global Britain and Northern Ireland.’ 

“As a nation, we do need to broaden our reach and our influence if we are to really punch our weight in the years ahead.

“That means setting an example for others to follow.  We must lead the way, and that must surely include the United Kingdom achieving the aim to ‘integrate the universal Sustainable Developments Goals into domestic policy.’”  

Lord Rogan reminded the House that, following Donald Trump’s election as President, the United States had withdrawn from a series of international agreements.

“President Trump has abdicated the position that his predecessors in the White House have traditionally held as the de facto Leader of the Free World,” he continued.

“If the United States, in the short term at least, is refusing to set the standard for the nations of the world to follow, then we in the United Kingdom and our allies must not be found wanting.  

“We must stick to David Cameron’s commitments and implement the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals with the minimum possible delay.”

Kirklees Council Leader praises new Unity affordable family homes

The Leader of Kirklees Council has toured a new £1.2 million Unity Homes and Enterprise affordable housing project which is nearing completion in Huddersfield. 

Quarmby Road - 1 crop.jpg

Cllr Shabir Pandor was joined by Cabinet Member for Housing Cllr Cathy Scott, Unity Chief Executive Ali Akbor and other senior representatives of the housing association. 

Nine family homes for affordable rent are being constructed on a former garage site on Quarmby Road. 

The land was owned by Kirklees Council before being acquired by Unity following a competitive process.

The new development comprises six semi-detached two-bedroomed properties and three terraced houses with three bedrooms apiece. 

Each home will have a garden and private parking.   

Construction work on the project is due finish in the coming weeks with the first tenants expected to move into their new properties shortly afterwards.

This is Unity’s second affordable homes development in Huddersfield.   It also owns and manages a scheme of flats at Fartown.

Ali Akbor, Chief Executive of Unity Homes and Enterprise, said: “Unity has a well-earned reputation for delivering the highest quality affordable homes.  The new properties certainly meet that standard.

“The internal fit out is now well underway.  This will be followed by external works which includes pathways, fencing and turfing. 

“I have no doubt that the prospective tenants will be delighted with their new homes and we look forward to welcoming them into the Unity family.

“We are proud to have played a part in improving people’s lives for more than three decades.  Most of our work has focused on Leeds, but we are glad to be on the cusp of opening our second scheme in Huddersfield. 

“Working in partnership with the Council, we hope to significantly broaden our footprint in Kirklees in the years ahead.”      

Quarmby Road 3.jpg

Mr Akbor was accompanied on the site visit by Unity’s Director of Regeneration, Wayne Noteman, and Unity Board members Abdul Ravat and Shazia Khan.

Cllr Shabir Pandor, Leader of Kirklees Council, said: “It was excellent. The properties are really good, very spacious and will meet the needs of our residents and communities. It’s a really inspiring development. 

Cllr Cathy Scott, Kirklees Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing, said: "The development is a good example of successful co-design with partners who have specific expertise and ability. With a shortage of affordable homes, Quarmby Road is a valuable contribution to our wider plans as part increasing available housing across Kirklees.”

The Quarmby Road scheme is the pilot project for Kirklees Council’s Small Affordable Housing Sites programme, which draws on the expertise and resources of registered providers to maximise the delivery of affordable homes in the district. 

Earlier this year, Cllr Pandor launched the Council’s ambitious plan to deliver 10,000 new homes by 2023.  The Big Build is a comprehensive programme of proactive activity to increase the rate of house building across Kirklees by working with private landowners, major house builders, housing associations and small site developers to increase the supply of new homes.

Government must tackle Brexit veterinary recruitment crisis

A leading Yorkshire vet has told a major international conference that Brexit has the potential to decimate the United Kingdom’s veterinary, food and agricultural sectors.

Speaking at Visegrád Vet Plus near Budapest, Dr Jason Aldiss said that the UK will be “in deep peril” if a post-Brexit deal with Brussels does not include guaranteed access to properly-qualified vets from other EU states and mutual recognition of professional veterinary qualifications. 

And he warned that a no-deal outcome would be “the worst of all worlds.”

  Dr Jason Aldiss BEM

Dr Jason Aldiss BEM

Dr Aldiss, Managing Director of Leeds-based veterinary services company Eville & Jones, said: “There is already a veterinary recruitment and retention crisis in the UK, and that problem is getting worse.  Currently 45 per cent of British Government Veterinary Services posts are filled by vets from other EU member states.  95 per cent of Official Veterinarians are non-UK EU vets.   With less than six months to go until Brexit, there is still no guarantee than these individuals will be allowed to remain in post.

“Understandably, many have already chosen to leave the UK.  At Eville & Jones, I am more than 50 vets short of what I need and that number is rising.   Our recruitment programme is running at full pace but we’re not able to stem the flow of staff moving on.”

Dr Aldiss, who also serves as Secretary General of the Union of European Veterinary Hygienists, cautioned that a no-deal Brexit would be the equivalent of “cutting the life-line on the UK to allow it to drift off into the wilderness.”

He said: “If the UK is to trade with Europe, it must maintain EU standards at the very least.  That means veterinary services must be properly funded to ensure high standards of animal welfare, animal hygiene and public health. 

“All trade in products of animal origin requires veterinary certification – which obviously requires vets.  Without proper access to well-qualified veterinary professionals, UK-EU trade will be impossible.  That would inevitably lead to a scenario where food is left to rot at ports or animals destroyed by the side of the road.  It may sound dramatic, but it is the stark truth.

Dr Aldiss appealed to the UK Government to take swift action to deal with “an impending catastrophe.”  And he called on the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to “address the very real veterinary shortages and make firm recommendations to permit open access to foreign vets.”

He said: “The MAC recently presented a report to British Ministers which recommended that the Government removes the cap on Tier 2 working visas for highly-skilled migrants, currently set at 20,700 each year, which would make it easier to recruit foreign vets.  This is a step in the right direction, but no more than that.

 “The MAC is also in the process of completing a separate report on which professions should be included on the Shortage Occupation List of high demand employees, again removing barriers for employers to recruit appropriately qualified staff from outside the UK.  Vets do not currently feature, and it is time that they did. 

 “The simple fact is that the current British immigration system is not fit for purpose and certainly not for brave new post-Brexit world that Leave campaigners promised.

 “We must allow skilled migrants to come to the UK and bring benefit to our economy.  Further, we should permit quotas of unskilled migrants to work in sectors where their labour is desperately required.

 Dr Aldiss added: “Without sufficient numbers of slaughtermen working in abattoirs, there will be no need for vets.”   

Unity can help to solve national housing crisis

The Chief Executive of Unity Homes and Enterprise has challenged Government ministers to draw on the experience and expertise of the housing association sector to tackle the national housing crisis.  

 Celebrating Unity’s success: (L to R) Colonel Karl Harris, Lucy Moore, Ali Akbor and Shruti Bhargava

Celebrating Unity’s success: (L to R) Colonel Karl Harris, Lucy Moore, Ali Akbor and Shruti Bhargava

Ali Akbor, who has led the Leeds-based housing association for almost two decades, told its Annual General meeting that Whitehall could not solve the housing shortage on its own. 

 Ali Akbor

Ali Akbor

“Last autumn, Unity was delighted to host Housing Minister Alok Sharma on a visit to two of our affordable housing developments in Leeds,” he said.  “It was the first time a serving Government minister accepted such an invitation from us.  Sadly, he was reshuffled to a different department shortly afterwards and his replacement has since been replaced.”  

Mr Akbor said that he had since issued invitations to current Housing Minister Kit Malthouse and Housing Secretary James Brokenshire, “to follow in Mr Sharma’s footsteps and witness at first hand the good work Unity is doing to build new affordable homes and regenerate communities here.” 

He continued: “Unity is proud to be a forward-thinking, outward-looking organisation that is driven by a collective determination to deliver for the communities we serve.  We have a housing crisis in this country, which the Government freely acknowledges must be tackled.  As Chief Executive of Unity Homes and Enterprise, I will continue to reach out to ministers and anyone else in Whitehall who wants to work with us to build the homes we need to improve local people’s lives.”

Mr Akbor told the audience of Unity partners, tenants and special guests that the association had enjoyed another successful year, including the completion of 58 new properties and the acquisition of a further 22, taking the number of affordable homes under its ownership to more than 1,300.  Unity Enterprise, its not-for-profit subsidiary company, opened a new incubator in partnership with iota Business and Unity Employment Services helped almost 300 people to find work or improve their skills. The association has also been shortlisted for three national housing awards.

Opening the meeting at The Sheepscar function rooms in Chapeltown, Unity Chair Shruti Bhargava said it was important that the association continued its “social purpose,” which she defined as, “our commitment to improving lives in areas with high BME populations and turning them into vibrant multi-cultural neighbourhoods.” 

She added: “I believe that Unity is a shining light to others in the rest of the country, including the housing sector and politicians; showing them what can be done to address inequality, bring communities together and improve people’s lives.”

This year’s Unity annual report had a First World War theme, in recognition of the forthcoming Armistice centenary and in tribute to the vital contribution of BME Commonwealth soldiers in that conflict and since.   

 Colonel Karl Harris

Colonel Karl Harris

Special guest speaker Colonel Karl Harris told the audience about the positive good work being done by the British Army’s Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Network, which he chairs.

He said: “This is such an important year. The role that men and women of colour from all communities have played in the British Army for a hundred years and beyond is a story that isn’t necessarily told as much as it might be.”

 Lucy Moore

Lucy Moore

And Lucy Moore, First World War Projects Curator at Leeds Museums and Galleries, gave a wide-ranging presentation on her research into the life of Bengali-born Jogendra Nath Sen.

She said: “He joined the Leeds Pals, the local volunteer battalion, in 1914.  Military records tell us that he trained with them in their camp in North Yorkshire.  He travelled with them to Egypt to guard the Suez Canal.  He then went to France and was killed in action on 22 May 1916, just before the Battle of the Somme.  Jogendra Nath Sen gave his life for the people of Leeds.” 

Unity Homes and Enterprise to honour Great War BME soldiers at AGM

A Leeds housing association will pay tribute to the bravery of black and minority ethnic Commonwealth soldiers in the First World War at its Annual General Meeting.

  Colonel Karl Harris

Colonel Karl Harris

Unity Homes and Enterprise - based in Chapeltown – has themed next week’s gathering to coincide with the centenary year of Armistice Day. 

It will be addressed by Colonel Karl Harris, Chair of the British Army’s Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Network, which aims to help inform, support and inspire men and women from ethnic minorities.  Colonel Harris recently completed a year-long deployment to Iraq as the United Kingdom’s Special Defence Adviser to the Ministry of Peshmerga, supporting the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Peshmerga Reform Programme.

He will be followed by Lucy Moore, Projects Curator: First World War for Leeds Museums and Galleries.  In 2017, Lucy received a grant from the British Council to visit India to research the life of Jogendra Nath Sen, a Bengali-born member of the Leeds Pals battalion. She is publishing more about his life in “The Leeds Pals: A Handbook” which is due out shortly. 

  Lucy Moore

Lucy Moore

The meeting, which will be held on Tuesday (25th September) at The Sheepscar in Chapeltown, will begin with a performance from leading Bradford south Asian arts organisation Kala Sangam, which specialises in Bharatanatyam dance and Carnatic music.

Last year, Unity’s 30th anniversary AGM featured the late Baroness Brenda Dean, former Chairman of Housing Corporation, as keynote speaker.  

In 2017, Lord Patel of Bradford addressed the meeting held at Headingley Cricket Ground as a curtain raiser for a special inter-faith match between Mount Cricket Club, a team of Muslim players from Batley, and St Peter’s XI, the Vatican’s official cricket team.  

Ali Akbor, Chief Executive of Unity Homes and Enterprise, said he was hugely looking forward to the event which would also celebrate the association’s achievements over the past 12 months.

He commented: “Unity has had a particularly successful year as evidenced by our recent shortlisting for three national housing awards. 

“Our key strategic role is to increase affordable housing and we have just added a further 58 completions through our affordable homes development programme.

“But Unity remains strongly of the view that the regeneration of the communities we serve means creating life opportunities as well as building high quality housing.  To that end, we were delighted to open a new incubator at Unity Business Centre, one of three sites operated by our subsidiary company Unity Enterprise. 

“Unity Employment Services also continued its excellent work with tenants and local people to give them the skills they need to find work, with more than 250 individuals entering employment over the past year.”

  Ali Akbor

Ali Akbor

Mr Akbor said he was excited to welcome an “outstanding” line-up of speakers and performers to the AGM.          

He continued: “We gave careful consideration to the theme for this year’s event.  To mark 100 years since the end of the Great War, we believe it is reflective of our roots as a BME-led organisation to highlight the heroism of black and minority ethnic soldiers in that terrible conflict whose contribution is sometimes forgotten amongst the many who lost their lives.    

“Lucy Moore speaks with great authority on these matters, and Colonel Karl Harris will bring us right up to the present day by talking about the valued role servicemen and women of BME origin continue to fulfil in the modern British Armed Forces.  It promises to be a memorable occasion.”

Leeds housing association shortlisted for three national awards

BME-led housing association Unity Homes and Enterprise has received national recognition for its work after being shortlisted for three prestigious 24housing Awards.     

Unity, which has its headquarters in Chapeltown close to Leeds city centre, has been singled-out in the ‘Community Achievement’ and ‘Customer Services Provider of the Year’ categories.

Ali Akbor, who has led the organisation since 1999, is also in the final running for ‘Chief Executive of the Year.’    

The winners will be announced on 18 October in an evening of celebration at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry. 

Unity was formed in 1987 with the objective of building a strong, BME-led, community housing association to address the needs of black and minority ethnic communities in Leeds.  It now manages 1,300 properties for tenants from all communities and ethnic backgrounds. Construction is also underway on its second affordable housing development outside the city. 

In 2000 the association established a subsidiary company, Unity Enterprise, to support local entrepreneurial activity. 

Unity Employment Services was set-up in 2011 to help Unity tenants and their surrounding communities to access employment and training opportunities.

  Unity Homes and Enterprise staff celebrate the association’s 30th anniversary in 2017

Unity Homes and Enterprise staff celebrate the association’s 30th anniversary in 2017

Mr Akbor said: “On behalf of all staff, I am absolutely thrilled that our work has been acknowledged in this way.

“The nomination for ‘Community Achievement’ is a direct result of the hard work put in by our Employment Services team which last year helped 366 people into training, employment and volunteering.

“The shortlisting for ‘Customer Services Provider of the Year’ is a true group effort with Unity employees at all levels playing their full part.

“I am immensely proud of every single member of our team who have earned this high-level recognition for what they have done for our tenants, stakeholders and the wider communities that we serve.”  

Mark Lawrence, editor of 24housing Magazine, said: “Every year the number of nominations increases and the standard gets higher.

“Every organisation that has been shortlisted has showcased the amazing work they have been doing to improve the lives of their tenants and the communities they serve.

“The judges now have the hard task of choosing the winner in each category.

“I wish all the shortlisted entries the best of luck.”

Social enterprise sows seeds for growth at Unity Business Centre

A Leeds-based social enterprise which promotes better mental health through growing fresh produce is going from strength to strength after establishing an indoor farm at Unity Business Centre in Chapeltown.

Using a process known as hydroponics in which plants are grown in sand, gravel, or liquid rather than soil, Growing Better remains sustainable by selling its impressive range of healthy micro greens and shoots - including basil, broccoli, pea shoots and celery leaf - on the open market.

Customers can also purchase a starter grow kit which includes commercial grade seeds and hydroponic grow pads together with a tray and lid.

  From left to right: Growing Better founder and chief executive Rob Moores at Unity Business Centre with Unity Homes and Enterprise chief executive Ali Akbor and Unity Enterprise manager Adrian Green

From left to right: Growing Better founder and chief executive Rob Moores at Unity Business Centre with Unity Homes and Enterprise chief executive Ali Akbor and Unity Enterprise manager Adrian Green

Rob Moores, founder and chief executive of Growing Better, said: “We aim to provide a supportive environment for people coping with mental health challenges, and there is lot of evidence which shows that growing produce can lead to better mental health.

"Our indoor, hydroponic vertical farm at Unity Business Centre is a first-class facility.  We share the building with many other fledgling businesses which enables us to exchange ideas and take part in on-site seminars and other enterprise-focused events. 

“We are also developing an outdoor community forest garden on a three quarters of an acre site in West Leeds where we run regular sessions and welcome volunteers. Our clients can self-refer or be referred directly by GPs, third sector organisations, counsellors and carer services.”

Unity Business Centre is one of three sites in Leeds operated by Unity Enterprise, a subsidiary of Unity Homes and Enterprise, which collectively provide 130 managed workspaces for around 80 businesses, social enterprises and third sector bodies.

Adrian Green, Unity Enterprise manager, said: “We were delighted to welcome Growing Better to Unity Business Centre and follow their progress very keenly. 

“Rob and his team have brought fresh thinking – as well as fresh produce - into the exciting and dynamic environment that our clients enjoy across all three of our centres. This atmosphere of boundless positivity has enabled an ever-increasing number of inner city enterprises and voluntary sector organisations to grow and prosper.

“As well as our dedicated workspaces, Unity Enterprise also offers first-rate conference facilities and meeting rooms for hire.”

 Ali Akbor, Unity Homes and Enterprise chief executive, said: “Unity Enterprise was set up in 2000 to complement the work were already doing to improve local communities through the provision of high quality, affordable homes.   

“Helping people to help themselves by increasing employment opportunities and promoting social inclusion via business activities is at the core of our work.  Growing Better is an excellent recruit as we strive to continue meeting these objectives. 

“The added benefits that Growing Better offers to people with mental health challenges are truly wonderful.  We are proud to be supporting them in what they do.”   

Anyone wanting to get involved with Growing Better should contact Rob Moores on Tel: 07853 607110 or email hello@growingbetter.co

Businesses seeking more information about Unity Enterprise and its services can learn more from Adrian Green on Tel: 0113 242 5996 or email: adrian.green@unityha.co.uk 

New Housing Minister welcomed to post by Leeds housing association chief executive

Ali Akbor, chief executive of Leeds-based housing association Unity Homes and Enterprise, has welcomed the appointment of Kit Malthouse as the new Minister of State for Housing.

Mr Malthouse, formerly Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions, was appointed to replace Dominic Raab who has become Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.

  Unity Homes and Enterprise Chief Executive Ali Akbor

Unity Homes and Enterprise Chief Executive Ali Akbor

Mr Akbor said: “Mr Malthouse is the eighth Housing Minister to be appointed since 2010, with both of his immediate predecessors only staying in the post for a matter of months.

“The housing association sector now desperately needs a period of stability if we are to properly assist the Government in tackling the national housing crisis.

“In his six months in the job, Dominic Raab seemed somewhat detached and arguably disinterested in working closely with us to deliver the affordable homes that so many people need.  

“That was in contrast with the more constructive and positive approach adopted by the recently appointed Housing Secretary, James Brokenshire, who I was pleased to meet last month.

“I hope that Kit Malthouse will now follow Mr Brokenshire’s lead and indicate his willingness to be bold and commit himself to confronting the many housing challenges that we face as a nation.

“I have written to welcome him to his new role and issue an invitation to visit Yorkshire to see the exciting work that Unity Homes and Enterprise is doing to build new high quality affordable homes and regenerate local communities.”    

Housing Secretary congratulates BME associations at Westminster celebration event

James Brokenshire has praised BME housing associations for their work in “promoting equality and diversity within the housing market” and “helping build the strong, integrated communities that we all want to see.”

  James Brokenshire at the BME National celebration event

James Brokenshire at the BME National celebration event

The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government was speaking at a special reception in the House of Lords to celebrate the positive role played by BME housing associations in England over the last three decades.

Mr Brokenshire told the more than 100 BME housing association representatives present: “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.”

He acknowledged that diverse communities still face “particular challenges” and BME housing associations had “done much to meet their needs and provide culturally sensitive housing and support services.”  He added: “You are to be highly commended for this and the wider work your housing associations do to drive innovation and good practice on community issues and to provide diverse role models at a senior level.”

The Housing Secretary said that the role of BME housing associations was vital to building more homes, “but equally to help us build thriving, diverse, cohesive communities.”  He continued: “And this, perhaps, is your greatest achievement - and the greatest lesson for the wider housing sector, which can learn from your insight and experience to ensure that, in the services it provides and the leaders it chooses, it fully reflects the society it serves.  I want to see all parts of the sector bringing people from different backgrounds together to break down barriers and combat isolation.”

Guests, including MPs and peers, were shown a short video reflecting on the experiences and achievements of the BME housing sector.  Short speeches were also delivered by Lord Patel of Bradford and Lord Morris of Handsworth.

BME National Chair Cym D’Souza ended proceedings by reminding attendees of the purpose of the event.

She said: “We came here to celebrate 30 years of challenges in meeting the needs of the BME communities we all serve.  Discrimination is a hideous thing.  It’s always there and it always threatens the vibrant communities that we seek to live in and the vibrant communities that we want to deliver for.”

Paying tribute to Mr Brokenshire for delivering a “rousing speech,” Ms D’Souza said that BME National has recently met with officials from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.  She told the Housing Secretary: “We were really pleased by the level of support and interest shown and hope to continue that relationship.”

BME National Secretary/Treasurer Ali Akbor, who organised the reception, said it was a fitting celebration of the ground-breaking work done by BME housing associations since the mid-1980s.   

But he added: “As Mr Brokenshire highlighted in his excellent speech, BME communities still encounter significant hurdles on the path to achievement.  It is imperative that BME housing associations continue to deliver high quality affordable homes and other services to enable them to fulfil their true potential.”   

  Housing Secretary James Brokenshire with Ali Akbor and Cym D'Souza from BME National

Housing Secretary James Brokenshire with Ali Akbor and Cym D'Souza from BME National

Unity chief executive honoured by inclusion in BME Housing Leaders list

The chief executive of Leeds-based housing association Unity Homes and Enterprise has been included in the inaugural Inside Housing BME Leaders List which has just been published.

BME LEADERS LIST 2018.jpeg

Ali Akbor, who has led Unity for more than 19 years, received special praise for his work in supporting people in starting their own businesses.   

Inside Housing editor Emma Maier explained the background to the list.

“When Inside Housing launched its Inclusive Futures campaign, we committed to showcasing positive role models as a means of promoting diversity,” she said.

“We celebrate just some of the people from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds who are making a daily difference in the housing sector.

She added: “I congratulate everyone included in the list. They serve to highlight just why it’s so valuable our sector encourages diversity, and why Inside Housing will continue to push for it to do so.

Commenting on Mr Akbor’s inclusion, the judges said: “Unity was formed in 1987 with a very specific mission: to help BME communities in Leeds. But under Ali’s leadership, which began in 1999, the organisation has significantly expanded the areas and communities it serves, and the support it provides.

“Our judges were particularly impressed by his creation of Unity Enterprise – which supports local entrepreneurial activity and runs three business centres which are home to 80 businesses – and of Unity Employment Services, which has supported more than 1,300 people into work or training.

“One judge said: ‘It’s common to support people into work, but less common to be supporting people to start their own enterprises. That says ‘ambition’.’”

Unity AGM 2 crop.jpg

Responding to his nomination, Mr Akbor said: “I am honoured and very humbled to be recognised in this way. 

“Most importantly, it highlights the good work that everyone does at Unity on behalf of our tenants.

“A lot of credit also goes to our partners including Leeds City Council, Homes England and others who have helped us to deliver positive results and improve people’s lives.

“Unity Homes and Enterprise has exciting plans for future development, including an ever-growing number of new affordable housing schemes.  I believe that many more good days lies ahead.”  

People empowerment is the key to success, says Unity chief executive

The chief executive of Leeds-based housing association Unity Homes and Enterprise has told a national conference that empowering people from BME backgrounds is a vital tool for improving life prospects. 

Ali Akbor, who has led Unity for more than 19 years, was speaking at the inaugural Diversity in Housing Conference at Villa Park football stadium in Birmingham.

  Unity chief executive Ali Akbor

Unity chief executive Ali Akbor

Organised by 24 Housing magazine, the event attracted senior housing sector figures from across the country.      

Mr Akbor told delegates that, in common with many other BME-led associations, Unity was set up in the 1980s to help BME communities living in low quality, poorly-managed homes.       

“Unity’s founding fathers deserve great credit for what they did back then including their work to establish the core mission under which we continue to operate: to provide housing choice, improve life opportunities and address inequalities,” he said.  

“Unity seeks to empower BME individuals by working closely with the communities we serve, most of which have a high proportion of residents of BME origin.  We are also proud to have a very strong BME representation in our staffing and on our board.” 

Mr Akbor explained that, in common with other housing associations, Unity participates in various programmes which support and promote opportunities specifically for individuals from BME backgrounds to get into the housing sector.

But he added: “Our culture is already very well-established.  It reflects our roots and it delivers results for those individuals and community groups who are most at risk of being left behind if Unity was not there to support them.  The revitalisation of communities is not just about providing high quality affordable homes, but also stimulating social and economic regeneration.”

Mr Akbor told the audience that Unity Enterprise was established as a subsidiary not-for-profit company in 2000 to support local entrepreneurial activity in Leeds.  It now runs three business centres, which are home to more than 80 different enterprises and a business incubator recently opened by the Lord Mayor.

“The idea behind this initiative was to retain community assets for the benefit of the community,” he said.  “Through Unity Enterprise, we support businesses, social enterprises and community organisations in the area in which we operate. They in turn develop new businesses, create jobs and training opportunities for local people.”

Mr Akbor continued: “Unity Employment Services was set-up in 2011 to assist Unity tenants and their surrounding communities in accessing employment and training opportunities. To date the team has supported more than 1,300 people into work or training including a number who have taken up paid employment with Unity.  We also continue to have a dedicated Financial Inclusion Service to provide tenants with advice and support relating to debt, budgeting and welfare.”

The Unity chief executive said that whilst the housing association had broadened its range of activities over the last three decades, it will always remain true to its origins and close to the individuals, families and community groups it serves.   

And he remarked that double Olympic boxing champion Nicola Adams, who grew up in Leeds, had received help from Unity with her transport costs when training for London 2012.  He added: “This is an example of how with the appropriate support you can literally reach for gold.”

  Ali Akbor, Unity Chief Executive, with double Olympic gold medalist Nicola Adams OBE and Unity Chair Shruti Bhargava

Ali Akbor, Unity Chief Executive, with double Olympic gold medalist Nicola Adams OBE and Unity Chair Shruti Bhargava

Concluding, Mr Akbor said that Unity seeks to empower people in many difference ways.  He continued: “We have a deep understanding of the communities we serve.  We get to know the people who live in these communities.  We seek to gain their trust.  And we try to help them in any way we reasonably can.”

Unity chief executive welcomes appointment of new Housing Secretary

  ALI AKBOR

ALI AKBOR

Ali Akbor, the chief executive of Leeds-based housing association Unity Homes and Enterprise, has said he hopes the appointment of James Brokenshire as Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will place the need for more affordable homes higher up the Government’s agenda.

Mr Akbor said: “I congratulate Sajid Javid on becoming the first person from a BME-background to be appointed Home Secretary and wish him well in the job.

“However, I regret that he did not do more to tackle the ongoing national housing crisis and hope that James Brokenshire will soon develop a more impressive record of achievement. 

“Mr Brokenshire has a sound reputation in Whitehall and is known to be close to Theresa May following their many years together in the Home Office.    

“I am hopeful that having the Prime Minister’s ear will allow him to advance affordable housing much higher up the Government’s domestic policy agenda and enable associations such as Unity to build the many more new homes that people desperately need.”   

Lord Mayor gives blessing to new Leeds business incubator

The Lord Mayor of Leeds has formally opened a new business incubator to boost the prospects of start-up companies in the city.

Cllr Jane Dowson cut the ribbon in a ceremony at Unity Business Centre in Chapeltown alongside senior representatives from project hosts Unity Homes and Enterprise and their partners iota Business.

The tailored facility offers shared office space to entrepreneurs, together with access to specialist support services, business mentoring and networking events.       

Addressing guests including local small business owners, the Lord Mayor said: “It is a great pleasure to see businesses developing within the city.  There are tonnes of things that you’re going to be able to do here.  I love the set-up because there are face-to-face contacts with other people.  You’ve got private rooms and can invite people in to meet you.  There is everything you need to set up your business.”

Cllr Dowson added: “Doing it all on your own can be hugely debilitating because it’s a frightening step to take.  This business incubator will give that confidence to turn the bright and brilliant idea into something that will actually work.  I look forward in years to come to coming out to see your businesses expand because this is a starter, not a finish.” 

  The Lord Mayor of Leeds, Cllr Jane Dowson (centre right), cuts the ribbon at the new incubator, supported by Unity Homes and Enterprise chief executive Ali Akbor (centre) and iota Business co-founder Cristine Wilson (centre left) 

The Lord Mayor of Leeds, Cllr Jane Dowson (centre right), cuts the ribbon at the new incubator, supported by Unity Homes and Enterprise chief executive Ali Akbor (centre) and iota Business co-founder Cristine Wilson (centre left) 

Unity Business Centre is one of three sites in Leeds operated by Unity Enterprise, a subsidiary of Unity Homes and Enterprise, which collectively provide 130 managed workspaces for around 80 businesses, social enterprises and third sector bodies.

Unity’s partner for the incubator scheme, iota Business, has accumulated almost three decades of service to small and medium-sized businesses in accounts, payroll and business support. 

Commenting on the initiative, Adrian Green, Unity Enterprise manager, told the gathering: “This new business hub is something very close to my heart.  Working with iota Business, it will encourage entrepreneurs out of their bedrooms into cost-effective accommodation on a flexible basis, with the added benefit of having chartered accountants, business advisers and other experts on-hand.” 

Kari Walker, iota Business co-founder, said: “There are so many talented people out there and they don’t have the contacts, they don’t always have the finance, they don’t often have the confidence to take that first step into running their own business, to make that leap.  What the business incubator hopes to do is give them a bit of that confidence, give them a guiding hand.  This community really deserves that helping hand.”

Ali Akbor, Unity Homes and Enterprise chief executive, told attendees: “It is exciting for us to have this incubator opening at the Unity Business Centre.  Working in partnership with iota Business, I’m delighted that we’re able to offer a service to the business community, particularly to new businesses, to encourage them to employ and train a lot of people.  I wish you a lot of success.  We’re here to support you as much as we can.”       

Businesses seeking more information about the incubator scheme or other services provided by Unity Enterprise can contact Adrian Green on Tel: 0113 242 5996 or email: adrian.green@unityha.co.uk 

Unity on show as partners and students join local MP at Leeds affordable housing scheme

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves has joined senior representatives of Unity Homes and Enterprise, councillors and other project partners as construction work gathers pace at the housing association’s new £2 million affordable homes development in Armley.

The scheme, which includes six houses and eight flats, is on the site of the former Ancester public house at Armley Ridge Road which had been boarded up for several years before being placed on Leeds City Council’s list of ‘derelict and eyesore’ buildings.

The local authority repurchased the ground lease in 2014 and earmarked it for new affordable housing.

The site was purchased by Unity in September 2017 and construction work to build 14 affordable homes for rent commenced late last year.

Homes England has provided grant funding of £420,000 towards the project which is due to be completed in September 2018.   The contractors are Esh Property Services.

  Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves (centre) celebrating progress on the Armley Ridge Road site with Unity chief executive Ali Akbor (centre right), project partners and students from Leeds Beckett University  

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves (centre) celebrating progress on the Armley Ridge Road site with Unity chief executive Ali Akbor (centre right), project partners and students from Leeds Beckett University  

 Ali Akbor, Unity Homes and Enterprise chief executive, said: “We are very excited about the new development which increases Unity’s presence in Armley.

“It will deliver an excellent mix of properties, ranging from one-bedroomed flats to three-bedroomed houses. 

“We were delighted that Rachel was able to join us and our project partners to review progress and we look forward to welcoming her back on site to see the final results. 

“Unity has recently completed 58 new affordable homes for rent and construction work on a further 68 is about to begin.

“With many more exciting schemes in the pipeline, we are proud to be playing our part in delivering high quality properties and improving people’s lives across Leeds.” 

Rachel Reeves said: “I was really pleased to see the great progress Unity Homes and Enterprise have made with their new project at the site of the derelict Ancestor pub at Armley Ridge Road.

“Local residents will benefit from this £2 million investment, which will help to regenerate the area by building new affordable homes.”

12 students from the School of Built Environment and Engineering at Leeds Beckett University were also invited to take part in the site visit.  They were accompanied by Dr Quintin Bradley, Senior Lecturer in Planning and Housing.

Dr Bradley said: “Our students are the planners and developers of tomorrow.

“It is an absolute inspiration for them to learn from Unity who are building affordable homes on brownfield sites like this one, and making them energy efficient and built to lifetime homes standards.

“This shows what wonders social housing providers can do.”

Unity chief executive expresses sadness following the death of Baroness Dean

  Ali Akbor

Ali Akbor

The following statement has been issued by Ali Akbor, Chief Executive of Unity Homes and Enterprise, following this afternoon’s announcement of the death of Baroness Dean:

“I would like to express my feelings of shock and deep sadness at news that Baroness Dean has passed away.

“Everyone at Unity was privileged when she attended our thirtieth anniversary Annual General Meeting last autumn as guest of honour.

“She spoke with great warmth and unparalleled knowledge, based on a lifetime of experiences including her period as Chairman of the Housing Corporation, about the important role played by the BME housing sector.   

“In recent weeks, Baroness Dean had accepted my invitation to address a future event celebrating the work of BME-led housing associations in England and I was very much looking forward to seeing her again.

“She had much more left to give and her untimely death is a huge loss to so many.”

New contractor set to maintain Unity’s high standards

Unity Homes and Enterprise has appointed a new contractor tasked with ensuring that the Leeds-based association’s highly-rated properties are maintained to the lofty standards tenants rightly expect.

  Ali Akbor (front, second from left) and Gary Thewlis (front, second from right) with staff from Unity Homes and Enterprise and GTD Painting and Property Maintenance.  Also included are Unity tenant Belinda Letham (front, left) who assisted with the procurement process alongside Adrian Smith (back row, second from left) and Nigel Barr (back row, fourth from right) from consultants Stradia  

Ali Akbor (front, second from left) and Gary Thewlis (front, second from right) with staff from Unity Homes and Enterprise and GTD Painting and Property Maintenance.  Also included are Unity tenant Belinda Letham (front, left) who assisted with the procurement process alongside Adrian Smith (back row, second from left) and Nigel Barr (back row, fourth from right) from consultants Stradia  

GTD Painting and Property Maintenance, based in Crossgates, emerged successfully from a rigorous tendering process and will formally take up responsibility in April for repairs and upkeep of the more than 1,200 properties owned by Unity.

Ali Akbor, Unity Homes and Enterprise chief executive, said: “We are very pleased to have GTD on board and look forward to building a strong professional relationship with their team in months ahead on behalf of our tenants.

  Gary Thewlis, GTD Painting and Property Maintenance managing director (left) with Ali Akbor, Unity Homes and Enterprise chief executive

Gary Thewlis, GTD Painting and Property Maintenance managing director (left) with Ali Akbor, Unity Homes and Enterprise chief executive

“15 expressions of interest to bid for the work were received and six contractors were subsequently invited to participate in the tendering exercise which included site visits, presentations and in-depth interviews. 

“Much will be expected from GTD given the continued very high customer satisfaction ratings for our current repairs and maintenance service.  In our most recent survey carried out last year, 99 per cent of Unity tenants who filled out a feedback form after a repair was completed said they were happy with the outcome. 

“This is a striking achievement and I am confident that these impressive results will continue as we enter our new partnership with GTD.”     

Gary Thewlis, GTD Painting and Property Maintenance managing director, said: “We are thrilled to be selected as Unity's preferred repairs and maintenance contractor.

“We are looking forward to delivering our customer driven services which we are confident will surpass the expectations of Unity's tenants, staff and board members.”

Snow problem is no problem as ‘perfect’ Leeds Digital Job Fair wows employers

Exhibitors have praised the quality of digital and tech candidates who braved the snow to attend last week’s hugely successful Leeds Digital Job Fair at the First Direct Arena.

Almost 1,000 people walked through the doors of the iconic city centre venue to meet the most diverse range of employers in the event’s short history, all with attractive career opportunities on offer.  

One of the best-known debut exhibitors was the Royal Air Force.  Speaking afterwards, Flight Lieutenant Phil Todd applauded the gathering organised by online jobs board Herd with support from Leeds Business Improvement District (LeedsBID), Leeds City Council, Leeds Beckett University and the First Direct Arena.  

  The RAF team complete preparations before doors open at the First Direct Arena

The RAF team complete preparations before doors open at the First Direct Arena

He said: “This was the first year the RAF had attended the Leeds Digital Job Fair and we will definitely be looking to attend at the next event.  The calibre of candidates and the number of job seekers was above expectation, and perfect for a technological force like the RAF. As an exhibitor, the Leeds Digital Job Fair - delivered by Herd - provided a plethora of diverse, high-calibre candidates.  We received an abundance of interest in RAF Careers, both digital and the wider ranging opportunities on offer. 

“RAF Careers doesn’t normally follow the crowd, it leads it.  However, as a result of the success of the Leeds Digital Jobs Fair, we think this is definitely a Herd worth joining forces with.  Great candidates, with a multitude of talents, looking to start a career or finding their next career step in the digital world.”  

Another debutant was Leeds-based automotive data specialist cap hpi. 

Joel Albyn, cap hpi Product and Innovation Director, said: “This was our first time at the Leeds Digital Job Fair and we couldn’t be happier with how it went. Despite the snow, it was clear from the moment the doors opened that the ‘digital talent’ of Leeds was out in force and we were quickly inundated with folks wanting to talk about our development, product and data analytics roles.  We talked to some great people with a wide range of experiences and skills, capturing the details of literally hundreds of interested candidates over the four hours. The event was huge success from our perspective – and the snow just added to the occasion!”

  The busy cap hpi stand at Leeds Digital Job Fair 4.0

The busy cap hpi stand at Leeds Digital Job Fair 4.0

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) were also welcome first-time visitors to the event.

Dan Tanham, DWP Digital Deputy Director, said: “It’s great to see so many exciting companies recruiting hard in the thriving digital economy in Leeds. I was overwhelmed with not just the quantity but the quality of the delegates who had made it through the snow. It was great to meet them and share more about what we do at DWP Digital, as well as to learn from them about the changing expectations and experiences of highly skilled graduates from really quite varied backgrounds. This city clearly has a bright future driven by the engine of a vibrant digital skills community.”

Sky has been one of the biggest supporters of the Leeds Digital Job Fair, having exhibited on two previous occasions. 

  Sky in demand at the First Direct Arena

Sky in demand at the First Direct Arena

Tom Dean, Recruitment Partner at Sky, was fulsome in his praise.   

He said:  “The event was fantastic and given the weather the turnout was great. We were able to talk to hundreds of potential candidates from newcomers to the highly-experienced. Sky were able to not only talk about our roles, but our culture and values which we are very proud of.”

Amy De-Balsi, owner of Herd and founder of the Leeds Digital Job Fair, was delighted by the feedback from exhibitors and the many candidates she spoke to throughout the afternoon.

  Herd founder Amy De-Balsi, organiser of Leeds Digital Job Fair 4.0

Herd founder Amy De-Balsi, organiser of Leeds Digital Job Fair 4.0

She said: “There was a wonderfully warm atmosphere inside the First Direct Arena, which was something from a contrast to the snowy scene outside.  The huge turnout represented an excellent illustration of the resolve, determination and good humour that the Leeds digital sector is renowned for, and I commend everyone who made the effort to come along.

“Most importantly, our best-ever line-up of employers had many positive engagements with attendees and lots of tech vacancies will be filled as a result.

“That is why I established the event in 2016 and we are already making plans for Leeds Digital Job Fair 5.0 next year.”   

Minister welcomes Leeds Digital Job Fair as final call goes out to register for free

Margot James, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, has praised the Leeds tech scene as preparations for the Leeds Digital Job Fair are finalised.

  Margot James MP

Margot James MP

Supported by Leeds Business Improvement District (LeedsBID), Leeds City Council and Leeds Beckett University, Leeds Digital Job Fair 4.0 takes place next Wednesday (28 February) from 3.30-7.30pm at the First Direct Arena.  

The iconic auditorium will host 50 exhibitors including Sky Betting and Gaming, Jet2.com and Jet2holidays, NHS Digital, cap hpi, DWP Digital, Equifax and Sky.

Job seekers, students, graduates and tech professionals wishing to attend the event can still book their place free of charge by visiting www.herd.careers   

Margot James, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, said: “We are determined to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business, help every firm to benefit from innovative technologies and give people the skills they need to succeed in the sector.

"Leeds is a hotbed of tech talent and leading digital businesses, and this fair highlights the great opportunities on offer across the city."

Amy De-Balsi, owner of online jobs board Herd who founded Leeds Digital Job Fair in 2016, said: “I am delighted by the supportive words from Margot James and wish her well in her new role.

  Herd owner and Leeds Digital Job Fair founder Amy De-Balsi

Herd owner and Leeds Digital Job Fair founder Amy De-Balsi

“There are currently more than 800 digital and tech vacancies ready to be filled in Leeds with more than half of these on offer at Leeds Digital Job Fair 4.0.

“The number of jobs available highlights the welcome reality that you do not have to live in London to progress your career in digital and tech and it is refreshing to hear that point underlined by the minister.     

“I urge job seekers and tech professionals considering a change to sign-up for free to attend the event.  Many hundreds have already done so, and we are expecting a massive turnout at what will undoubtedly be the biggest and best Leeds Digital Job Fair yet.”