Not all Surpluses are bad!

As a finance professional working in social housing, I have watched with some dismay and increasing irritation the media fuelled witch hunt about the increasing surpluses that some housing associations are publishing in their statutory financial statements.

accounting-imageAs any accountant will explain to you, if you bother to ask them, the surplus in an income and expenditure account has become an increasingly abstract concept. It definitely isn’t the spare amount of cash that some would seem to have us believe. It is an attempt to measure the financial performance of an organisation using a very specific and increasingly complex set of rules. The size of surplus is much less important than what it is being used for – as there are a number of very legitimate and indeed planned uses of such surpluses. These uses are accounted for in different ways so that they do not go through the income and expenditure accounts of organisations but will be clearly seen elsewhere in financial statements. Typically in the nearby Cashflow Statement!

Legitimate and worthy uses could include:

  • building or buying additional social housing
  • repaying finance used to build or buy social housing, including in some cases buying it from local government under the stock transfer regime.

When I look at many social landlords financial statements I see that most of their vilified surpluses are being used almost exclusively for the above two purposes but seldom is this mentioned in the irate press. Instead there seems to be an inference that these surpluses are a sign of some kind of abuse of their social purpose. This I could understand if these surpluses were being used to pay large dividends to shareholders or large bonuses to staff. But hardly any social landlords have share capital that pays out any kind of return and if bonuses were paid these would actually reduce the surpluses.

So my plea is to look a few pages on in financial statements and see what uses any surpluses are being put to before condemning organisations for betraying their purpose.

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A matter of choice?

So some UKIP councillor has suggested that gay men be shot to encourage other homosexuals to ‘decide’ to be straight. And so the ongoing “nurture or nature” debate about sexuality continues albeit in a rather inflammatory way.

While an increasing proportion of the population seem prepared to accept that sexuality is more influenced by genetics than choice, clearly for some people this is offensive. For what it’s worth my own experience would suggest that there is little element of choice. In fact there have been times when if it had been a choice it would have made my life much easier.

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However let’s be clear that there is no evidence or even any suggestion that religion or politics are genetically determined, is there? Albeit some religions include children at birth based on their parents choices. Most main religions and political parties openly welcome new comers who make a CHOICE to join them.

So this means the best case scenario for those who find homosexuality offensive for either religious or political reasons is that they are asking for their choice to over-ride my supposed choice of sexuality. Can anyone explain why their free choice of religion or politics should over-ride my choice of who I choose to love and spend my life with? Because I’m struggling to think of a reason why it should.

And of course, their worst case is, of course, that their choice is seeking to change something over which I and many others have little or no control! What on earth is that about?

So next time I hear a discussion about any element of choice in sexuality I’m going to be looking a little wider than sexuality and asking about others choices and why they should over-ride mine.

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Mindfulness

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For the last couple of month’s I have been using the Headspace mindfulness or meditation app. I’ve always thought that our mind and how we think has much more impact on our wellbeing than many of us realise. I suspect that is why I have been interested in autogenics and coaching.

I’ve really enjoyed using the App, which presents a number of guided mediations that start off at 10 minutes and gradually increase in duration. I find it great when I get in from work to calm my mind from the busy-ness of the day and help me relax more. I’ve also noticed that I’m worrying less about things and feel more relaxed, despite things being incredibly busy at work. These benefits have been much appreciated by my partner too.

However it was a bit of a surprise when reading a summary of the new Daniel Goleman 17349126
book; Focus; today to find that it is extolling the virtues of mindfulness as a way to achieve focus and through that excellence. It was great to read about the neuroscience that is proving that these techniques that might previously been seen as alternative are having a scientifically observable impact on us which can yield more tangible benefits than just helping us to feel better. I’m also glad that my employer is open minded enough to be including mindfulness in our Week of Wellbeing for my colleagues next month and I shall certainly be sharing both my own experience and the further insights that this book provides too.

I’d be really interested in others experience of both mindfulness and meditation, and to understand whether there is a difference between the two or not.

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Public or Private?

Last week we had our annual conference at work and this year the theme was Diversity. As part of that event we launched our own Human Library and I was privileged to be one of the books in it. This means that “readers” select you by way of a title and are then allowed a time to “read” you. This usually takes the form of a very interesting conversation as the reader has been introduced to their book by way of a particular attribute that perhaps would not normally crop up in conversation. Somehow this enable a quality of conversation that I have seldom seen elsewhere.

tumblr_inline_mn8xcw8a9i1qz4rgpMy title was “The man who cannot hold his husband’s hand.” obviously referring to my sexuality but also highlight my fear of the reaction that public displays of affection towards my partner might attract. This fear is something I have shared with a few colleagues and has been a complete shock to them. Whilst I don’t think I am alone in this concern I do usually point out that as we avoid such displays it is not something I have tested recently except at the annual local Pride events.

I hope that my readers gained some insight into what being gay means as part of that event. I certainly gained further confirmation on an issue that has become increasingly clear to me. This being that our sexuality is about so much more than just sexual activity. I think it also covers who and what we are attracted to; who we love; how relate to people; what we like; and also how we express our gender identity. It is certainly not just “something you do in the privacy of your own home”, as one of my readers commented. Perhaps the word sexuality itself isn’t very helpful in this respect.

This has led me to wonder where that is why some people view sexuality as a choice. I know from my own experience that it was most definitely not a choice in exactly the same way that gender, race, and age are not choices.  And could this lack of understanding be part of why we often see such hatred and anger towards gay people.

I’d welcome others thoughts and reflections on these musings.

 

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Kindly go to sleep

The subject of sleep has occupied my thoughts over the last few weeks. Often between 3:30 and 6:00am! Initially I tried not to worry about it too much, as I have found in previous years that my sleep pattern can be disrupted when the clocks change. There has also been quite a lot going on, both at home and work so there has been plenty to occupy my mind when I regularly awoke at 3:30am. And as I became increasingly aware of my lack of sleep having an impact on me physically, emotionally and mentally, this just added to my list of worries.

Man-Sleeping

All the things that usually help me to get back into a good sleep pattern didn’t seem to work this time. Reducing alcohol and caffeine intakes had no effect, practicing yoga or autogenic exercises, while relaxing, didn’t improve things and even a pre bed soak in the hot tub didn’t help me sleep through the night.

Thankfully my beloved partner knows that I have these phases and has supported me incredibly, as he usually does, even to the extent of sitting and chatting with me in the early hours of the morning. I am also fortunate to work for a company that takes wellbeing seriously so telling colleagues that I wasn’t sleeping well was not difficult and elicited both understanding and several colleagues saying they were suffering similarly.

Finally towards the end of last week I came down with a cold, nothing major, just a head cold. Now usually I would have just carried on regardless, but this time I thought differently. At work we having been talking a lot about the importance of looking after ourselves – for many of us this seems harder than looking after others. We also made a commitment at our management team last week to embrace World Kindness Day (which is today) and to hold each other to account to be kind to ourselves.

So I took things easy over the weekend and even though I did go into work the last two days I asked colleagues to cover some meetings for me and made sure than I left early each day, by canceling other commitments. Thankfully my cold seems to be clearing up and also last night I managed to sleep nearly 10 hours, so this morning I feel much better. I’m sure I could have carried on regardless but what is this saying to others and is it really achieving more? Increasingly I doubt that so I for one am trying to be kinder to myself and to others.

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My Day of Compassion

Over the last few weeks I have been studying an Introduction to Social Psychology on Coursera. This lasts week’s subject has been Conflict and Aggression which concluded with a challenging assignment. We were tasked with living a day as compassionately as we could.

tumblr_inline_mn8xcw8a9i1qz4rgpWhen I read what others had done previously and looked at what was already in my diary I suspected that I might have quite a challenge to do anything momentous. However, as I had been really impressed with the example of how social media was being used compassionately by Ronny Edry (it’s here and well worth looking at if you haven’t seen it) I thought if all else fails I’m sure friends on Twitter and Facebook will help me. But there was an added challenge in that we were instructed not to tell anyone about the challenge until afterwards.

So last Friday I lived My Day of Compassion and my social media friends did help me out, which was great. Especially when we are increasingly hearing negative messages about social media. However the biggest surprise for me was not how much my day differed from normal, but how little. Now don’t get me wrong, I was making an effort to be more compassionate but the changes that resulted were not dramatic. In fact no one commented on any noticeable difference in me at all! So I suspect any differences were quite subtle and many were probably completely internal to me. I think I did listen to others a bit more, and I did try to be a bit more sensitive in how I spoke to people. But at the end of the day I felt better for doing this and I hope that those I came in contact with did too.

So whilst I doubt what I did or learnt is going to win me the assignment prize of a trip to visit the Dalai Lama, it has inspired me to think more about being compassionate to others and to share this with others. I am certain that if many of us were just a bit more compassionate to each, the benefits could end up being quite significant. So why not give it a go yourself and have your own day of compassion? Who knows you might enjoy it as much as I did.

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Invisible Parents

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About the bravery it takes to be parents when who they are is not recognized.

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Meetings

Now there is a word that you either love or hate. Meetings can be great fun and achieve great results or they can be turgid and dire wastes of time. Most are somewhere in between I suspect.

Today, a colleague and I tried something a bit different. We met up to progress a project we are both involved with, but instead of sitting round a table we donned our running gear and headed out for a four mile run. We managed to maintain a reasonable pace and talked as we went. Actually maintaining a conversation helped to keep our pace steady too.

 

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Did we chat about work all the time? No, of course not. We admired the view talked about how we were coping with the pace too. But we did cover quite a lot.

One our return we quickly grabbed a shower and retired to a hot tub where we continued our conversation, before concluding with some lunch.

Now ok, this wouldn’t work for every meeting, we didn’t need to take any notes, but we did manage to agree how to take forward our project and it was all very amicable.

So in no more time than a traditional meeting would have taken, we got our work done, got some exercise and food and left feeling relaxed and refreshed. It felt easier to chat somehow and a lot less pressurised too. Definitely worth doing if you are meeting another runner for business. Who knows a race might even settle any disputes too!

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Inequality

Yesterday morning I was saddened to see in the blog of a colleague and friend that their pursuit of treatment for a mental health condition has faced another set back. The blog is here if you would like to read it for yourself.

Now of course I was upset for Jon, facing another delay in getting the treatment that he needs. But my thoughts about this were more complex and I realised that it was the comment about private treatment that worried me most. As for me this was another example of the increasing inequality I see around us. Not just in healthcare but also in housing, legal remedies, education and transport.

Balance

An inequality in access to “public” services. And I wonder how we will manage this as we continue to face cuts in public expenditure to get our economy back on track. I look at all the incredible advances in medical science and question whether we can really expect all of these to be delivered by way of public services. I wonder if we can continue to provide health treatment for ailments that have been self-inflicted. I almost feel frightened to question this, is it heresy to do so?

I heard recently that a third of young people today may never be able to buy their own home, and another third will only be able to do with financial assistance from their parents. And these same parents may well be part of the pension crisis that we are told is looming in the future.

I don’t know what the answer is but I do think that some of it must be in our attitudes to public services and our ability to find and accept some radically different solutions in the future.  And whilst that may be difficult it might also be better too. So perhaps it is time to be brave and think the unthinkable.

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Time to get Blogging

Seriously, how could I not have blogged much in the past.

I enjoy the micro-blogging on Twitter as can be seen from the prolific number of tweets I have published! And there are times when 140 characters are just not enough to do justice to some of my thoughts.

I’m not going to promise anything sensational or revolutionary, but these will be my thoughts on things that interest or annoy me. Hopefully more of the former than the later.

I hope that they will facilitate some debate and discussion as that is what I most enjoy on Twitter. And I hope that I will learn through the process, so don’t be surprised if I change my views.

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