Given the continued flux in housing policymakers it is not surprising when a cabinet reshuffle is announced we tend to end up with another individual fulfilling the role – Dominic Raab replacing Alok Sharma this time.
However, the sharp-eyed among you will have noted I wrote ‘cabinet reshuffle’ when we are all aware that the housing minister hasn’t held a place at the cabinet table anyway.
Recent governments have determined that the housing minister is a junior position beneath the secretary of state for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), and given that they already attend cabinet why have the housing minister there as well?
After all, it’s only one of the most important sectors of the UK economy and has been deemed to be ‘broken’ for longer than I can now remember.
Therefore, Theresa May’s recent ‘reshuffle’ – for those individuals willing to make a move – has been of interest because of her decision to make the current head of the DCLG, Sajid Javid, the new secretary of the renamed Housing, Communities and Local Government department.
We’ll all have to get used to Javid being the new housing secretary and his department morphing into the DHCLG, plus we also have a new housing minister although he still won’t sit at the cabinet table. Are you still with me?
Given Theresa May’s recent pronouncements on the UK housing “crisis” and the lack of supply – she called it her “personal mission” to build more affordable homes – perhaps we should have anticipated such a move.
Some might suggest that two heads at the cabinet table would be better than one. Indeed, a minister dedicated to housing rather than one also spread across other areas might well have provided greater confidence to the market and perhaps ensured that recent progress continued apace.
For instance, last year there were over 200,000 new homes built in England, the first time in 10 years that such a number had been achieved.
Admittedly we appear to have quite a long way to go to reach the government’s stated ambition of 300,000 new homes per year by the middle of the next decade.
The big question in all of this of course is whether we are just dealing with semantics here.
Javid himself has tended to make a lot of the big housing-related announcements of late anyway; the housing minister continues to work under him at the DCLG; and one would hope that Javid was already a strong advocate for the housing market when sitting at the cabinet table.
Is the government merely putting a new label on a position which, quite frankly, already existed? Doubling up, without needing to bring another chair in?
Does anything actually change?
I’m not so sure. It’s been obvious since the General Election, and Theresa May’s loss of her overall majority that housing, the home-buying process, and key housing areas – for example, leasehold – have been a much higher priority for the government.
There’s no hiding the fact that the Conservatives did not truly appeal to younger voters at the last election, and that housing is a major issue for this demographic. Therefore, it’s an area the Conservatives needed to address – and keep addressing – which is why we’ve had the extra money for Help to Buy, the stamp duty cut for first-time buyers, and quick action on the leasehold new-build scandal.
This is a government that wants new homes built and wants to show it is taking the issue seriously.
Whether Javid’s ‘new role’, or the fact Raab remains in the background, actually changes anything remains to be seen.
But (even if it’s just a sleight of hand move) to have a ‘sort of housing minister’ officially sitting at the cabinet table must be better than the previous approach we’ve seen taken.
After all, you can’t change the game, if you’re not in play. Now, where have I heard that before?