Here’s a quick question – how important is the housing market to the UK economy? The quick answer is very.
It’s so important that the General Election campaign just passed has probably seen the greatest focus on housing issues than any in at least the past three decades.
The Coalition government of 2010-15 was unashamedly proactive when it came to the housing (and mortgage) markets over the course of its tenure. It appeared to recognise that a fully-functioning housing market provided an overwhelming boost to UK plc via a variety of sectors, not just in the building of properties.
So, when David Cameron, still basking in his party’s victory, was reshuffling his Cabinet and issuing ministerial briefs, there appeared to be widespread optimism that the housing minister would be a suitably important part of those discussions.
Unfortunately as the @David_Cameron Twitter account was live-tweeting the names of those handed Ministerial responsibilities on the 11 May, there came with it a sense of foreboding about what might be about to enfold. Somewhat desperate tweets were being written by journalists and property stakeholders along the lines of ‘Who is the housing minister?’ Pre-election it had been Brandon Lewis and given he had won his seat with an increased majority it seemed a good bet that he would get the gig again, adding a layer of continuity which has been much missed from this particular brief.
By late afternoon, the Twitter feed had made no mention of a Housing Minister, but then there was this: ‘Mark Francois will become Minister of State at Department for Communities and Local Government’. Soon after the Gov.uk website announced that Francois, now had responsibility for housing, planning and development, the Ebbsfleet development and traveller policy.
Quelle surprise. Another new housing minister we all thought – which would have made it three in two years and, lo and behold, the words, ‘He will attend Cabinet’ were again missing from the announcement. Back to square one then, or perhaps given the fact that it appeared Mr. Lewis had been jettisoned, back to square minus one.
However, the situation suddenly went all ‘Yes Minister’ and by early the next morning it appeared a u-turn was on the cards, certainly when it came to the individual who would be housing and planning minister. Step forward once again Brandon Lewis who, we were now told, would actually been remaining in his post. A positive at last given that Mr. Lewis no doubt has developed some strong relationships during his time as housing minister – relationships which will be vital in tackling the supply shortage problem.
However, the long-called for elevation to Cabinet meetings would not be forthcoming which again seems to send the message that housing isn’t quite as important to the government as we were led to believe during the Election. Number 10 has provided a flim-flam answer to this, suggesting that the DCLG minister Greg Clark will be present at Cabinet and given the DCLG covers housing then “it’s fair to say this issue will be covered”. But, I’m sure like many there is a feeling of being short-changed here.
The somewhat shambolic way this reappointment has been handled does not provide a confident start to what is a hugely important role over the next five years. And the situation still leaves me hoping that the position will one day match that importance and we might at some stage have a representative sitting at the very top table of UK politics. I vehemently believe such a stance would show us the respect our industry deserves.
Bob Hunt is chief executive of Paradigm Mortgage Services