THE REVOLVING DOORS AT THE HOUSING MINISTRY TURN ONCE AGAIN
Published 10 February 2023
Another week, another Cabinet reshuffle, and the ever-revolving doors at the Housing Ministry have turned once again. Lucy Frazer, who has left to become secretary of state for culture, media and sport, was only in the job for three months, admittedly rather longer than her predecessor Lee Rowley, who managed just 48 days in post, says Jan Hÿtch.
The new housing minister, Rachel Maclean, is the tenth person in the job in five years – and the sixth holder of the job in the past 12 months. It doesn’t suggest that the government is serious about sorting out the UK’s housing crisis, which is mystifying. Housing is core to so many aspects of life, from health to employment security, and there has never been a more urgent time for housing to be at the centre of government priorities.
And yet the post of housing minister seems to be little more than a temp job, a brief stepping-stone on the way up – or down – the political career ladder.
The lack of understanding at the heart of government about the importance of housing isn’t just evident in the fleeting nature of the ministers responsible.
The constant demonisation of private landlords (who given the lack of public investment in social housing provide an essential public service), and the more recent abandonment of targets to build new homes, are both good indications that our political masters are not only refusing to engage with the country’s housing crisis, but they clearly don’t – or won’t – recognise that the problem even exists.
There are no short-term fixes in the world of property; getting to grips with the issues requires a long-term, strategic approach. This is hardly likely to be forthcoming when the minister in charge changes every five minutes.
In the absence of any meaningful housing policy, the mantle of trying to ensure the residential market is operating efficiently and effectively is increasingly being taken up by the sector’s professional bodies, in particular Propertymark and The National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA).
But what they can achieve is necessarily limited, when issues such as investment in social housing, the planning system, housing finance, and creating an environment in which house builders can recruit and retain sufficient numbers of skilled staff remain in the hands of government.
When the property market is performing normally, there are significant benefits to wider society and the overall economy. Government should be creating an environment in which it is easy to find investors in building new homes, in which there is a nationwide strategic approach to providing enough new homes, in which people feel confident enough to enter the market and buy a home, and in which the market can operate normally and sustainably.
The constant change in the housing ministry means none of this is happening. All we can hope is that Rachel Maclean stays in post long enough both to put in place a workable strategic plan for housing, and to inspire enough confidence in the market that it can be delivered effectively. Time to lock those revolving doors.
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