Eighth time’s a charm? The revolving door of Housing Ministers

Shapps, Prisk, Hopkins, Lewis, Barwell, Sharma, Raab and Malthouse.

No, not the name of a Dickensian law firm, but the roll-call of Housing Ministers since the Conservatives entered government in May 2010.

We’ve had a new minister at the rate of one a year – the blink of an eye in planning and housing delivery terms.

Dominic Raab, the newly appointed Secretary of State for Brexit, was in post for just six months and the two preceding him managed just eleven and seven months apiece.

This is not the action of a government or Prime Minister that is taking the housing crisis seriously.

Barely has the incumbent managed to get their feet under the table, understand the issues and begin to build relationships with local government and the housing industry before they’re whisked out the door and sent across the road or off to Brussels.

One positive side effect of this revolving door is that there are now five people who are at the top of government who have experience of housing.  Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis and Theresa May’s Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell both attend Cabinet, alongside Dominic Raab. Add to them Home Secretary Saajid Javid who formerly ran the Department for Communities and Local Government. And then of course James Brokenshire, currently in charge of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

But are they all really thinking about housing now?

These are extraordinary times for the government.  Theresa May had to find someone yesterday who would be willing to take on the job as our Chief Negotiator with Brussels. She had to believe they could do the job and be someone unlikely to cause rebellion from her backbenches. She may not have had many choices. And also had to find a new Foreign Secretary.

Of course, it’s crunch time for the Brexit negotiations. Having almost concluded the withdrawal agreement with the EU, we’re now soon to move onto what the future arrangements will be. So, it’s undeniably important that we have the right person on our side of the table.

However, housing is in crisis too.

We’re not building enough homes in the right places. Homelessness has spiked. Some councils are dragging their heels with their local plans and neighbourhood planning is grinding to a halt in many places. Over the last eight years, each Minister has averaged 177,000 in their term – nowhere near where we need to be.

Kit Malthouse, the newly appointed Minister for Housing and Planning and key ally of Boris Johnson, must hit the ground running. I know he’s only on Day 2 of the job, so he’s probably not even got a desk yet.  His first big test will be the revised NPPF and how he deals with that, so he’s certainly got some reading to do.

There is some good news. At least he has a solid background in local government – having been Deputy Leader at Westminster City Council and Deputy Mayor under Johnson. Will he be allowed to spend longer than a year in post before being moved up or out? Who knows.

The record since 2010 is Grant Shapps who managed 28 months.  I wonder if Malthouse beats it.

Of course, if there’s a General Election in the next few months, then all bets are off…

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Steve Jolly

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