This week’s surprise change of Housing Minister, I know, I shouldn’t be surprised, had me celebrating my 21st. That’s 21 Housing Ministers that I have worked with since 2004, when I started working with Government on behalf of the mortgage sector, that was on the Housing Act 2004. Talk about a revolving door, which this time sees Lee Rowley walking through it for a second time.
With so many people tasked with leading the UK’s housing strategy and policy during my tenure as Head of Mortgage and Housing Policy at the Building Societies Association (BSA), I started to think about what had been the big achievements during that time, and what do I think should be on Rowley’s priority list. It proved to be quite a depressing exercise, as I realised that my asks of today’s Housing Minister are pretty much the same as they were 20 years ago.
Simply put, we need a long-term government plan and a firm commitment to resolve the housing supply conundrum, to support first-time buyers onto the property ladder and to ‘green’ our homes, both new builds and existing properties.
Looking at what has been delivered during the last 20 years, rather than addressing the fundamental housing supply issue, we have had a bellyful of interventions focused on increasing demand for homes, which has often achieved enhanced profits for house builders, and enhanced house prices, rather than providing more families and individuals with a place to call home. We have seen very little corresponding action on providing the much-needed increase in homes available, other than worthy targets that have not been achieved by any governments – labour, conservative or coalition - during this time.
Looking more closely at when we have seen activity to support the housing market of the day, and I’m drawn to activities during periods of crisis. There was government support during the financial crisis between 2008 and 2010, and more recently during the Covid-19 pandemic. These interventions, which were largely led by Treasury rather than DLUHC where the Housing Minister sits, were centered on mortgage support rather than housing specifically, ensuring people were able to remain in their homes during the unsettled times. It is times like this, when there is a burning bridge so to speak, that Government and industry come together to deliver for consumers. It would be great if the same could happen with a forward look, we are always willing.
It seems to me that with 21 Housing Ministers in the last 20 years, seven of which have been in the last two years, we are taking the same approach over and over again, expecting (hoping) for a different outcome. It won’t happen, we need change.
So the priorities I would like Mr Rowley to focus his attention on remain; to create a long-term plan and firm commitment to resolve the housing supply conundrum, to support first-time buyers onto the property ladder and to ‘green’ our homes, both new builds and existing properties.
To achieve this, I would urge the Prime Minister to recognise the importance of strong and effective housing policy for the nation by promoting the Housing Minister to Secretary of State for Housing. Creating a cabinet position would help the Minister deliver on his priorities with the necessary support that is required from across Government departments.