A tale of two power lists

I don’t normally pay much attention to power lists (especially when I don’t feature on them) but two that came out this week contain some fascinating insights into housing and property.

First up came the Telegraph’s Property Power List topped by Sir Terence Conran. The paper claims that: ‘The 25 entries on our list represent a cross-section of the most important people working in the buying and selling of British homes. It includes those who work in the property field day-to-day, as well as those who exert their power from the fringes.’

Not to be outdone, 24Housing magazine published a Power Players list, which it bills as ‘the top 50 most influential people in housing’ with Grant Shapps in 1st place. It was ‘compiled after polling more than 200 of the country’s most senior housing chief executives, politicians, commentators, academics, lawyers, and other movers and shakers, as well as frontline managers’ and then asking them to rank from one to five the people they considered the most influential in the sector.

Both are easy to dismiss as exercises in vanity based on putting your finger to the wind. Funnily enough, though, when I speak to people who start off saying they pay no attention to lists I usually end up in a long discussion with them.

It’s interesting that neither list includes a banker or mortgage lender despite the obvious and fundamental role they play both in the housing market and in funding social housing. Perhaps that has something to do with the credit crunch and what followed but nobody from the CML? The closest the Telegraph gets is mortgage and personal finance consultant Melanie Bien (also one of the two who follows me on twitter, so well deserved) while 24Housing has Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, at 25.

The only people who make it on to both lists are chancellor George Osborne and Tony Pidgley, the chief executive of housebuilder Berkeley Homes, who is famed for his ability to make the right calls on the state of the housing market.

Otherwise it seems that ‘property’ people are from Venus and ‘housing’ people are from Mars (or vice-versa), a distinction that I have long believed is one of the key reasons for the failure of our housing system: our inability to treat homes as homes rather than investments.

The 24Housing list was nominated by 200 people from the sector (including me) and contains some fascinating insights into how housing people see the world. Some interesting points for me (in no particular order) are:

  • Ministers. Shapps may be 1st but Iain Duncan Smith is 3rd and George Osborne 4th thanks to a shared perception of the importance of housing benefit and public spending. They come in ahead of Greg Clark (8th) and Eric Pickles (10th), perhaps reflecting the fact that housing is seen as more an economic issue than a planning one.
  • Labour. Neither shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn nor shadow housing minister Jack Dromey make the list, which is remarkable given that they could be in power in three years time. Is that a reflection on them or the long-delayed Labour policy review or both? Former housing minister Nick Raynsford and founder of the Red Brick blog Steve Hilditch are included.
  • Civil servants. It’s interesting that Julian Ashby, chair of the HCA regulation committee, is ranked ahead of Sir Bob Kerslake, HCA chief executive Pat Ritchie and DCLG director of affordable housing Terrie Alafat. Is that rather an inward-looking verdict?
  • Local government. In the wake of the Localism Act and HRA reform, local politicians should have more scope to influence housing than for years. That’s reflected in the presence of Boris Johnson’s advisor for housing Richard Blakeway and Boris himself, Tory councillor (and think-tanker) Stephen Greenhalgh, Labour mayor of Lewisham Steve Bullock and Labour councillors Tony Newman and James Murray.
  • Campaign groups. Who speaks for housing? The answer right now seems to be more the NHF (with David Orr in 2nd) than the CIH (with the late Sarah Webb in 14th though Grainia Long and Steve Partridge also make the list) or Shelter (Campbell Robb is a rather disappointing 19th).
  • Housing associations. Some 13 chief executives make the list headed by Keith Exford of Affinity Sutton but what should we make of the absence of some big names (and even bigger associations)?
  • Diversity. As Ross MacMillan says in his commentary, there is a preponderance of white men on the list, which raises some serious questions about how power and influence is shared in the sector.
  • The private sector. Apart from Tony Pidgley, only Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation, and Andrew Cunningham, chief executive of Grainger, make the list from the commercial world. Does that indicate a sector at ease with itself or an insular world unwilling to admit the important and growing role played by private firms?

As well as Osborne, Pidgley and Conran, the Telegraph list includes three more designers or architects (though Richard Rogers and Norman Foster are not exactly known for designing homes), two more housebuilders and five up-market developers, three TV personalities and two big landowners (the Duke of Westminster and Prince Charles). Yet the minister with supposed power over housing is nowhere to be seen and I could go on about some other absentees.

Interestingly for a list about buying and selling property there are three agents who work for buyers, three people who work in research or analysis for estate agents but only one person who you would identify in the traditional role of selling houses for clients.

The inevitable TV personalities are Phil Spencer and Kirstie Allsopp of Location, Location, Location and Kevin McCloud of Grand Designs. Their positions as 4th, 5th and 6th are testament to the power of property porn (with due respect to the recent programmes by Spencer and McCloud in the property scandal season) but beg the question of whether the relevant commissioning editor at Channel 4 should really be on the list ahead of them.

There are also two names that highlight the very different worlds of ‘property’ and ‘housing’. Paul Shamplina of Landlord Action is ranked 15th for his work advising landlords on evictions and boast that he has helped kicked out 15,000 tenants so far. Stuart Law of Assetz is ranked 18th for his work for buy-to-let investors at a time when, once again, it’s landlords who hold all the cards.

If the 24Housing list seems a bit insular and lacking in diversity, it does include people from all over the country. In contrast the Telegraph’s list is focussed fairly and squarely on the top end of the central London property market and especially on high-end development.

‘Housing’ and ‘property’ have always been separate worlds. They are now looking like separate universes too.

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4 Comments on “A tale of two power lists”

  1. benlowndes says:

    What about local Government in the 24 Housing list? No representative outside London listed.

  2. julesbirch says:

    You’re dead right on that one, Ben, and I hadn’t spotted it at the time. Especially odd when there are lots of housing association people from outside London. Does that say more about people who work in housing or about the profile of housing in local government? I may have to add more on that plus some other omissions that have occurred to me since writing this.

  3. …and there is no-one actively involved in the sector outwith England-shire in the 24 Housing list. I wonder if this simply reflects the impact of devolution to Holyrood and the Welsh Assembly, in particular, reinforcing the separate national legislative and policy agendas? Or might it, also, say something about the extent to which housing and property in England exists in a bubble that excludes other parts of the UK? Then again, maybe it’s a function of 24 Housing’s England-only remit?

  4. julesbirch says:

    Very true too and nobody from Cornwall either. I assumed the list was England-only. Plus how would you rank Grant Shapps v Keith Brown v Huw Lewis v Nelson McCausland?


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