Return of the housing ministry

Originally published as a column for Inside Housing on January 10.

What’s in a name? Only time will tell how important the change of departmental moniker will be but it was surely the minimum that Theresa May needed to do to show that housing now ranks as a top priority for her government.

The man in charge may still be the same (Sajid Javid) but both the creation of the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and the order of the words in the title are significant.

By my reckoning this is the first time since 1970 that the word ‘housing’ has appeared in the title of the organisation and the secretary of state responsible for it.

In the 38 years since the Ministry of Housing and Local Government was abolished to create the Department of the Environment the name has been changed again and again to reflect different briefs and priorities.

Between Peter Walker back in 1970 and Sajid Javid in 2018 we’ve had 28 different housing ministers of middle and junior rank, a handful of them with the right to attend Cabinet but not vote in it.

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Helping hand

So it turns out that subsidising housebuilders may not have been the best way to boost housebuilding after all.

It’s bad enough that even developers are now arguing that the government has made too many concessions to them. Now it turns out that George Osborne was warned by his own civil servants that Help to Buy could end up going to homes that would have been built anyway.

I’m catching up on a week’s worth of news that  shakes the twin pillars of government policy on housebuilding and home ownership: cutting ‘red tape’ to make sites more viable for new homes and funding equity loan and guarantee schemes to persuade people to buy them.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing


Keeping it in the family

How would the government’s own policies fare under the new families test?

The test published by Iain Duncan Smith will apply to all new laws and policies ‘to make sure they support strong and stable families’. It follows a speech by David Cameron in August promising family impact assessments of all domestic policies as part of a wider speech about family-friendly policy.

As I blogged at the time, Cameron was careful to avoid giving the impression that he only meant traditional families. However, his speech exposed a huge gap between rhetoric and reality on everything from the benefit cap to the bedroom tax, out-of-area homelessness placements to the private rented sector and troubled families to wider welfare reform.

So who better to set out the detail than a secretary of state famed for his ability to believe he is right regardless of the inconvenient facts?

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing 


Shuffling the deck

So housing seems to have kept the politicians who should have gone and lost the one who was making a difference.

Speculation ahead of the reshuffle suggested that Eric Pickles and Iain Duncan Smith would leave their posts as part of the cull of middle aged men in the Cabinet. True, some of the stories seemed a bit thin (a woman with a posh accent overheard talking on the phone didn’t seem like much to go on) but I lived in hope. I also looked forward to the DWP press release arguing that it proved that universal credit is ‘on track and on schedule’.

Instead it’s business as usual at the top of their two departments with a shake-up lower down the ministerial scale. After just over nine months in the job, Kris Hopkins is now the former housing minister and is shunted sideways into local government. Brandon Lewis moves from that job and gets a promotion to minister of state for housing and planning. Penny Mordaunt comes in as junior minister responsible for coastal communities.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Out of credit

Take your pick of today’s official criticisms of the universal credit. It was over-ambitious and high risk, it had no clear plan and it has offered poor value for money.

Has the National Audit Office (NA0) ever delivered a more damning verdict on a key government policy than the one it has just published?

Think of just about every rumour you’ve heard about the IT system, every assumption about the chaos behind the scenes and every time you reacted sceptically to DWP assurances that the latest changes to the timetable were all part of the original plan, and you will find them all in the report published today.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Renting reform

Wales is set to go where England failed to tread on tenancy reform under plans put forward this week.

The Renting Homes white paper published by the Welsh Government is an updated version of the Law Commission proposals that the previous government in England seemed to like at first, then dithered over and finally allowed to lapse at the last election.

So now Wales is set to reap the benefits of two simple and clearly understood forms of tenancy while England continues to cope with a mess of different ones. These are more than just technical, legal changes. The white paper argues that: ‘The current differences between renting a home from a local authority, housing association or private landlord contribute to weaknesses in the way the whole housing system works. Renting a home is not always seen as a good choice. Indeed, it is sometimes considered to be the last option.’

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Never knowingly undernudged

So-called ‘John Lewis-style mutuals’ are (depending on your point of view) the future of the public sector or a euphemism for privatisation. However, the expression may have some unexpected implications for the government.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude launched a competition today to find a commercial partner for the government’s Behavioural Insights Team – or Nudge Unit. He described the move as ‘employee-led’ as the 12 Nudge staff have led the process and will continue to run the organisation. Reports suggest that private companies will be invited to bid for a stake of up to 50 per cent in the new business in return for the government guaranteeing long-term contracts. The staff and the government would also own stakes.

nudge

The Nudge Unit is claimed to have already saved the government millions of pounds although it not quite clear how. It hit the headlines for different reasons today when it was revealed to be behind bogus psychometric tests for jobseekers. It is best known to me as the unit that the DCLG failed to consult when it introduced the New Homes Bonus in a bid to change the behaviour of local authorities and I wonder what, if anything, it had to say about the behavioural impacts of welfare reform that the DWP found impossible to quantity.

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