Originally published as a column for Inside Housing on December 21.
It was the year of three housing ministers and two secretaries of states (so far), the year that the department went back to being a ministry and a new government agency promised to ‘disrupt’ the housing market.
It was also the year of the social housing green paper and the end of the borrowing cap, of Sir Oliver Letwin and Lord Porter and of some significant anniversaries.
Above all, it was the year after Grenfell and the year before Brexit. Here is the first of my two-part review of what I was writing about in 2018.
1. New names, new ministers
January had barely begun when the Department for Communities and Local Government became the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government. The name harked back to the glory days when housing was ‘our first social service’ and housing secretary Sajid Javid became the first full member of the cabinet with housing in his title since 1970.
So it’s farewell to Mr Buggins – many thanks for all you’ve achieved in your 181 days as housing minister.
And it’s hello to Mr Buggins – you appear not to know (or care) very much about housing as you take your turn in the job but then neither did most of your predecessors.
Housing felt the knock-on effects of the latest round of the Great British Brexit Farce as Theresa May decided that Dominic Buggins would be the replacement for David Davis as Brexit secretary.
That Mr Buggins was appointed to the housing job because he was a prominent Eurosceptic and he spent half of his interviews as minister talking about Brexit.
On the assumption that he has decided he believes in the Chequers compromise and can cheerlead for it, this looks like a good appointment for the government.
Which is more than can be said for his previous post. Thinking back over those 181 days, I can remember him using his position to generate publicity about immigration and offering lawyerly denials that the government’s approach to regulation was in any way to blame for the Grenfell Tower fire.
But his major achievement must surely be to have dodged publication of the social housing green paper.
Originally published on April 17 on my blog for Inside Housing.
Dominic Raab’s comments about immigration and house prices may have sparked a furore but they also shine a light on something else about the recent history of housing.
Amid mounting pressure, on Friday the Ministry for Housing and Communities Local Government (MHCLG) published updated analysis that he had relied on for his claim that he had been told by civil servants that immigration has increased house prices by 20 per cent over the last 25 years.
When I tweeted about it, the man himself came back to me with this:
In fairness, he could have added that the increase was actually 21 per cent but, as I suggested last week, that is minor by comparison with the 284 per cent total rise in prices that happened between 1991 and 2016 and accounts for just £11,000 of the £152,000 increase.
According to the analysis, increases in real earnings were a much more important factor in price rises.
Look a little deeper, though, and the analysis does not really prove very much either way.
Originally published on April 9 on my blog for Inside Housing.
The latest Mr Buggins to take his turn in the housing minister job gave a revealing first print interview on Sunday that speaks volumes about his priorities.
The new(ish) minister – I forget his name, they come and go so quickly – makes the seemingly incendiary claim that immigration has pushed up house prices by 20 per cent over the last 25 years.
He tells the Sunday Times that he is writing to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to urge it to consider the negative effects of immigration on housing demand as well as its positive economic benefits.
Mr Buggins is playing a key role in the drive to boost housebuilding but he says: ‘You’ve got to deal with demand as well as supply. You can’t have housing taken out of the debate around immigration. If we delivered on the government’s target of reducing immigration to the tens of thousands every year, that would have a material impact on the number of homes we need to build every year.’
He says he’s been told by civil servants that immigration has had a sizeable impact on prices based on the Office for National Statistics house price index from 1991 to 2016.
Originally posted on my blog for Inside Housing on January 23.
It’s got a new name and new ministers but how much has really changed at the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government?
Yesterday’s MCHLG questions marked the first time that Sajid Javid and his new team have faced MPs since the reshuffle earlier this month.
Judging from the secretary of state’s first few responses, the answer seemed to be not much.
His exchanges with his Labour shadow John Healey over the painfully slow progress on replacing unsafe tower block cladding have already been widely reported.
On the latest figures, 312 buildings have been tested and 299 have been failed but cladding has been taken down and replaced on just three.
‘How has it come to this?’ asked Healey. ‘Seven months on from Grenfell, only one in four families who are Grenfell survivors has a new permanent home. The Government still cannot confirm how many other tower blocks across the country are unsafe. Ministers still refuse to help to fund essential fire safety work when they know that blocks are dangerous.’