PM defends housing minister snub
A Number 10 Downing Street spokesman said housing in the cabinet will be catered for by Greg Clark, the Department of Communities and Local Government’s secretary of state, and Lewis will step in on a case-by-case basis when he is needed.
The Tories made housing one of their six election priorities, with Cameron promising to make 200,000 starter homes available for first-time buyers by 2020.
Andrew Montlake, director of Coreco, claimed the role of housing minister is a “5-year job” and in an ideal world “they would be responsible for the whole industry, planning, building, and infrastructure and would not move from post to post”.
This morning more than 150 leading executives from across the mortgage, housing and building industries called on the Prime Minister to make the housing minister a cabinet post.
During a straw poll at the HSBC Great Housing Market Debate in London just one delegate, David Salusbury, former chairman of the National Landlords Association, was against bringing housing into the cabinet, for fear it was already too large.
The rest of the audience was in agreement that housing minister must be given more power to address the long-term housing crisis facing the UK, saying it must be given a formal cabinet position.
The audience included Peter Williams, departmental fellow at the University of Cambridge, Centre for Housing and Planning Research, Robert Sinclair, chief executive of the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries, Ray Boulger, senior technical manager of John Charcol, Lynda Blackwell, mortgage sector manager at the Financial Conduct Authority who was responsible for the Mortgage Market Review and Rob Thomas, former policy adviser to the Council of Mortgage Lenders and economist at the Bank of England.
The vote followed consternation that housing was to get its fifth minister in as many years, with Mark Francois yesterday being announced as the new minister for housing.
This morning however Downing Street appeared to backtrack, confirming that Lewis would remain in his post.
The number 10 spokesperson said: “Greg Clark as DCLG’s secretary of state will be present at cabinet and given housing will be a central part of his department’s portfolio I think it’s fair to say this issue will be covered.
“Ministers are able to attend cabinet on a specific basis if their issues come up – so it’s not to say that if housing was a particular topic during a cabinet meeting that the housing minister wouldn’t be invited along. Clearly that’s on a case-by-case basis though.”
Clark has a wide remit: his areas of responsibility are not just housing, planning and building; they include supporting local government, communities and neighbourhoods, local economic growth, fire and integration and faith.
The Conservative Party Manifesto 2015 read: “Conservatives believe passionately in homeownership. People have been finding it harder and harder to get on the housing ladder.”
A spokeswoman from the Department for the Communities and Local Government spokeswoman explained that the buck stops with the Prime Minister. She said: “In terms of who shapes the cabinet, and who attends the cabinet, that’s a matter for the Prime Minister.”
Montlake, who also attended this morning’s debate, said: “As was proved in the general election campaign, housing is a serious issue in the UK and successive governments have not managed to tackle the issue with any great gusto.
“Given the economic and social importance of housing and in order to ensure that key workers are not squeezed out of places like London altogether, we need a full-time housing minister in place as a full cabinet position for the full term of the parliament.
“This person would ideally have a property background and be tasked with formulating a long-term plan and its implementation,” he added.
He said: “Stability and a long-term solution is critical if we are to avoid the current housing issues becoming more of a crisis as a lack of supply, especially of the wrong type of properties, and increased demand continue to drive prices upwards to unsustainable levels.
“Having a housing minister in a position of importance makes a statement that this government is taking the issue seriously. Much as Ros Altmann was a great appointment for pensions, a similar move where housing is concerned would be greatly welcomed.”
Daniel Bailey, principal at Middleton Finance, based near Sheffield, agreed. He said: “It is ridiculous, when you consider how great a role the property market plays in the British economy, that although we have a minister for housing, there is no place in the cabinet.
“There should be a voice in the cabinet specifically related to the property market, somebody who can relate to the public’s experience of buying and owning property.”
He added: “I hear government policy regarding the property market and I find myself wondering if they are speaking to the people at the cutting edge of the industry at all.
“The property and housing market needs proper representation and a clear voice simply because it plays such a major role in all our lives and in the economy of the country as a whole.
“It is crazy that we don’t have that representation and I think a lot of people do not realise this vitally important area of the nation’s economy is lacking an authoritative and experienced champion.”