Shapps and Humphrys clash on housing stats

Nia Williams

November 25, 2011

The HCA announced the statistics the day after the Prime Minister David Cameron announced: “An unashamedly ambitious strategy to provide hundreds of thousands of affordable homes in England.”

It was then revealed that there were only 454 affordable housing starts between April and September, down 98.7% on the 35,735 affordable homes started the previous six months.

Shelter said the results were “shocking” and attributed the drop to a 60% cut to the housing budget after the Comprehensive Spending Review.

Humphrys, presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, asked: “Would it not have been right, let alone sensible, to have been able to have this debate when the housing strategy was announced? Instead you made this big strategy announcement on a Monday and we had these catastrophic figures 24 hours later.

“Would it not have been more sensible, did it not occur to you to suggest to the Prime Minister that perhaps you postpone this announcement by 24 or 48 hours so that we could put the whole thing into context?”

Shapps responded, saying: “If you move the strategy because of the stats coming out, you would be accused of manipulating the timing of it. That’s exactly what people say when you reschedule.

“There has never been a time when I can remember, being Housing Minister, when these figures have ever been reported at all by the national media.”

Humphrys said: “That’s because we’ve never seen figures like this before. We’re talking about, in some areas, one new housing start per week. In London two new housing starts per week. These are appalling figures by any standard.”

Shapps defended the figures by citing that overall new housing starts were up by a quarter since the government came in and secondly anyone taking more than a moment to sensationalise the figures would realise there was a new affordable housing programme that would “way out build” anything the previous programme was doing.

Shapps concluded: “We should not be moving our programme around because of a set of official statistics. That would be wrong, that would be an abuse of power and what we’ve done is absolutely correct.

“Frankly I think you’ve been misleading the report by trying to suggest things like we’re avoiding interviews, things like we knew about these numbers.

“We didn’t know what the numbers were going to say and anyway overall we’re going to build more affordable homes and housing in the country and that’s what should matter.”

Earlier in the interview, Shapps and Humphrys got into a row over whether the Housing Minister was booked into an interview the previous day or not for around two minutes of the 11 minute interview.

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