MS Leader: Useless records on housing

The Department for Communities and Local Government made an apt retort to Lord Beecham’s criticism of housing minister Grant Shapps in the House of Lords.

Beecham accused Shapps of failing to do anything for the UK’s housing market, despite a frenzy of PR activity. A dizzying 127 announcements on housing since Shapps was made minister have actually seen a decline in new start-ups for 2010/11. The accusation struck at the heart of the government’s failure to get a grip on housing. A lot of hot air has had few tangible results.

But just as correct was the DCLG’s response that Labour failed equally badly in 13 years of power. In his book Chavs – The Demonization Of The Working Class Owen Jones spoke to Hazel Blears who headed the DCLG between June 2007 and June 2009 under Gordon Brown. She admitted there had been little genuine interest from Labour in housing.

So both parties have been equally useless on housing and this looks unlikely to change any time soon. In four years we’ve gone from an overheated purchase market to a boiling rental market. Forebearance and the 0.5% base rate have kept repossessions low and house price falls to a minimum. But that’s been about it.

It will be interesting to see what difference the government’s mortgage indemnity guarantee scheme makes. But with just 100,000 new-build properties supported by the scheme, it’s only touching the surface of our housing needs. The building of more homes could be a real boost to gross domestic product, job creation and cheaper housing provision. What could be better?

Instead we have small-scale programmes that are the political equivalent of looking busy while doing precious little. It’s time our politicians got interested in housing again.