May misses a trick on housing minister appointment

18 Jul 2016

The UK's new Prime Minister has revealed who will carry out the role as housing minister for the government, but Theresa May does not seem to have used the opportunity to full advantage.

UK politics moves so fast that the whole of Westminster can sometimes appear to be full of the forgotten men and women of politics past. The last couple of weeks has seen some of those individuals resurrected, in many cases to remind us why they once straddled the stage with such command. I’m thinking specifically of Ken Clarke here who, in a moment captured on an open microphone, provided all of us with the somewhat unique perspective that politicians can be willing to speak their mind, even if it’s not supposed to be for public consumption.

As Theresa May entered Number 10 as the new Prime Minister, and began assembling her Cabinet of political heavyweights, one couldn’t help but feel – given her last couple of speeches – that housing would now be resurrected as one of those big beasts and would once again be allowed to stride around the political plains with the ability to cause some sizeable tremors. After all, the new PM had explicitly highlighted the need to build more homes and to ensure first-time buyers had a much better chance of getting on the ladder. Surely, this was to be housing’s moment in the sun?

But in the days after the Prime Minister’s coronation, there appeared to be some notable departments and names missing from the list of government minister appointments. Indeed, as we all know too well, the minister of state for housing and planning hasn’t actually commanded a place at the Cabinet table for some time, but again given the importance placed upon housing, Theresa May would surely not follow this path. She was being bold with appointments and in terms of breaking up and establishing new departments; she would surely be bold with housing, wouldn’t she?

As time passed, the natural assumption appeared to be that, because no announcement had been made, Brandon Lewis would remain in his post. There were few dissenters on this – Lewis would provide continuity and is widely believed to have done a good job. Plus, if he was to be raised to Cabinet status, even better.

However, on Friday Lewis announced he was off to be a minister at the Home Office and we had to wait until the Sunday before we learned that Gavin Barwell, MP for Croydon Central, was taking over the reins not just at Housing and Planning, but also the not so insignificant brief of minister for London.

That’s right, a junior minister – within the DCLG and therefore no place at Cabinet still – would be looking after one of the biggest issues in the whole of the UK plus the capital city. One wonders if you shouldn’t have three people doing that job – housing, planning and London – not one doing all three, even if London has a whole plethora of devolved powers, its own assembly and a mayor.

You’ll sense my disappointment here, because it’s not just that we’ve been left with the status quo, but the person appointed has to spread themselves across a whole new brief, which just so happens to be our capital. These are without a doubt pivotal moments for our sector, and while I won’t prejudge the type of minister Gavin Barwell will be, it would have been an incredibly positive message to send to have the housing minister at the heart of the Cabinet. It would appear this is not to be however and one can only presume that because of this housing may not be as far up the agenda of Mrs May’s government as we all might have been led to believe. On that point, I hope I’m very wrong.

Bob Hunt

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