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The Changing Names at the Ministry of Housing

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Ever visited an historic house and traced the changing architectural styles so often seen as owners adapt the properties to meet the changing needs of their family and household? 

Whilst generally a property and its’ extensions seem to grow into each other and make an attractive whole, sometimes the owner will decide that part of the property is too ramshackle or too expensive to maintain; the owner may make the difficult decision to demolish newer, or older parts, and bring an ugly building into a more harmonious and beautiful structure.

What has this to do with private renting? It may seem a rather abstract analogy, but is something like this happening in the private sector?   

Yet again, it is the housing sector which suffers as another housing minister is promoted and a newcomer brought in. The eighth since 2010 and the third this year. If it continues at this rate, we could see six by the end of 2018!

Kit Malthouse has now assumed the mantle of Housing Minister following the promotion of the previous incumbent, Dominic Raab, to Brexit Minister. Perhaps I am being unfair and the fact that there is a new name and a new face does not mean that the work and plans of previous Ministers are now in the rubbish bin; but sometimes, with changing ministers, the desire to leave their own mark, either in buildings or legislation, means that some of the good must be relinquished.

Sadly, the number of changes of Minister in the last eight years have meant that it is difficult to see where the changes have been. There has been a lot of talk and ideas tossed into the ether, but very little positive action because of the lack of continuity between the Ministers.  

The private sector is so often the target of ministerial thought and initiatives it seems an oversight not to have asked for a comment from anyone in the private sector. The housing sector is in meltdown; authorities and housing associations cannot meet the demand and it is the private sector that will need to provide much needed housing. 

However, some opinions were sought, though not from private landlords. Speaking to Inside Housing magazine, Optivo’s Paul Hackett, who is also Chair of the G15 group of London Housing Associations said ‘…we are crying out for some stability…Housing is a long-term structural issue that needs long-term structural solutions, and to deliver that you’d hope that we would have housing ministers in place for longer’. 

Here’s another comment, from John Bibby, CEO of Retained Council Housing ‘At a time when the government is saying the housing market is broken, the lack of continuity has got to be a concern’.

Will any heed be taken? Can Mr. Malthouse rest easy in his bed, knowing that he can devote all his time and attention to the new job? He needs time in post, to draw together the ideas of his predecessors, as well as adding his own?

We can only wait and see; but back to the analogy. Generations of people build properties, add to them, look at them and decide to add a door here, a window there; legislation should be treated the same way – thought and care given to changing things; then test the changes; only then should decisions be made about whether it is fit for purpose. 

Unlike the house owners who have decided on changes over many decades, the current housing situation demands some continuity and positive action now. They don’t have the time to have long periods of testing. Sadly, on the performance of the last few years, neither have housing ministers.  

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