“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”
Is Sajid Javid really the ‘new’ housing secretary, and what does his re-appointment say about Theresa May’s commitment to building more homes, more quickly?
Call me a jaded cynic, but adding ‘Housing’ to Sajid Javid’s existing job title of Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government doesn’t seem to be quite the massive shake-up or overhaul some commentators were predicting for today’s Cabinet reshuffle. Given that housing was already within Javid’s departmental remit, this appears to be little more than a rebrand rather than any meaningful change.
The ‘new’ Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government is the same man who was charged with fixing Britain’s broken housing market when first appointed to the role in July 2016, shortly after Theresa May became Prime Minister.
After a year and a half in post, what progress has been made? The publication of the long awaited Housing White Paper in February 2017 was broadly considered to be a damp squib, failing to offer the radical solutions many in the industry believe are necessary to address the challenge of the country’s intensifying housing crisis.
Housing headlines continue to focus on the prohibitive costs for first-time buyers and the enormous shortfall in new-build starts required to meet the need for new homes. Figures from Javid’s own department show that annual new-build home starts as of September 2017 may have increased by 10 percent over the historically low figures from the same period in 2015/16, but still languish 18 percent below the most recent ‘peak’ period in the March quarter of 2007.
In the autumn, the Prime Minister pledged to “build more homes, more quickly”, and to “get back into the business of building good quality homes for people who need them the most.” It finally felt like housing was being prioritised and ahead of the reshuffle, it was anticipated that we might see a new ‘Housing Tsar’, freeing up ministerial capacity to make the policy changes needed to unblock the housing delivery pipeline. So, should this specific remit have been added to Sajid’s brief, or should one of the ‘new wave’ of younger Conservative MPs have been given the chance to focus fully on unpicking this Gordian knot?
By doing little more than changing Sajid Javid’s job title, will this reshuffle be seen as another opportunity missed?