One traditional feature of housing’s annual trip to Harrogate for the Chartered Institute of Housing Conference – apart that is from the disco – is a ministerial speech. These are often disappointing, over the last 20 years or so most of them have started “I’m new in the job, housing is really important, I have come here to listen and learn.”
This year, as an interesting variation, the Minister listened to a speech instead of delivering one. And in the middle of her remarks, the estimable chief of the CIH Sarah Webb summed it all up in a simple sentence. She said to Grant Shapps:
“I’m asking you to resist those small, popularist issues at the extreme ends of the debate and prioritise the really big ones – the demographic time bomb, persistent unaffordability, land supply, the complex role housing plays in our economy; ways to lever in new investment to fund new supply.”
Never one to face up to such fundamentals, Grant Shapps had his own diversionary tactic in place. This time it was his announcement on transparency: the Ministry of Justice will consult on making housing associations subject to the Freedom of Information Act and he wants all associations to publish all spending over £500.
Now, on the specific issue of FoI, I agree with the government, and I can’t for a moment understand why the sector doesn’t just embrace it and move on. Instead, his announcement seems to have succeeded in getting the housing association sector hot under the collar on a less than critical matter, which I suspect was the aim.
I bet he had a chuckle that his diversion worked. It’s certainly a lot easier than addressing Sarah Webb’s little list of really big questions.