Not a great week for Mr Shapps. Falling out with John Humphreys is a bit like the two school bullies squaring up to each other for a change, much to the relief of the usual victims, but even I have to admit it was great entertainment for those of us who are not keen on either chap.
Now, whether Shapps agreed to go on the Today programme before agreeing to go to Stoke or whether it is just the assumption of the programme that anyone who is invited will appear, I just don’t know, and I can think of more important matters to discuss. For example, in Stoke Shapps gave back a tiny proportion of the money he had previously taken away from some of the Housing Renewal Pathfinders, having caused havoc for the residents of those schemes. With the Autumn Statement tomorrow, I suspect the theme of giving a little back as we drift from Plan A towards Plan B will be the theme of the week.
Shapps has been in trouble for making the Housing Strategy announcement the day before the worst imaginable affordable housing figures were slipped out. Of course it was coincidental, and he didn’t know the figures in advance. Pull the other one. The figures were unbelievably small, so small in fact that the Minister could have had a report on the progress of each house. Has the snagging been done on No 26?
Over at the Department the staff were working overtime to big up the new ‘Housing Strategy’. They put a page on the website called ‘Housing Groups’ reaction to the Housing Strategy’. Normally you would expect ‘housing groups’ to include CIH, NHF, Shelter and so on. But not this time. Of the 9 groups they could find to make a positive comment, 6 were builders, 2 were professional bodies and the last was involved in the mortgage indemnity scheme. That tells us quite a bit about who the real intended beneficiaries of the strategy are.
So here – in the interests of balance, you understand – is a selection of other views on the Strategy.
Shelter’s Campbell Robb ‘Today’s announcement falls far short of the quarter of a million new homes we need each year just to meet demand…. We are concerned that schemes to help first-time buyers and council tenants will simply encourage people to overextend themselves, while doing nothing to address the sky-high cost of housing.
“This strategy also does almost nothing to help the growing number of families living in insecure private rented housing with hardly any protection from rogue landlords or unexpected rises in rent. Unfortunately these aren’t the bold and radical solutions we need to solve a housing crisis that’s been decades in the making.’
National Housing Federation’s David Orr: “’Today’s announcement of an additional 3,250 affordable homes is a drop in the ocean. Ministers need to be bolder and go much further to fix the broken housing market and they can do it in a way that is effectively cost neutral.
‘A public investment of £1bn – matched by £8bn from housing associations – would build 66,000 shared ownership homes for people on low to middle incomes, create 400,000 jobs and in doing so save the taxpayer £700m in job seekers not to mention the added savings from housing benefit and increased tax revenues.
Chartered Institute of Housing’s Grainia Long: “We fear that the government’s strategy does not offer something for everyone, nor does it create a clear vision for the long term future of housing beyond 2015.”
“We fear that the welfare reform changes focusing on reducing the housing benefit bill will force poorer households further away from employment opportunities and this risks undermining the strategy’s aims.”
The Observer’s Heather Stewart: “The housing strategy is only the latest example of the fact that not only is the economy in a far worse state than it was a year and a half ago, but the government has run desperately short of ideas.
“It’s a muddled mix of standing back and letting the market mechanisms rip – and then floundering about desperately when it doesn’t work.”
Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales: “It is nonsense, £400 million is less than 10 per cent of what was cut from housing – and that constitutes a national strategy? I think it would generate less than the Olympic village, let’s get real about it.”
IPPR’s Nick Pearce: “Today’s government intervention makes another lost decade of market stagnation more likely.
“There is a real danger that existing UK house-builders will merely use building on public land with public money to displace activity from less viable market sites – leading to no net increase in output.
“The house building sector in the UK needs greater competition and structural reform if it is to deliver high quality homes at lower cost.”