A dereliction of duty

You may not be the type of person who studies tables of figures, few of us are, but I would ask you to have a look at the tables on new housebuilding published today by the government quango the Homes and Communities Agency.

They show housing starts – ie when a builder takes charge of a site and cuts the first sod – and completions (ie handed over for occupation) – under various headings over the past few years.  I am asking you to look at the tables so you can see all the figures and make your own assessment of the veracity of various claims about them.

What are the key facts that emerge from the table?

  • Total housing starts in all programmes supported by the HCA for each full year have fallen from 64,692 in 2009/10 to 19,067 in 2011/12.
  • Total Affordable Housing starts (which include a number of types of home that stretch the meaning of the word ‘affordable to the limits) fell from 54,303 in 2009/10 to 15,698 in 2011/12.
  • Total Social Rented Homes starts fell from 39,501 in 2009/10 to 1,048 in 2011/12.
  • Affordable home ownership starts fell from 11,220 in 2009/10 to 3,448 in 2011/12.

Housing completions run along a number of years behind starts.  Although completions are what matters from the point of view of getting homes to people who want to live in them, starts is the real indicator of the impact of Government policy changes and funding.

So my conclusion looking at the tables would be to say that the number of starts of a) homes sponsored by the HCA in total, b) affordable homes on a wide definition, c) homes for social rent and d) affordable home ownership have all collapsed since the end of the Labour Government and the coming to power of the Tory/LibDem Coalition.  The only figure going up is the ‘affordable rent’ programme (homes at up to 80% of market rents) where the first starts are counted in the second half of 2011/12.

The impact on people is slower to measure because completions reflect decisions taken several years ago.  This is particularly true of homes for social rent, where completions are still strong and reflect the three year National Affordable Housing Programme set up by Labour covering 2008/09/10/11.  This same feature allowed Boris Johnson to take the credit for Ken Livingstone’s housing programme.  In time, as night follows day, the trend in completions will follow the trend in starts (ie down).

So how does our esteemed Housing Minister respond to these (official) figures, especially given that he is already under criticism for his cavalier and highly selective use of statistics?

Well, he has ‘welcomed new figures showing a rapid and dramatic increase in the numbers of new affordable homes being built’.  Of all the figures in the tables, his press statement only comments on the rise in new ‘affordable rent’ starts in the second half of the year compared to the first – any increase from 0 is bound to be dramatic in percentage terms.  As the supposed champion of home ownership, he has nothing to say about the slump in homes for low cost home ownership.

Look in more detail at the statistics and then at his quote: ‘Far from the predictions of the doom merchants, today’s figures show work has started on over 15,000 new affordable homes since last September – a massive increase on the previous six month period. This is clear evidence that our efforts to get Britain building are starting to yield impressive results.’

There’s spin and there’s deluded behaviour and Mr Shapps is moving rapidly from one to the other.  It is totally irresponsible to fail to comment on such a stunning slump in new homes being started.  He is not yet chair of the Tory Party, he is Minister for Housing and he should be taking responsibility for such appalling figures.

It is a dereliction of duty.

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