The sound of silence

By Bill Peters

In his courteous and low key speech to the annual CML Conference on 7 November new Housing Minister Mark Prisk, like his predecessor Grant Shapps, fully acknowledged the mountain that the government had to climb in terms of generating new supply across all sectors while at the same time highlighting the measures put in place. He also stressed his desire for partnership working with lenders and builders just as he had in his first speech to housing associations  and no doubt every other group he has spoken to since.

The speech reveals an awareness of the problems but no real sense of urgency about dealing with them and not least as a vital aspect of re-booting the economy. Though the fireworks may be being kept in the cupboard prior to the updated housing statement which will emerge sometime around 5 December the Minister chose to highlight three issues – asking lenders to shout ever louder that mortgages were available, that the new Right to Buy was worthy of close lender attention  and perhaps most bizarrely of all that lenders should support the growing self build market  on which he put not inconsiderable store. This will no doubt prompt readers of  Red Brick to reflect that self help is now becoming a central plank of policy given the inability of the centre to deliver itself!

This of course then takes you to the silences in the speech –no mention of New Homes Bonus and how it might be helping open up supply or not, no mention of how the government was pressuring builders to increase output in return for the huge support it was giving the industry  and no mention of the regulatory blockage around NewBuy which was apparently highlighted in a subsequent panel session by both lenders and builders. The FSA has so far failed to agree the regulatory capital treatment of NewBuy and through which lenders can be clear as to the capital consequences of lending under this scheme, a failing even more astonishing given that Mark Prisk is married to Lesley Titcomb the acting Chief Operating Officer of the FSA!

If government is to have any role in housing supply then surely a central function is to hold the ring and ensure all the different agencies deliver what is needed to make sure we get a huge step change in supply. The days, weeks, months and years are going by –we are already on our second housing minister in this administration and so far we have seen no real improvement in the flow of new homes and no real sense it is on a strong upward path. The Minister now needs to set out how many and when so he can be held to account and he can hold others to account. The cost of the current failure is being borne by households (for example ONS recently highlighted the rise in the number of adult children living at home, we have rising waiting lists and increased homelessness) and the economy.

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