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UK 'won't fix housing crisis' after 10 ministers in 10 years

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·3-min read
Christopher Pincher, UK minister for Europe is seen at a care home during his visit the British NGOs and volunteer groups in southern city of Larnaca, Cyprus, Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. British NGOs and volunteer groups are helping some of the approximately 70,000 British expatriates in Cyprus to sort out their residency status once Britain leaves the European Union at the end of the month. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
Christopher Pincher, Britain's new housing minister. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Prime minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle saw the 10th housing minister appointed in 10 years, sparking dismay among experts and leaders in the industry.

Business leaders in the property sector warned Britain will struggle to fix entrenched housing issues with such a revolving door at the top.

Esther McVey was sacked as minister on Thursday after less than seven months in the role. Former foreign office minister Christopher Pincher was made her replacement. He will serve under Robert Jenrick, who kept his job in charge of the wider department for housing, communities and local government.

Analysis by the Institute for Government (IfG) suggests Pincher is also the 19th minister since 1997, with constant turnover under both Labour and Conservative governments. One minister even reportedly still had introductory meetings in their diary when they were sacked.

Marc von Grundherr, director of London estate agent Benham and Reeves, said the churn had seen new ministers “recycling the same stale rhetoric” on taking office but lack time to make an impact.

Read more: Analysts expect spending boost as new chancellor appointed

A report by the IfG last month said new ministers typically looked to put their own stamp on the department, leading to regular changes of direction. That can lead to confusion and waste, with policies quickly adopted and abandoned.

Clive Docwra, managing director of construction consultancy McBains, said every minister had different priorities. “Constant chopping and changing does the construction industry little good as it creates uncertainty on the direction of housing policy,” he said.

The IfG report added that such short stints meant ministers not only lacked experience, but also often focused more on short-term announcements than delivering on longer-term challenges.

“Frequent change at the top undermines good government, reducing the effectiveness of ministers, inviting constant policy reinvention and hampering long-term reform,” it warned.

Several business leaders said the role needed more respect, and more high-profile appointments. “Too many MPs see the position as little more than a stepping stone,” said Paresh Raja, CEO of lender Market Financial Solutions.

Read more: UK ‘deterring skilled workers’ as immigration policy to be unveiled

Michael Stone, CEO of Stone Real Estate, added: “Until we elevate the role to the position of power that it requires, we will continue to see each candidate fall on their own sword having failed to address the deep-rooted issues embedded within the UK housing crisis in the short time they are allowed to do so.”

He called on the new minister to ensure housebuilding numbers continue to rise to meet demand, or risk pushing home ownership “out of reach for many.”

Peter Apps, deputy editor of Inside Housing magazine, agreed the role needed an influential, knowledgeable figure who “feels that their political future turns on getting it right.”

But he said in an opinion piece the role was less powerful than sometimes assumed, arguing Sajid Javid’s departure as chancellor could in fact prove more significant.

Javid had been a “potentially sympathetic” figure to the social housing industry, and its demands for higher and faster investment in new-build construction and building safety.

Apps said Javid had made housing a “major priority” when he served as communities secretary, including at the time of the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017.

Pincher tweeted after his appointment: “This government will deliver on our commitment to build the housing that people need.”