Dear Alok Sharma,
Welcome to your new position as the Housing Minister; a role many consider to be a poisoned chalice or just a stepping stone to higher ministerial office.
May I offer one simple piece of advice which is get to know the 36% or more of housing in the UK that is rented which, alas, none of your predecessors of all political parties have, and especially since DCLG known reports in the last week say will increase to 41% of UK housing by 2021.
Rented housing is not binary with the private rented sector (PRS) and the social rented sector (SRS) alone as the SRS differs markedly both inter and infra-regionally and at times within the same local authority area.
You will hear opinion from self-professed experts who will claim that each of these sectors has universal constants yet such a position is naive and errant in the extreme.
You will hear calls for solutions to allegedly constant social housing problems yet at best these are problems that affect just Greater London which has just 13% of all housing in Great Britain with the obvious consequence that any national housing policy aimed at this 13% may not in all probability solve housing problems in the other 87% of Great Britain.
Another huge failing would be to accept London housing variables as a benchmark with one example being its housing tenure is crudely split 50%:25%:25% for home ownership to PRS to SRS, while in every other English region we see a split of circa 66%:18%:16%.
- In short 1 in 2 houses in London is rented yet 1 in 3 elsewhere
- London at 25% SRS has 50% more social housing than any other English region
- London at 25% PRS has 50% more private housing than any other English region
Please do not make the common two mistakes that all previous Housing Ministers of the last 30 years or more have made in creating national housing policy based upon London’s wholly atypical housing market.
All of the above your new department publishes in the English Housing Survey and yet all your predecessors have ignored for whatever reason culminating in policy failure in the rest of GB as well as in London where further factors such as perverse rent levels sees any government have no control over.
You will also find a cleavage that is bordering on a chasm within SRS landlords and between housing association and council landlords. Yet that too is not binary and there is a further cleavage between (mostly) the larger non LSVT housing associations who seek to become super-sized and in every UK region and the LSVT housing associations who by virtue of being the former council housing departments are typical happy to remain in geographical location and not wish to ‘conquer’ every city, town, village and hamlet in the UK.
These wannabee super-sized housing associations rewrite the business manual on hyperbole and maintain that they are and can be a major actor in solving the housing crisis of under supply. Yet they do not have the capacity to do so and their record gross output (i.e. before deducting demolitions) is just 14% of the universally accepted need of 275,000 new homes per year.
You should and I expect will be likely to place more store by the wished of the Daily Telegraph than the housing association umbrella bodies who eschew hyperbole and you may be surprised that the Telegraph solution to the under supply UK housing crisis is the same as a chap called Corbyn.
That solution is to allow local councils to be able to borrow against their assets in order to build new housing. English councils have built well over 250,000 homes per year in the past and were still building more than 100,000 as late as 1979/80 and they do have the capacity and the inclination to return to such levels providing the inane policy of forcing LAs to sell such properties in order to fund the claimed extender RTB discounts given to housing association tenants is abandoned and which being a new Minister with a new broom makes absolute sense.
To talk of the bigger UK housing picture in political ideological terms I suspect you wish to get the current 64% home ownership rate back up to the 71% level we saw in 2004 and the easiest, best and quickest way to achieve that is to have far more council housing at social rent levels! The lower the rent level the greater and more quickly the council tenant can save for a deposit is one obvious factor that your predecessors chose to not see.
The quicker the deposit is achieved the quicker more home ownership can take place.
Another benefit that is so blindingly obvious that your predecessors failed to see is that the lower the rent the greater the job security and the lesser the reliance on welfare and social security benefits as a tenant can afford to take up lower paid employment that of course also reduces ‘welfare’ and increases the tax take too.
In summary, have an open mind and see the wood from the trees. Housing is a cross-party issue and should always be an apolitical one. The Labour Party as well as your own Conservative Party want increased home ownership and all puns aside we all want strength and stability that good quality and genuinely affordable housing brings. There is no need to either politicise rented housing and to make it opaque with complex delivery vehicles such as Local Housing Companies or other devices aimed at circumventing the ideological madness which sees local authorities being able to borrow to build anything other than housing.
With more genuinely affordable housing employment is up, the housing ladder has shorter and quicker steps, unemployment and the welfare bill and poverty rates all fall and achieve that by seeing the bloody obvious also provide the shortest and quickest steps up the political ladder too!
What may today appear as the poisoned chalice in being named the Housing Minister can be the exact opposite in all the above obvious ways.
Someone who will never vote for you or your party but despite that will praise you when you do the right thing which in housing policy terms based on your predecessors of the last thirty years would be easier to locate the Holy Grail