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Housing Minister merry-go-round: when will it stop?

An open letter to the UK Housing Minister from Jamie Johnson, CEO, FJP Investment.

Who is the UK’s Housing Minister? If you know (answer below), then congratulations. It’s certainly not easy to keep track – there have, after all, been 21 different Housing Ministers since 1997.

Sadly, far from slowing down, the Housing Minister merry-go-round has only gathered pace in recent years. We are onto our twelfth in as many years.

Clearly, there has long been a high level of churn within this position. And let’s be clear, it is certainly not an issue unique to the Conservative Party – Labour’s reign from 1997 to 2010 was guilty of a similar level of chopping and changing.

Marcus Jones, MP for Nuneaton, is the man in the chair (did you get it?). How long he will last remains to be seen. Indeed, with the Tory leadership contest entering its final stages, a reshuffle of ministerial positions is almost certain in September as the new resident of 10 Downing Street chooses to reward their allies and establish a fresh look for a Party that has been caught up in a fair amount of chaos in recent months.

The need for stability

Whether through controversy or ineptitude, change in premiership or using it as a steppingstone to more highly sought-after ministerial posts, there are many reasons that Housing Ministers do not last long in the role. But make no mistake, it’s a damaging trend; one that needs to be addressed.

Fundamentally, government policy is most likely to have a positive impact if the following criteria are met: the people who come up with the policy are well informed of the pertinent issues in their particular field or sector; the ideas are bought into by the Government and industry stakeholders, and then given proper backing (human and financial resource, most notably); the same people who create the policy stay around long enough, if not to see it to completion, then at least to generate enough momentum to ensure progress will be made.

The musical chairs approach to the Housing Minister position flies in the face of all those points. There’s no time for developing expertise of the sensitive, nuanced issues of the housing sector – both societal and commercial. There’s no time to create sound strategies for addressing those issues – most notably the crippling shortage of affordable housing. And there’s no time to implement those strategies.

It is of little wonder, then, that government after government pays lip service to the housing crisis and outlines bold plans to deliver the new homes required (around 300,000 per year). The plans are often light on substance, begging the same old question: but how will you do it?

From foreign affairs to healthcare, social reforms to economic policy, it becomes exponentially more difficult to make consistent, meaningful progress if those in charge of delivering it change frequently. Yes, five-year terms make that naturally difficult. But the reality is that five years with one Housing Minister would be a blessing – they average 12-month stints, with the latest lasting a mere 148 days.

What needs to be done

Marcus Jones has many hugely important challenges in front of him. Here are some of the most pressing questions he must answer:

  • Will the current government stick to its target of delivering 300,000 new homes a year? If so, how will it do so?
  • Will the planning system finally be overhauled to ensure more housing projects can get off the ground?
  • What support will be provided to housebuilders, particularly SMEs, to enable and encourage the development of more homes?
  • How will the Government follow-through with its ambitions to build more beautiful new homes, thereby improving their desirability among would-be buyers?
  • What investments into digital and physical infrastructure will be made alongside housebuilding activity to ensure new homes are viable places to live, particularly with remote working on the rise and digital connectivity more important than ever?
  • How will investors – both domestic and international – be engaged to support residential property development in the UK?

Clarity around these critical points is unlikely until parliament’s summer recess ends, the new PM is confirmed, and a new government agenda is drawn up.

Let’s hope that Marcus Jones – or at very least his successor, should Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss choose to appoint someone new – can stay around for long enough to not only answer the questions, but also put their plans into action.

A crisis requires strong leadership; that much has become painfully apparent over the past two years. So, the current disregard shown to the Housing Minister position must end now. Failing that, the Housing Crisis will get worse.

Jamie Johnson is the CEO of FJP Investment, an introducer of UK and overseas property-based investments to a global audience of high net-worth and sophisticated investors, institutions as well as family offices. Founded in 2013, the business also partners with developers in order to provide them with a readily accessible source of funding for their development projects.

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