Ministry’s fancy new monicker will not build more houses

COMMENT Somewhat belated, but a Happy New Year to all those out in EG land, particularly those struggling to come to terms with 2018. I, for one, am certainly finding life something of a challenge right now. Not greatly helped by the media wittering on about Dry January and Veganuary, ghastly exercise regimes and such like. The lifestyle journos clearly don’t have enough to do, so they spend all their time winding the rest of us up.

I thought “Blue Monday” was last Monday. Transpires that was “Divorce Monday” and “Blue Monday” is today. Well! There is simply no escape. If you weren’t already afflicted by Seasonal Affective Disorder, and post-Christmas debts, then you stil. can’t avoid total gloom. It is the zeitgeist.

And it’s raining.

So… What to say of any interest about the direction of the housing debate? Full of sound and fury and signifying nothing? Mrs May’s reshuffle last week yielded us yet another new housing minister. The new man, Dominic Raab, is highly regarded. But most industry leaders and commentators are utterly exasperated. We’re had seven housing ministers since 2010. And Alok Sharma had shown some promise. We were just getting used to him.

And much has been made of the insertion of the word “housing”, into what was hitherto knows as the Department for Communities and Local Government, to become the (somewhat cumbersome) Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. This reflects the audacious (and wholly successful) pitch by secretary of state Sajid David for £50bn for housing made on the Andrew Marr Show just a few days before the November Budget.

Changing the names of departments may be regarded as cynical window-dressing. But it is an expensive gesture. Less so in this modern electronic age than previously, of course, but still costly in terms of new office signs and letterheads. I always thought the previous (coalition) administration had been rather grown up in just sticking with the department names that they had inherited from Labour. I thought this demonstrated an adult disdain for tinkering – even if “Communities and local government” had a distinctly Leftie feel.

Blimey! The Blair-Brown administration was given to changing the names of government departments willy-nilly, in a sort of perpetual exhausting litany; does anyone now remember the DLTR – the Department for Local Government, Transport, and the Regions? Or the DETR – the Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions? (perhaps they were the other way around?)

Both of these were precursors to the (rather grander altogether) ODPM – the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (sometimes known simply as “The Office” with more than a passing nod to David Brent) which finally became the Department for Communities and Local Government. Deep sigh. They were all the same department, of course. With all the same people.

And it will take more than the adoption of the word “ministry” to transform current housing delivery performance into that last seen by Harold MacMillan’s post war Ministry of Housing. Albeit a good try. As rehearsed here ad nauseam, there are no silver bullets.

Commentators are right to be nonplussed. Our own wondrous Damian Wild even went so far as to suggest “rather than elevate the post of housing minister, as I have previously argued, perhaps it’s time to abolish it altogether” in his editorial comment. This is radical stuff. The question is: would anyone notice?

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