One of the most surprising things to emerge from my lunch date with
Grant Shapps was his willingness to listen.
As someone so often dismissed as being disinterested in what the housing sector has to say, it was refreshing that he was happy to take on board some of my reservations about current housing policy, while coming back with forceful arguments of his own. For those sceptical of his desire to engage, it is quite evident that Mr Shapps has something of the magpie about him – he is willing to pinch good ideas and make them his own regardless of where they originated.
One of his frustrations with former Shadow Housing Minister Alison Seabeck, he says, was that she never put forward any alternative policies that he could examine, just criticised his.
To give you an example of how the Housing Minister works, one of his big campaigns in the coming months will be to push broadband provision to social housing tenants in line with the Government’s digital inclusion ambitions. He was inspired by a conversation with Martha Lane-Fox and was keen to discuss ways of taking things forward. He was therefore very interested to hear that a number
of housing association broadband projects are already in the pipeline, including one involving Herefordshire Housing.
Flexibility and innovation, he says, are key to addressing the current housing crisis and believes housing associations are well placed to help find solutions to some of the affordability issues. He thought the new Gentoo ‘Genie’ scheme which allows first-time buyers to purchase homes without a deposit or a mortgage was ‘excellent’ and welcomed more ideas along those lines.
On the development side, he wants to work directly with housing associations and is looking to them to come up with
‘offers’ in terms of volume housebuilding. I know this chimes with the likes of Orbit and Bromford, which have been keen to engage with Mr Shapps for some time.
It was also reassuring to hear that the Housing Minister is an avid reader of this magazine and I am delighted to be able to announce that he has agreed to write a regular column for us.
I’m sure Mr Shapps will take great interest in this month’s cover feature which investigates claims made in some quarters – including the Government – that people earning in excess of £100,000 are being allowed to live in social housing. Kate Murray goes in search of the ‘fat cat’ tenants.
Editor, 24housing Magazine