Opinion: Revolving doors
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Central Government, Development
Bovis Homes to cut another 200 jobs as sales slump 48%
By Colin Wiles, director of Wiles Consulting Ltd
Imagine, if you will, a housing association that had employed 14 chief executives over the last 20 years, or had been through nine chairs in 13 years. You would understandably think it was a troubled ship, full of disaffected staff and tenants, and ripe for some regulatory intervention.
Yet this is exactly the turnover of housing portfolio holders, both ministers and shadows, for the Conservative and Labour parties respectively. Housing, despite our best efforts, is simply not registering with the political elite. If anything, we are going backwards with the new "minister" being downgraded from a minister of state to an under-secretary and housing responsibilities shared with another junior minister.
Yet this flies in the face of public opinion - a recent IPSOS Mori survey found that 82% of the public want the government to devote more attention to housing. The same poll also found that 78% of MPs reported housing as their biggest caseload.
This constant churn of housing ministers must be a nightmare for our trade and industry leaders. For people like David Orr at the NHF or Grainia Long at the CIH it must be like a housing version of Groundhog Day - they spend months trying to get the message across to a new housing minister and then find they have to start all over again when a new minister pops up.
But our sector has to take some of the blame for this downgrade in the importance of housing. Most housing commentators believe that supply is THE big issue and yet we have been consistently outflanked and outplayed by the countryside lobby who seem able to mobilise hundreds of thousands of voices against any proposals to build the homes we need. This nimby vote clearly has a huge influence on the coalition's back benches.
So what is the answer? Perhaps it's time to realise that we will never influence the housing debate by cosy chats in Whitehall. As a sector we need to redouble our efforts to mobilise the population in favour of homes, and put pressure on our politicians. We also need to do more to confront some of the myths and scaremongering spread by countryside campaigners. The National Housing Federation's Yes to Homes is a good start, but I recently attended an event at a rural district where only one out of five councillors reported receiving a single email in favour of new homes (although they had received plenty in opposition to housebuilding!)
We need to do more and better campaigning and the fight has to be fought on many fronts - on twitter, in on-line forums, in political surgeries and meeting rooms, in dialogue with tenants, applicants and the priced-out generation. If the National Trust can garner nearly a quarter of a million signatures on its anti-housebuilding petition surely we can obtain a similar response from our four million tenants, the two million households waiting for a home and the hundreds of thousands of people who work in our sector? The moral, social and economic case for housing needs to be heard more loudly. As a bare minimum, we need a minister of housing sitting in the cabinet.
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