In days of yore - up to about 2007 which seems a century ago given the changes to the economy since then - the spring Budget used to be a tool to influence the housing market. Stamp duty would be tweaked or new schemes for first time buyers announced. Perhaps more social housing funding would come up too.
This week, don’t hold your breath. The coalition government is not only non-interventionist (make that anti-interventionist) but it’s also skint, although you would not know it given its weekend spending spree firing cruise missiles at £300,000 a time.
Therefore the calls of the Home Builders' Federation demanding a new shared equity scheme for first time buyers, a bid to cut council and government taxes on development, and more intervention to guarantee mortgage lending seem like whistling in the wind. Such calls are not going to be answered when there is no money.
Yet this should not be confused with inaction. No one can accuse the coalition of repeating the errors of the last Labour government in having very few housing policies and flakey housing ministers.
There have been at least 15 major housing initiatives in less than 11 months of the coalition, and Grant Shapps has shown that housing ministers can stay in office and actually know about housing - surely a fact, whether or not one agrees with him.
Yet Westminster is alive with speculation that Shapps is soon to leave housing. Rumour has it, at least amongst political journalists schmoozing and quaffing with MPs, that the MP for Welwyn and Hatfield has been deemed a Big Success and is likely to be promoted to a full cabinet position - possibly in charge of Health - in a reshuffle at the end of spring.
If true, this will mean two things.
Firstly that Shapps is seen as a ‘change politician’ who has transformed the government’s involvement in housing (very rapidly) and will be expected to do the same with the NHS.
Secondly that housing’s ‘change agenda’ - from scrapping HIPs, RSSs and HomeBuy Direct to introducing localism, a new homes bonus and the easy conversion of empty offices into homes - is now complete. In other words, Shapps‘ work is done meaning he moves on and a new housing minister is introduced to look after implementation of all those new policies.
This might be completely wrong - but lots of people in Westminster think it is correct. You heard it here first...
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