The 'Fictional Minister' Takes Office

If initial reactions are anything to go by, the appointment of Mark Prisk as housing minister for the second half of the Coalition’s term of office is “a good thing”.

The Home Builders’ Federation says Prisk, who moved from construction minister to housing in the Cameron reshuffle this week, “has already done some good de-regulatory work” and the British Property Federation calls it "an excellent appointment" while the National Housing Federation says “we look forward to working with him” statement - at least not a sign of outright disappointment or objection.

In reality, though, how much power and influence will Prisk have?

Once again the housing ministry is not a secretary of state post, so there is no seat in Cabinet. Once again it was a ‘late appointment’ on reshuffle day - somebody has to be the late afternoon announcement but coming after many headline-grabbing moves, the switching of Prisk from one ministry to another seems less-than-dynamic.

Perhaps more significantly, David Cameron made clear on the day before the reshuffle (and therefore the day before Prisk knew of his new role) that the government would make announcements about new housing policies 48 hours after the new appointment - so whatever initiatives come later this week will not be Prisk’s.

In addition, Chancellor George Osborne has already hinted heavily that he will see the further relaxation of planning, especially on the green belt. Again, this is an initiative that Prisk will inherit rather than own.

Let us hope that Prisk - by all accounts a hard-working and honourable minister at the Ministry for Business and Enterprise since 2010 - does not find himself in the position he was in for three years before the Coalition took office.

Then he was ‘Shadow Minister for Cornwall’, despite his constituency being in Hertfordshire and there being no official government minister for Cornwall.

The Liberal Democrats at the time called him “a fictional minister” - let’s hope he is something more than that when he works in government, nowadays alongside the Lib Dems, to resolve the housing crisis.

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