So who's the housing minister?

Go on. No, no, it’s not Grant Shapps anymore. And no, it’s not Margaret Beckett - she was years ago and the other lot, anyway.

Admit it, you can’t can you?

If you can (it’s the Conservatives’ very capable Brandon Lewis, by the way, pictured above) you deserve a bonus point because he has been in office scarcely a month. Even if his party wins next spring’s general election, who knows if he will stay in that post - and if he does not, he will have been housing minister a mere 10 months in total, hardly long enough to achieve anything.

And that is a major problem.

For all the posturing about housing by Conservative, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the role of housing minister has almost always been seen as a post that has been at worst unimportant or, at best, a staging post for politicians on the way up or down.

For a decade and a half now, the post has never been occupied by anyone who actually has had the time to achieve something.

There were nine housing ministers in the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown governments (10 if you include John Prescott overseeing planning and housing when deputy prime minister) and they were:

Hilary Armstrong (97-99)

Nick Raynsford (99-01)

Lord Falconer (01-02)

Lord Rooker (02-03)

Keith Hill (03-05)

Yvette Cooper (05-08)

Caroline Flint (08-08)

Margaret Beckett (08-09)

John Healey (09-10)

Opinions of politicians will always be highly subjective but in my book, the early ones under Blair were the best: they appeared to know about and care about housing, whatever one may have thought of their party allegiance or what they actually achieved.

Now here’s the list under David Cameron’s leadership of the Tory/LibDem coalition.

Grant Shapps (10-12)

Mark Prisk (12-13)

Kris Hopkins (13-14)

Brandon Lewis (14-present day)

Once again I would say the ‘early’ Cameron ministers had more than a little superiority over the recent ones.

Shapps had been a vigorous shadow minister in the dying years of the Brown government and was active early in the coalition’s administration. And Mark Prisk was a qualified chartered surveyor, formerly worked for Knight Frank and... well, knew about housing.

But as with Labour, the later appointments have had little obvious reasoning behind them, notwithstanding the more political abilities of the individuals involved.

So with Blair/Brown having nine housing ministers in 14 years and Cameron being on his fourth in four years, let no one say our prime ministers do not know how to share the pain.

Such rapid churn does not, in itself, mean that the subject of housing or the usefulness of the post is not taken seriously by the powers that be.

But none of these housing ministers has been in Cabinet, and none has lasted quite even three full years - surely the time as it takes to actually do anything and see tangible results.

Against that, is it any surprise that some of the claims that both Labour and Conservatives made prior to entering government have not come to pass?

Where, for example, is the truly simple planning process which both promised prior to coming to power?

Where is the narrowing of the gap between housing demand, in the shape of new households, and housing supply, in the shape of new houses - another promise which both made?

Where is the pride in owning a home, with owner-occupation figures now in decline?

A longer tenure in ministerial office does not in itself guarantee progress on such objectives, and god knows a minister who was downright incompetent should go.

But none of the ministers who have held the housing brief in the past 15 years has been incompetent; some, in fact, have really been very committed. But they were not given time to enact policies that really made a difference.

Bear all that in mind when the political party conference season kicks off in a few weeks’ time, at which housing will be a more prominent issue than for many years.

More homes? Of course. Better private rented sector regulation and conditions? Naturally.

It’s all easy to say ‘in conference’ - but how about giving an experienced person who really knows about housing the time, space and status to actually achieve them?

(This blog first appeared on the Industry Views section of Estate Agent Today)

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