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Déjà vu! Government reshuffle leads to yet another Housing Minister

  1. 18 February 2020
  2. By Daisy Stephens

We analyse the latest government reshuffle, which saw the position of Housing Minister change hands yet again – for the tenth time in 10 years, in fact.

Image courtesy of DepositPhotos

The popular Queen song springs to mind as the revolving door of Housing Minister continues to spin. In his latest government reshuffle – which saw former Chancellor Sajid Javid replaced by Rishi Sunak, and Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith sacked despite restoring the power-sharing agreement in Stormont – Boris Johnson dispensed with Esther McVey and replaced her with the little-known MP for Tamworth, Christopher Pincher.
He is, rather ridiculously, the tenth new housing minister in 10 years and the 19th in the last 20 years, as governments of the last two decades have gone through housing ministers like they’re going out of fashion. McVey lasted only seven months in her role, having been appointed in Boris Johnson’s first reshuffle after his victory in the Conservative Party leadership election last July.
It means that, since Theresa May became Prime Minister in July 2016, Gavin Barwell, Alok Sharma, Dominic Raab, Kit Malthouse and McVey have all been in post, none lasting for more than a year.
The role has perhaps become even more critical in recent months because McVey was a minister who was invited to attend Cabinet meetings without being a formal Cabinet member (meaning she had no vote). However, it was seen as a positive step forward in increasing the profile of housing at the government’s top table. It’s not clear whether Pincher, too, will be invited to Cabinet meetings in the same manner.

Who is Christopher Pincher?

The MP for Tamworth, a constituency in the West Midlands, since 2010, Pincher has no obvious experience in housing or the property industry at large to his name. A large chunk of his early career was spent as an IT consultant, including spells in Saudi Arabia and France. 
Since becoming an MP a decade ago, he has only held junior roles; firstly, as the Parliamentary Private Secretary to then Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and an assistant whip, then deputy chief government whip, and lastly - for the past six months - minister of state for Europe and the Americas at the Foreign Office.
In a tweet after his appointment, Pincher said he was ‘delighted’ to be the new Minister of State for Housing and insisted the government would deliver on its commitment ‘to build the housing that people need’. He added that he was looking forward to getting stuck in alongside his new boss Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).  
A quick look at his voting record on housing shows us that, in the past, he voted against the tenant fees ban and in favour of reducing taxes on property transactions. What’s more, he consistently voted against an annual tax on the value of expensive homes (typically known as a mansion tax), which was being talked of as a possible government policy until the Prime Minister personally vetoed it as the threat of a Tory rebellion grew.  
He has also consistently voted for phasing out secure tenancies for life, which might seem at odds with the government’s plan to introduce lifetime deposits (as set out in its election manifesto and last December’s Queen’s Speech.)

What will be in his in-tray?

Pincher won’t be afforded a settling in period, as he will immediately take on the work being carried out by McVey and Jenrick to reform the homebuying and selling process – not to mention overseeing the introduction of the Renters' Reform Bill, which includes measures for lifetime deposits and the removal of Section 21. While there is no timetable for this Bill yet, it’s no secret that the government is keen to push forward the changes to the evictions process as quickly as possible.
In addition, he will have to deal with the highly controversial issue of cladding – his tweet announcing his appointment drew many replies from tenants campaigning about the cladding scandal which was pushed to the front of the nation’s consciousness by the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower – and will also be expected to drive forward the government’s proposed reforms on leasehold homes.
McVey made some noise during her time as Housing Minister regarding a greater use of modular housing, while reservation agreements, ‘lets with pets’ and changes to the shared ownership model could all form part of his workload – as well as the government’s planned First Homes initiative.
There will be lots of private rented sector legislation and regulation for Pincher to get his head around, too, with the tightening of existing legislation such as the Tenant Fees Act, mandatory Client Money Protection and Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES), plus the plans to enforce mandatory electrical checks in rental properties from July this year.
Pincher is also likely to play a key role when it comes to deciding what to do with the recommendations of the Regulation of Property Agents’ (RoPA) working group, which has recommended mandatory qualifications for agents, amongst other things. Once more, there is no timetable for the implementation of these recommendations, but the chair of the group, Lord Best, claims they are likely to come into force within two years.

How did the industry react?

A joint statement from Mark Hayward and David Cox, chief executives of NAEA and ARLA Propertymark, said of the new appointment: “We welcome Christopher Pincher as the new Housing Minister. Unfortunately, the lack of continuity in this post and the persistent changes means it’s been near impossible for anyone in the role to make an impact. Fixing the broken housing market should be the priority, and there’s a number of consultations and policy that requires action – most importantly the Regulation of Property Agents. We look forward to working with the new minister on these important changes to the industry.”
Hew Edgar, RICS’ Head of UK Engagement & City Strategy, also congratulated the new minister on his appointment, but warned about the supply of new homes and the importance of regulation. 
“Our residential market survey out today shows house prices are continuing to rise across the country, as supply continues to be an issue. With many people unable to get on the property ladder, the new Minister has a golden opportunity to move quickly to increase the supply of new homes across a wider range of tenures,” he said.
“We also look forward to a renewed focus on the RoPA recommendations to protect consumers including the establishment of a new statutory regulator for property agents, with the power to approve independent Designated Professional Bodies undertaking regulation of their members and firms.”
He concluded: “RICS is committed to working with the government to help boost the numbers of new homes but this needs bold action which includes reviewing stamp duty, using placemaking to redefine how we deliver housing, overhauling VAT for retrofitting existing buildings and agreeing a new EU trade deal which works for the sector.”
Nick Sanderson, CEO of the Audley Group, added: “It’s now 10 in 10 for Housing Ministers. Ten changes in 10 years, and 19 in 20. Hardly surprising that short-termism remains the order of the day.”
The revolving door nature of the Housing Minister was much mocked in the press after this latest reshuffle, and it’s something that must surely change if any genuine, long-lasting reform and progress on key housing issues is to be achieved.
However, the role of Housing Minister being a stepping stone to better things is well-documented and can be seen clearly in the current makeup of the Cabinet. Dominic Raab is now Foreign Secretary and one of the most important voices in Boris Johnson’s government, Alok Sharma replaced Andrea Leadsom as Business Secretary in the recent reshuffle, and Brandon Lewis – Housing Minister from July 2014 to July 2016, and the last person to manage more than one year in the job – replaced Julian Smith as the new Northern Ireland Secretary.   
Meanwhile, Kit Malthouse – a long-time ally of Boris Johnson’s, going back to their days together at City Hall during Johnson’s two-term reign as London Mayor – is now both a Minister of State for the Home Office and a Minister of State in the Ministry of Justice.
The greatest promotion of all in the recent reshuffle – Sunak’s rapid ascent to the second highest office in the land at the age of only 39 – also has its roots in MHCLG. Sunak was a junior minister in the department until as recently as July last year before becoming chief secretary to the Treasury. 
If recent history is anything to go by, we may well be back here discussing a brand new Housing Minister a year from now – or maybe even sooner than that – but given the amount of new policy, regulation and legislation that needs to be enforced it would be eminently sensible of the government to aim for some consistency and stability.
Whether that happens or not is a matter for serious debate.

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