‘Here we go again’ might be the thinking of the industry as yet another housing minister was announced in Boris Johnson’s recent mini reshuffle.
With the Prime Minister under pressure following the “Partygate” allegations, and calls from critics to refresh his top team, several junior ministers were moved around as Mr Johnson sought to shore up his government.
A consequence of this was the removal of former Housing Minister Chris Pincher, who swapped places with former deputy chief whip Stuart Andrew.
The reshuffle means we now have the 11th different Housing Minister in 12 years, adding to industry suspicions that the role is regarded by many as a mere stepping stone to higher office.
Several current senior Cabinet ministers – including Dominic Raab, Grant Shapps, Alok Sharma and Brandon Lewis – have moved into a more high-profile role after a stint as Housing Minister.
However, the sense of a revolving door has been around for a long time, with Mr Andrew being the 18th different minister (from both Conservative and Labour governments) to have held the position since 2001.
Mr Pincher was in place for longer than most – lasting almost two years – but seemed to be rewarded for his role in a shadow whipping operation (popularly known as Operation Save Big Dog) by securing a position in the whip’s office.
Who is Stuart Andrew?
The MP for Pudsey, West Yorkshire, since 2010, Mr Andrew previously served as a deputy chief whip. He also previously held parliamentary under-secretary roles in both the Welsh Office and the Ministry of Defence.
Before entering politics, he led the fundraising team for Martin House Hospice.
An until now little-known figure compared to some of his better-known predecessors, he has no obvious experience of operating in the property sector. But – like many MPs – he is a landlord. This may give hope to some in the lettings sector that he will take a more sympathetic viewpoint when it comes to rental reform and protecting the rights of landlords.
However, he has also already faced criticism from some sections of the media, with the Mirror revealing that in 2016 Andrew voted against an amendment to legislation to make all rented homes ‘fit for human habitation’.
The amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill was voted down 312-219 with ministers of the day saying the amendment would cause ‘unnecessary regulation and cost to landlords, and councils ‘already have strong and effective powers’ to police poor-quality homes.
What will be in his in-tray?
His appointment comes at a crucial time for the housing sector, with large-scale rental reform recently announced in the Levelling Up White Paper.
The plans confirmed by the Government – which include the scrapping of Section 21, consulting on a possible landlords register and clamping down on rogue landlords – are expected to be fleshed out in the White Paper on rental reform, which is expected to be published in the spring.
It’s noticeable, however, that it was Eddie Hughes – Minister for Housing and Rough Sleeping – who had been taking the lead on this crucial issue, rather than Mr Pincher.
Mr Andrew will be working closely with Housing Secretary Michael Gove and the rest of the team at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – not just on rental reform, but also leasehold, cladding, affordable housebuilding and the long-awaited Regulation of Property Agents, which is set to reform the sales and lettings side of estate agency.
The reform, already three years in the making, could yet be further delayed as the government prioritises other things.
How did the industry react?
Nathan Emerson, CEO of trade body Propertymark, welcomed Andrew to his appointment as the new Housing Minister.
“He takes on the role at an important time for the housing market with a lack of supply and additional costs for consumers. He must reenergise the planning system to remove known barriers to maximising delivery and also plan for the anticipated housing needs of older people."
“We look forward to working constructively with the new Minister to find solutions to speed up the home buying and selling process and ensure critical material information is provided to consumers in a clear and transparent way."
“This will not only help to keep the market moving but allow agents to help Level Up the country.”
Meanwhile, Nick Sanderson, CEO of the Audley Group, said: “11 in 12 years - it sounds like a made-up statistic, but no, that really is the number of Housing Ministers there have been in a ridiculously short amount of time. Little wonder perhaps that major reform has been kicked to the curb.”
He continued: “Mr Andrew has a real opportunity to alter that trajectory. The noise has increased in the corridors of power and now is the time to act."
“We need the Housing Minister to work with the Health Secretary and the Minister for Social Care to create holistic solutions that create the right kind of housing. The newly announced taskforce on housing for older people is a positive start. Create more of the right housing to take pressure off the NHS and social care."
“It’s simple, it doesn’t cost the government money and it simply takes vision. And a bit of stability at the top.”