The king is dead, long live the king. Or, in this case, Esher and Walton MP Dominic Raab, the successor as English housing minister to Alok Sharma. In a government reshuffle that is notable in the main for the lack of any meaningful reshuffling, housing now stands out.
As has already been said today by many in the housing sector, this change in leadership is disappointing. Here are the reasons why.
First, in a speech in November immediately prior to the Budget, Theresa May pledged to make it her personal ‘mission’ to ‘build the homes the country needs’ and address the housing supply crisis in many areas. Yet Alok Sharma was only in post for seven months and Raab is the third housing minister of May’s premiership. The NHF’s David Orr and others have pointed out that this lack of continuity damages market certainty and so actually slows the pace of new house building.
Second, the housing sector is still plotting a path to rebuilding trust with residents following the worst disaster in a generation where 71 people died in the fire at Grenfell Tower on 14 June. By chance, Alok Sharma was the housing minister (second day on the job) at the time of the fire and was in charge of leading a Social Housing Green Paper to help reset the relationship between social landlords and their residents, due to be published this spring.
As part of this, Sharma had embarked on a high-profile tour of the country to meet with social housing residents and hear their views on the future of social housing provision. Although Sharma was accompanied by civil servants, his personal experience and views as a result of these meetings will now be lost to the process of writing the Green Paper.
These are the principal reasons for regret at Alok Sharma’s abrupt departure, however few would say he was a deep thinker on housing policy and how to improve it. In that light, the introduction of a new housing minister offers the chance to ensure the first Social Housing Green Paper in 11 years is a good one.
So what does Dominic Raab bring to the post?
He is a prominent Brexiteer and makes frequent media appearances in support of government Brexit policies. As such and allied to his international experience as an Oxbridge-trained solicitor, 43-year-old Raab is seen as a rising star of the Conservative Party. He should prove well-placed to advocate for and steer his new housing brief in parliament when required.
However, critics have already highlighted his apparent lack of interest in housing policy and negative comments made by Raab in May 2017 on foodbank users. As a result, concerns have been expressed that his apparent lack of compassion means he is not best-placed to help recast the housing sector post-Grenfell Tower and lead the Social Housing Green Paper.
As is now the established housing sector tradition, tweets have today been trotted out welcoming Raab to his post – he is the sixteenth to hold the office in the past 20 years.
As am ambitious politician, he will not want to fail in delivering on Theresa May’s pledge to fix the broken housing market. There are clear parallels to prominent Conservative politicians of yesteryear who have seen the potential of the housing portfolio and used it to good personal effect. The housing sector will hope Raab follows the example of Harold Macmillan and not that of his short-lived, more recent housing ministerial predecessors.
Stuart Macdonald is Managing Director of See Media