LGC’s commentary on the reshuffle
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The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is no more. Long live the Ministry for Communities, Housing and Local Government – (or ‘MuhClug’ as it has been affectionately nicknamed).
The new secretary of state for housing, communities and local government (even though Sajid Javid already was that) said the rebrand reflected the government’s “renewed focus” to build more homes.
“Building the homes our country needs is an absolute priority for this government and so I’m delighted the prime minister has asked me to serve in this role,” Mr Javid said proudly in a press release issued about two hours after emerging from Downing Street – a period in which his department did not know its own name.
In November, Theresa May declared increasing housebuilding as a personal mission and that she would take “charge of the government’s response” to the nation’s “housing crisis”.
“For decades we simply have not been building enough homes, nor have we been building them quickly enough, and we have seen prices rise,” Ms May said.
Despite crowbarring ‘housing’ into the department’s, sorry ministry’s, name there has been little evidence to date that neither Ms May nor Mr Javid have genuine solutions to the housing crisis.
In the lead up to the autumn Budget, Mr Javid told the BBC’s Andrew Marr he wanted to use “everything that we have available to us” to handle Britain’s housing crisis.
To this end, Mr Javid put in a pre-Budget pitch of £50bn in additional borrowing to the Treasury. To put that in context the UK reportedly borrowed a total of £57bn in 2016.
Housing chiefs have repeatedly said the government should start searching for the magic money tree if more houses are to be built. Despite promises to solve the problem, chancellor Philip Hammond (who kept his job in today’s reshuffle, by the way, along with most other senior ministers) outlined plans to spend £44bn and “create the financial incentives necessary to deliver 300,000 net additional homes a year on average by the mid-2020s”. However, of that £44bn about a third (£15bn) was new money in the form of cash, loans, and guarantees – a lot of which includes fiddly pots of cash that requires tedious bidding processes.
The one thing that would enable housebuilding at scale – namely freeing up councils to borrow more for housing – got a mere extra £1bn allocated to it, but even that will not be available until 2019-20 and will be spread out over three years.
Changing the name shows some intent, but it does little to put spades in the ground and bricks on mortar.
Following a similar suit, health secretary Jeremy Hunt also got a name change – and it wasn’t the previously predicted promotion to first secretary of state. He stays in place but now presides over the Department (not ministry) for Health and Social Care.
A few onlookers got excited for a few minutes thinking social care was being taken completely away from DCLG/MHCLG (even though the policy has always sat in the Department of Health anyway). But rather than any major changes to the way councils’ social care functions are funded, initial reports suggest this name change relates to Mr Hunt taking responsibility for the social care green paper. That at least makes a bit more sense – it had previously come under the Cabinet Office and the man whose demise sparked the reshuffle in the first place: Damien Green.
From a local government perspective (and national one, for that matter) there has so far been little movement in the reshuffle.
Local government minister Marcus Jones has departed to take up an apparently non-paid role as a party vice chair. As minister with responsibility for overseeing local government finance reforms, and playing a key role in the homelessness agenda, Mr Jones’ absence throws a certain element of uncertainty over the immediate future direction of those policies although there’s nothing to suggest much (if anything) will change. A bit like Amber Rudd’s position as home secretary, Boris Johnson as foreign secretary, David Davis as Brexit secretary, and Greg Clark as business secretary (after some reported digging in of heels)…
Far from the reshuffle showing Ms May flexing some muscle, it looks instead like she’s pulled some muscle.
As Ms May repeatedly said during the general election campaign: nothing (or at least very little) has changed.
By David Paine, acting news editor, and Robert Cusack, reporter