Housing is a government priority, but sector urged to come up with fresh ideas
Housing has become a government priority but the sector must come forward with fresh ideas on how to build more homes, top civil servant Sir Bob Kerslake told the CIH Housing 2012 annual conference and exhibition yesterday.
Not only has housing moved rapidly up the political agenda since the general election, it is now a personal priority for Prime Minister David Cameron, conference delegates heard on Wednesday 13 June.
Sir Bob Kerslake, head of the civil service and permanent secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government, said ministers recognised the importance of housing in stimulating economic growth, but providers should not expect extra Treasury funding to pay for it.
“A government that's trying to bring down the deficit is not going to pump in more money,” he said. “We have got to explore all options, particularly how we can leverage the public sector balance sheet and also housing association balance sheets. We're in the market for new ideas.”
Urging the sector to speak with a united voice, he suggested providers that could pay for 80% of a development scheme might receive government help in finding the funds to cover the remaining 20%, but he did not stipulate whether this would take the form of land, borrowing guarantees or other assistance.
When BBC home editor Mark Easton asked whether there was government tension over housing, Sir Bob Kerslake said that the DCLG and Department for Work and Pensions were working together closely on areas of housing policy, such as welfare reform.
He agreed that, when it comes to housing policy, the ministers tended to think first of the private sector. “The challenge for the rest of the sector is to show that it can bring something to the party,” he told the conference in Manchester.
Asked by a delegate whether the profile of the sector would be raised if the housing minister had a Cabinet portfolio, Sir Bob said: “There is not a problem about getting housing considered around the Cabinet table.”