Shapps caught in housing starts row

Aaron Morby 11 years ago

The Government is under fire for releasing appalling affordable housing start figures a day after the high profile launch of its housing strategy.

Housing minister Grant Shapps has been accused of trying to hide bad news after new figures showed a shocking 99% fall in the number of affordable homes built last year.

Shapps was involved in heated exchanges with radio presenter John Humphrys on the  BBC Today programme, which has been described as a meltdown moment.

Labour’s shadow housing minister joined the attack later today when he called on Shapps to apologise to the public for misleading them about the housing crisis.

Housing charity Shelter said the housing start figures were shocking and a direct result of a 60% cut in housing funding announced last October.

The appalling figures showed just 454 affordable homes were built in the six months to September last year, compared to 35,735 in the preceding six-month period.

Total housing starts funded by a variety of Home and Communities Agency schemes also fell from 39,136 to 1,746 over the six months.

In some regions social building work ground to a halt altogether, with no starts at all in the north-west and 12 in the north-east. In the previous six-month period these both these regions delivered a total of 6,729 starts.

Labour’s Shadow Housing Minister Jack Dromey said: “Grant Shapps is willfully misleading the public over what is the worst housing crisis in a generation.

“He should be ashamed and should apologise to the public today.

“New figures this very week show the reality – in the last six months only 259 homes for social rent and 454 affordable homes were started – a fall of 99% on Grant Shapps and the Government’s watch.

“Grant Shapps dismissed these catastrophic figures as being ‘internal’ which people don’t normally take any notice of.

“The millions in need of a decent home who saw only fifty-six affordable homes started in London, one in the East of England and none in the North West will have been shocked at the Housing Minister’s cavalier attitude.

Dromey said:
”Now the public know the Government snuck these figures out quietly, the day after announcing their housing strategy.

“Cameron’s Government knew a month in advance that these figures were coming, but seem to have timed their cynical announcement of a “housing revolution” the day before the truth could be told of the biggest fall in affordable house building in history.”

On Monday the Government committed an extra £400m to get schemes moving again, after last year cutting £4bn from the Labour Government’s social housing spending plan.

Jack Dromey’s letter to Grant Shapps

Dear Grant

Re: Affordable Housing Statistics

I am writing to you further to the issue I raised in Business Questions today regarding the release of Affordable Housing Statistics by the Homes and Communities Agency.

On Monday, you launched the Housing Strategy for England, calling it a “housing revolution”. As you know, much of the contents of this announcement was pre-briefed to the press in contravention of the conventions of the House.

On the following day, statistics were quietly released by the HCA regarding affordable housing showing a total 99 percent fall over the last 6 months, the biggest fall in affordable house building on record.

These statistics clearly would have allowed for a better informed public and parliamentary debate on the Housing Strategy and this Government’s housing record.

I understand that the Department for Communities and Local Government were told on the 19th October that the figures would be published this week. Given that you had ended Labour’s Affordable Housing Programme and cut funding to affordable housing by £4 billion last year, you must have been aware a month ago that these figures would not be a “good news story” for the Government. Indeed your department has subsequently

excused these disastrous figures by saying that they were expected because “the delays in new starts were due to contracts under the new housing schemes not yet being in place”.

I also understand a number of staff at the Department concerned, including a Special Advisor to the Communities Secretary, were on a pre-release access list for the statistics.

The Code of Practice for Official Statistics says Ministers “must ensure that no statement or comment -based on prior knowledge – is issued to the press or published ahead of the publication of the statistics” and reminds them of their duty “to promote trust and maximise public value”.

In light of what has now emerged, I would ask that you answer the following questions:

1) Did any discussions take place between you and your officials and/or the Prime Minister and Downing Street officials on the timing of the release of the housing strategy in relation to the publication of these statistics?

2) If such a discussion did take place did you not consider it more appropriate to time the release of the Housing Strategy after the release of these statistics to allow a better informed public debate and debate in Parliament?

3) If such a discussion did not take place, do you not think it should have? In order to avoid the perception that the Government is news-managing the publication of official statistics, is it not the role of Ministers to consider the timing of political announcements?

4) At what point were those on the pre-release access list informed of the content of the statistical release?

5) At what point were you made aware of the content of the statistical release?

6) Do you agree, that in light of the publication of these statistics, that by timing the housing strategy the day before the release of this statistics we were not able to have the most informed public and parliamentary debate?

7) Will you agree to hold a debate, in Government time, on this Government’s commitment to affordable housing?

People across our country are desperate for good quality, affordable housing. As a direct result of decisions you have made they have not been able to get this. These statistics show that the responsibility for that lies solely with your Government. These figures demonstrate the damage done by your Government in ending Labour’s Affordable Housing Programme.

Furthermore, you have trumpeted last year’s record-breaking affordable housing building figures but these figures show that they were the result of Labour’s Affordable Housing Programme, and when you abolished that, building of homes came to a virtual standstill.

The £400million you announced on Monday for housebuilding represents just a tenth of the cut made to the affordable housing budget last year. The 3,200 affordable homes announced will not even cover 10% of the fall in the affordable homes starts in the last 6 months.

You owe the public in need of homes an apology.

In light of the public interest in this matter, I have released a copy of this letter publicly.

I look forward to your swift response.

Yours sincerely

Jack Dromey MP

Shadow Minister for Housing

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