the many interesting things I learned at the CIH Conference this
week, three have stuck in my mind. The first is the claim made both
by Housing Minister Grant Shapps and Sir Bob Kerslake, now
apparently Head of the Civil Service as well as DCLG, that the
Prime Minister and Chancellor are now both focused on the potential
of housing to make a major contribution to lifting Britain out of
If so, it is the first time in a generation that the housing
industry is pushing at an open door for a hearing. The second was
Grant Shapps' answer when asked to say how he would put the case
for housing in the forthcoming CSR: building 100,000 new homes, he
said, adds 1 per cent to GDP.
The third appeared on a slide presented by Steve Partridge of CIH
in a session on the future of council housing; the headroom made
available to councils in the self-financing settlement would enable
them, if they chose, to build over 20,000 new homes, with the
potential for many more if debt ceilings were lifted and councils
allowed to borrow within prudential limits.
Taken together these point to the conclusion that councils with
housing could play a really important role in reviving the national
economy, both by building new homes to relieve housing need, and by
improving the existing stock. Government could enable them to do
more by lifting debt caps and in other ways, but there is no lever
that central government can pull to require councils to invest and
Quite rightly, that is now a matter for local discussion and
decision involving councils, their tenants and local people.
Realising the full potential of self-financing for new development
would require 167 separate decisions by individual councils.
Steve Partridge, in the conference session mentioned above,
described the current situation as a pause for breath, almost like
the months between the declaration of war against Germany in 1939
and the invasion of France in 1940.
Not quite the analogy needed here, but you can see what he meant.
The self-financing settlement was successfully signed off in March
- a declaration of peace rather than war perhaps. Many councils
found themselves better off than they had been expecting given the
borrowing deals available at PWLB.
But firm decisions have not yet been made everywhere about how to
use the new resources made available. To those councils which have
not yet firmed up their investment plans I have this message -
think hard about the economic impact.