Online estate agency Tepilo takes an in-depth look at the new Housing Minister – the 15th different politician to take the role since 1997.
After the shock snap general election brought about a shock hung parliament, it might have been expected that Theresa May would make a few shock appointments to her re-jigged Cabinet. That didn’t quite happen, but the under-pressure PM did make a few interesting moves.
Gavin Barwell, Housing Minister before he lost his marginal Croydon Central seat to Labour at the most recent election, was appointed as May’s new Chief of Staff. The position of Housing Minister was, once again, vacant. Who would be the 15th different Housing Minister in 20 years?
Yes, that’s right. Since 1997, the housing brief has been passed around an astonishing fourteen times. Nine different ministers took on the role under the Labour government of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, while five have assumed the mantle since the Conservatives won back power, as part of a Coalition with the Lib Dems, in 2010. None of these ministers have lasted for more than two years since 1997, when Man United were still winning league titles and the Spice Girls were dominating the charts.
The latest incumbent is Alok Sharma, MP for Reading West, who has remained a largely unknown figure since being elected in 2010. Since then, Sharma has been a member of the Commons Treasury and the Commons Science and Technology select committees, as well as a Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Treasury. From 2012 to 2015, he held the position of Conservative Party Vice Chairman. In 2016, he was appointed as the Prime Minister’s Infrastructure Envoy to India.
Before entering politics, his background was in banking and accountancy, holding senior roles as a chartered accountant at a number of major firms. During his 16 years in the banking sector, he worked in Stockholm, London and Frankfurt.
Interestingly, given his new brief, he has no background in housing, which has led to a cautious welcome from the property industry, who have urged him to get to grips with Britain’s housing crisis, recognise the important role played by the private rented sector, implement the proposals set out in the recent Housing White Paper and help to boost the number of new homes across the country, especially in rural areas.
He certainly has a busy in-tray, with housing continuing to be one of the most important –and hotly-disputed – issues the length and breadth of the country. It’s generally accepted that the country is in the grips of a housing crisis – with demand continuing to outstrip supply and many people finding it difficult to get onto the housing ladder – so Sharma will have a big task on his hands to fulfil the promises made by the Conservatives on new homes and the private rented sector.
The Housing Minister does not have a position on the Cabinet, despite politicians of all parties regularly stressing how important an issue it is. Recent history, too, suggests Sharma won’t be in place for very long, with five different men taking on the position in this decade alone.
Sharma, who held onto his seat in Reading West with a majority of nearly 3,000, takes on the combined portfolio of housing and planning, which have been joined together since 2014. As a result, he will be responsible for housing and home ownership policy, in addition to the planning policy which underpins it. Regulating the private rented sector, estates regeneration, rooting out rogue landlords and freeing up deserted or unused public land for development will be other key tasks to undertake.
Implementing the proposals from February’s Housing White Paper, which included plans to speed up the planning process, protect the Green Belt, safeguard tenants, introduce a ban on letting agents’ fees levied on tenants, free public land for house building and increase the role of small and medium-sized house builders, is likely to form the majority of his early work.
However, recent tragic events have also placed pressure on the government – and the Housing Minister in particular – to ensure tower blocks across the country are safeguarded in the appropriate way and adhere to all the latest fire and health and safety regulations.
It’s far from an easy role, with plenty of things to juggle and lots of different people to try and please, but the hope will be that some stability and longevity can be brought to a position that has, before now, been passed around like a hot potato. Sharma has never held such a high-profile position, and has no experience in housing, so it will be interesting to see how he performs.
As we said before, Sharma will be the 15th Housing Minister in 20 years. But who else has held the role in that time?
Hilary Armstrong (1997-1999) – A key member of the New Labour government, Armstrong was the MP for North West Durham from 1987 to 2010 before standing down at the 2010 election. She is now a Baroness in the House of Lords.
Nick Raynsford (1999-2001) – A government minister from 1997 to 2005, Raynsford took on the housing brief for two of those years. He was an MP for Greenwich & Woolwich and Greenwich from 1992 to 2015, before standing down due to his age. He was also briefly the MP for Fulham in the 1980s after winning a by-election. He subsequently lost the seat at the 1987 general election.
Lord Falconer (2001-2002) – A lord since 1997, the Labour peer and barrister has held a number of ministerial and shadow ministerial roles since 2001, the most recent of which were Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice. His brief stint as Housing Minister lasted for less than a year.
Lord Rooker (2002-2003) – Another lord – Lord Rooker – took over the role in 2002 and held the position for just over a year. Rooker, sitting in the House of Lords since 2001, was the Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr from 1974 to 2001.
Keith Hill (2003-2005) – In 2003 long-time MP Keith Hill took on the role, one of a number of ministerial positions he held from 1997 to 2007. He stood down as an MP at the 2010 general election, having been Labour’s representative for Streatham since 1992. He has taken on a number of housing-based roles since leaving the world of politics.
Yvette Cooper (2005-2008) – One of Labour's most high-profile politicians of recent years, Cooper took on the housing brief after the 2005 general election. She's been an MP since 1997, representing Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford. When Housing Minister, she pushed for more affordable housing and introduced the controversial HIPS scheme.
Caroline Flint (Jan 2008-Oct 2008) – Flint had a very short stint as Housing Minister at the height of the global financial crisis, when house prices started to plummet. She's been the MP for Don Valley since 1997 and served key roles under Blair, Brown and Ed Miliband.
Margaret Beckett (Oct 2008-June 2009) – Currently the longest-serving female MP in the House of Commons, Beckett had a brief stint as Housing Minister in the dying years of the New Labour government. She has been MP for Derby South since 1983 and has served a number of ministerial and shadow ministerial roles since.
John Healey (2009-2010) – MP for Wentworth and Dearne since 1997, Healey was the last Labour Housing Minister before the Coalition took power. He is now Shadow Secretary of State for Housing and Planning.
Grant Shapps (2010-2012) – Shapps has been the MP for Welwyn Hatfield since 2005 and has held a number of key positions this decade. As Housing Minister, he repealed HIPs, controversially ended lifetime social tenancies and championed an expansion of Right to Buy.
Mark Prisk (2012-2013) – Prisk lasted just over a year as Housing Minister before being removed in a 2013 reshuffle. He has been an MP for Hertford and Stortford since 2001.
Kris Hopkins (2013-2014) – As part of the aforementioned reshuffle, Hopkins was promoted to the position of Housing Minister. He was the MP for Keighley from 2010 until a few weeks ago, when he lost his seat to Labour's John Grogan.
Brandon Lewis (2014-2016) – Lewis lasted a full two years (a lifetime compared to some) before being replaced by Gavin Barwell as part of Theresa May's first reshuffle. The MP for Great Yarmouth since 2010, he was moved to the position of Minister of State for Policing and the Fire Service before recently being promoted to Minister of Immigration.
Gavin Barwell (2016-2017) – Given the Housing Minister post by Theresa May, Barwell lost his seat to Labour's Sarah Jones at the 2017 general election. Despite that, he was promoted to May's chief of staff as part of her post-election reshuffle. As Housing Minister, his main duty was to oversee the government's Housing White Paper, which Alok Sharma will now be expected to implement.
Alok Sharma (Present-?)
The sheer number of ministers taking on the role – and the fact the Housing Minister doesn't have a seat on the Cabinet – suggests housing isn't taken as seriously as politicians say it is. For now, it would be nice for someone to stay in the position for more than two years, bringing some much-needed stability to a role that has changed hands far too frequently.