Alastair Stewart on why getting rid of the first housing minister in years who knew anything about the industry is a mistake
Being a housing minister is increasingly becoming like a Premiership football manager, or even a Channel 4 racing pundit, in terms of job security. Mark Prisk has become the latest victim of what is surely Whitehall’s best oiled revolving door, the result, he Tweeted, of “being asked to step aside from Housing for a younger generation”.
The John McCririck effect seems to have taken hold of Westminster, with poor old Prisk failing to tick any of the right boxes for David Cameron’s pursuit of gilded youth and diversity: not in the first flush of yoof (he’s 51), not Northern (Cornish, in fact a former shadow minister for Cornwall, if that’s not a spoof that found its way into Wikipedia), wrong skin colour (white) and, cripplingly, non-female.
But, in terms of mundane issues like knowledge of the job, he was possibly the best qualified of at least 10 incumbents I’ve counted over the past dozen years. Prisk has a degree in Land Management, worked as a graduate surveyor for Knight Frank, before entering something of a respectably successful career running his own firms.
While not the most colourful of characters, there don’t seem to be many people in the housing industry with a bad word to say of him (I’ve heard many bad and largely unprintable words from across the industry in respect of his immediate predecessor Grant Shapps, who, until he became Conservative chairman, ironically held down the job for longer than any holder of the office since Nick Raynsford).
For any observers of the property market who (splutter) are on the wrong side of 50, the move is particularly ominous. If one lesson needs to be learned about housing it is that it is the most cyclical of industries. The culture of youth in banking may well have contributed the subprime-fuelled crash. With Messrs Cameron and Osborne seemingly intent on taking Britain back up the housing roller coaster again, retaining a minister that actually knows his brief and is a bit long in the tooth might not be such a bad thing.
Alastair Stewart is housing and construction analyst at Progressive Research. Follow him on Twitter @BuildInsight