Industry reacts favourably to Whitehall speculation that former home secretary could head new ministry

The construction industry has reacted warmly to speculation that former home secretary David Blunkett could be handed responsibility for housing and regeneration in the post-election reshuffle.

Whitehall sources have been speculating that Blunkett could head a Department for Local Government and Housing in the wake of the general election yesterday.

As Building went to press, polls were suggesting a Labour government would be returned, but with a substantially reduced majority.

Graham Watts, chief executive of the Construction Industry Council, said that having Blunkett in charge of the sector would be “tremendous”.

He said: “What we’d hope is that if local government and housing are cut out [of the ODPM] many other built environment areas would go with them, and we’d get a heavyweight political figure to head it up. You can’t get much more heavyweight than David Blunkett.”

However, there has been no word about whether construction would join this new department or whether the sector would still be represented within the DTI.

Watts added that there was a feeling that the ODPM was too unwieldy. He said: “The problem at the moment is that the Prescott empire is too big and he has too many other things to do. We’d like a slimmed-down department with a stronger focus. It’s pretty much rock bottom at the moment in terms of joined-up thinking.”

Michael Ankers, chief executive of the Construction Products Association, added that Prescott’s vital role as a mediator between the right and left of the Labour party meant that his future would depend on what kind of majority Labour was left with.

He said: “If the majority is 25 then Tony Blair can’t get rid of John Prescott. If it’s 125, then he can more or less do what he likes. Politically, a roving role for Prescott post-election makes sense.”

Ankers added that the industry was most concerned to see that any new ministry did not disrupt key policy areas such as Part L of the Building Regulations and the Code for Sustainable Buildings.

He said: “It’s terribly important that they are kept together: the last thing we want is a lack of coherency.”

George Ferguson, RIBA president, described Blunkett as “an extraordinarily able man”, but admitted he would be happy for Prescott to stay.

He said: “I’ve got a lot of time for Prescott and have found him to be thoroughly refreshing. I’ll miss him if he goes.”