Home secretary Charles Clarke has admitted that government departments have undermined key policies such as the sustainable communities plan by issuing conflicting directives.

Speaking at this week’s summit on a platform with education secretary Ruth Kelly and environment secretary Margaret Beckett, Clarke said: “Sometimes central government departments have been sending different directives, slightly at odds with each other. It is something we are working on.”

Putting three Cabinet ministers on the stage at the same time was seen as an attempt to illustrate that the government is united behind John Prescott’s housing plans. Summit chairman Nick Ross commented: “It’s often difficult to get one Cabinet minister to a conference – now they’ve come by the busload.”

Clarke added that he was “a bigger believer” in designing out crime, saying the importance of designing out crime was often underestimated.

Beckett said that housing was a major problem in her brief, which included rural affairs. She said: “Pretty much every rural Labour MP you ask what the main problem with their constituency is, they will say affordable housing.”

Kelly said education was central to Prescott’s plans for the housing growth areas. She said: “The debate has moved on tremendously in the past 10 years – schools are now thought of as the heart of the community, not just as schools.”