Housing minister says shock data on new homes was not delayed

Housing minister Grant Shapps has rejected allegations that the government deliberately delayed the publication of statistics showing a 97% drop in the construction of affordable until after the publication of the housing strategy this week.

Shapps told the Today programme that ministers had not seen the figures before publication of the strategy, and that the figures had been scheduled for release on the Tuesday a month in advance.

Shapps added that it would have been false manipulation if the government had changed the timing of the announcement to allow the figures to come out beforehand. He said: “You just can’t win, if you move the strategy because a set of official strategy then you’ll be accused be manipulating the timing around it.

“We should not be moving our programme around because of a set of official statistics, that is what would be wrong, that is what would be an abuse of power. What we’ve done is absolutely correct, and frankly I think you [Today programme] have given a very misleading report, and frankly we’re going to build more affordable homes in this country and that’s what should matter.

Shapps also angrily rejected a report on yesterday’s Today programme that he had pulled out of an interview on the topic yesterday, with Today presenter John Humphries claiming the programme had received an undertaking from Shapps’ staff that he would speak. Shapps said: “It was never going to be possible, I was never booked in, but the programme clearly left the impression that I had been.

“I tried to bend over backwards to make it happen.”

The interview was scheduled to answer growing concerns over the timing of the announcement of the collapse in affordable housing starts between April and September, which came just 24 hours after the launch of the government’s £1.5bn housing strategy.

Shapps said the drop off had been caused by a hiatus between the ending of the old National Affordable Housing Programme, and the signing of new Affordable Rent contracts under the new scheme. Last week the Homes and Communities said £1bn-worth of contracts for affordable homes have now been signed, and sources claim the government is still confident of meeting its targets for the full year.

He said: “It’s inevitable if you move from one programme to another, to a new programme … you’ll see something like this happen in the numbers. However in the reality we’re going to build new homes in the new system, then presumably it’s worth moving to the new system.

“In another six months you’ll see a huge increase.”

Shadow housing minister Jack Dromey has written to Shapps over the issue asking what discussions Shapps had with the prime minister and officials over the timing of the announcement and the publication of the statistics. He also called for an urgent debate on affordable housing, and for Shapps to apologise for “misleading” the public.

“Grant Shapps is wilfully misleading the public over what is the worst housing crisis in a generation. He should be ashamed and should apologise to the public today.

“Now the public know the Government snuck these figures out quietly, the day after announcing their housing strategy. Cameron’s Government knew a month in advance that these figures were coming, but seem to have timed their cynical announcement of a “housing revolution” the day before the truth could be told of the biggest fall in affordable house building in history.