Can the Tories find a way of merging the two housing agencies as well as maintaining an efficient service

Ever since Grant Shapps, the shadow housing minister, told the press he didn’t think we needed two housing agencies, the industry has believed that the writing is on the wall for the Tenant Services Authority, set up last year to regulate housing associations.

Shapps described progress from the authority as “incredibly slow”. As for the Homes and Communities Agency, although he said that it “could be part of a future delivery vehicle” he followed this up (somewhat portentously) with, “you need to see some major benefits from an organisation with a £4.5m monthly wage bill.”

So there you have it. We seem likely to be looking at a unified, but massively slimmed down single housing authority in the next parliament – since the clever money seems to think that the total resource will be roughly halved. And it could happen fast: I think the new administration will take action within the first six months, being wary of “going native” if they delay much beyond that.

Any change is likely to provoke a certain amount of conflict in the private sector. 

The move to slim down housing agencies will be warmly welcomed, of course. The private sector mutters darkly about jobsworths and red tape. However, housebuilders and their consultant friends will be the first to make a fuss if their schemes are not processed quite as quickly as they would like. Simply halving the resource and carrying on with the same old systems will not be enough; the trick in more-for-less Britain will be how to reform an existing (and still very unsettled) agency into a stable, streamlined and efficient service. Easier said than done, of course.

And how do you establish a baseline for delivery from a new housing agency when the HCA/TSA apparatus is still in its infancy? We badly need to know exactly what is going on so that we can learn quickly from best practice and retain the bits of the machinery that are working well.

We will need the Tories to come to the right conclusions quickly if we aren’t to further beleaguer our crippled industry by creating mass institutional confusion. Above all, the building sector needs clarity and stability for the long term.