Sir Kier Starmer has told the government it should look again at whether estate agents’ viewings of properties for sale and to let should be allowed.
In a speech where there was substantial criticism of the government’s handling of the Coronavirus crisis, the Labour leader did not go so far as to say that the housing market should be effectively shut down, as it was in the spring 2020 lockdown.
But he said: “It is still possible at the moment, as I understand it, to go and view houses if you’re going to buy a house, and that wasn’t allowed last March. So we’re in this extraordinary situation … at least as serious, if not a more serious position than in March of last year, we’ve got less restrictions in place.”
“I think we are going to have to look in the next 24 hours or so, what are the other measures that could be put in place, and hear from the scientists as to which of those that they think are more effective, and then all pull together and support those measures if they’re needed because the numbers are still, as everybody knows, heading in the wrong direction on.”
If the market is formally closed or elements of it such as viewings are suspended by government, the difficulties surrounding buyers and conveyancers meeting the stamp duty deadline of March 31 become still more challenging; likewise the knock-on effect on removal firms, surveyors, lawyers and other transaction-related professions would be huge.
Starmer’s speech - his first major scheduled one for 2021 - made a list of specific economic demands on the government, including withdrawing its proposed housing benefit changes and to reverse its agreement for local authorities to raise council tax.
But on Coronavirus Starmer said the government had not honoured its contract with the British people by failing to get the pandemic under control after many months of restrictions.
“It makes no sense to me at all that when we’re asking so much of the British people, the government is doing so little to support families,” he said, calling for “a legal, enforceable and immediate right for parents to request paid, flexible furlough and by promoting that to all working parents to help them get through this lockdown”.
In his speech, Starmer attacked the government for "having been found wanting at every turn" with Prime Minister Boris Johnson being "indecisive" and acting "too slow."
He said: "The British people will forgive many things. They know the pandemic is difficult. But they also know serial incompetence when they see it - and they know when a prime minister simply isn't up to the job."
A statement from Downing Street rejected the criticism, saying: "This government has shown it is prepared to act. When given evidence in the morning it has taken action that evening."