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By David Westgate

Group Chief Executive, Andrews Property Group

OTHER FEATURES

Now is not the time for ‘BoJo Bravado’

If you’d asked me at the start of the year how I thought the political landscape might look now, I wouldn’t necessarily have been surprised that there was a new tenant at Number 10.

After all, we’d have left the EU, either with or without a deal, and be finding our feet as a sovereign nation outside of Europe.

Fast-forward to today and yes, we have a new Prime Minister but we’re still (for now!) in the EU. So, as we enter what we assume is the final countdown to October 31, what would my advice to Boris be?

First and foremost, Boris, a man known for his showmanship and larger than life character, needs to remember to listen.

On face value, ‘BoJo’ is enthusiastic when it comes to driving improvement within the property sector. He’s spoken of a commitment to home ownership for all; of radically reforming stamp duty and of a vision to extend Right to Buy.

What he’s failed to do in any of this is to provide the necessary thought and detail that makes an essentially flippant comment, a realistic achievable vision.

So, he swots up and quickly makes himself an expert in these issues? No; that is ridiculous and simply not going to happen. His primary focus over the coming weeks is to navigate a successful exit out of the EU for the UK and whilst I’d urge him to ensure it’s not to the detriment of many other issues of vital national concern, now is simply not the time for showing off or making a point.

Instead, Boris needs to acknowledge the immense strength, experience and influence of those for whom the success of the UK’s property market is their daily focus.

He must take advice from property professionals and industry associations. He must also remember to turn to his professional advisors within Whitehall.

Here, however, we encounter another potential sticking point: the fact that neither new appointee with responsibility for housing, Esther McVey or Robert Jenrick, has a background in housing or property.

We’ve been here before – more often in recent years than I care to remember, although I believe it’s nine Housing Ministers since the Tories took power nine years ago – and I’ve lamented on many occasions at how property needs to rise above this political merry-go-round.

However, one possible silver lining is the fact that for the first time in those nine years, Esther McVey, the Housing Minister, will be given access to cabinet meetings – something which should hopefully ensure housing shifts higher up the political agenda once the immediate priorities are dealt with.

Of course, the most immediate of those is Brexit. I’ll admit that I didn’t foresee we’d be where we are today if you’d asked me a year ago. I did believe a deal would be reached in time for us to exit in March this year, but things change and here we are at a crossroads.

It’s early days: Boris has just completed his tour of the UK and what comes next is anyone’s guess. We’re at a fork and things could go in one of two very different directions.

We’ve already seen Sterling tumble to its lowest rate in several years and I believe if we find ourselves in a no-deal exit, then the economy may plummet. This is far from ideal and will simply prolong the limbo we’ve been in for too long already.

However, there is still the chance that this larger than life character in whom the nation’s future lies may just pull it off. If, and it remains a pretty big ‘if’, BoJo does achieve what alluded Theresa May, then I believe that the UK, and by default its property market, will in fact bounce back pretty quickly and gain the position of relative strength that we’ve all been longing for.

If and when that happens, then I shall return to my campaign of ensuring that property is given the priority and focus that it deserves.

If we don’t find ourselves in that situation, well… well, let’s leave that discussion for another day and hope it doesn’t come.

*David Westgate is group chief executive of Andrews Property Group

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