A new and very junior minister has been given responsibility for housing, in a clear downgrading of the housing minister role.
The demotion of the role has already dismayed some in the property industry, which had been hoping instead for an upgrade to a full cabinet position.
Kris Hopkins, MP for Keighley, has been in Parliament only just over three years. He was appointed as an under-secretary to the Department of Communities and Local Government following the sacking of Mark Prisk as housing minister on Monday.
Prisk had been in his role little over a year, succeeding Grant Shapps in September 2012.
The removal of Prisk had been widely predicted in the property press, where he was dubbed Mr Invisible.
Notably, he did not make the recent announcement that the second phase of Help to Buy was being brought forward three months, while it was Eric Pickles who announced a tenants’ charter for the private rented sector.
Prisk, 51, tweeted on Monday that he had been asked to step aside “for a younger generation”. Hopkins is 50, suggesting that perhaps a year is a long time in politics.
Hopkins’ elevation to a role at CLG will see him reporting to Eric Pickles, with whom he has in common the fact that both are former leaders of Bradford Council.
This week’s reshuffle means that the coalition government will have had three housing ministers in three years – continuing the revolving doors policy of the previous Labour government which got through a bewildering succession of housing ministers (nine in 13 years).
Not to be outdone by its political opponents, Labour has continued with keeping the doors spinning by sacking shadow housing minister Jack Dromey. Dromey has been replaced by Emma Reynolds, who like Hopkins has been an MP for a little over three years. But Labour has underlined that it regards the housing minister role as a senior one, and Reynolds will attend shadow cabinet meetings.
Their combined lack of experience will, however, concern many in the property world. Their predecessors did have credentials: Dromey is a veteran politician and even his fiercest critics acknowledged that he brought great passion to his role, while the determinedly quiet Prisk was a chartered surveyor.
Richard Lambert, chief executive officer of the National Landlords Association, said: “The NLA is pleased to welcome Kris Hopkins as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing. We hope the incoming minister will take a proactive and holistic approach to addressing the issues facing the housing sector exacerbated by the shortage of housing supply.
“However, it is extremely disappointing to see the Coalition reduce the significance of housing within Government. Given the significant challenges facing households throughout the country, it is essential that housing takes centre stage in political debate.
“We hope the apparent demotion of the housing portfolio from minister of state to under-secretary of state does not reflect a change in priorities from the Government ahead of the General Election in 2015.
“Conversely we are pleased to hear that shadow minister Emma Reynolds will be attending the shadow cabinet. This is an appropriate acknowledgement of the significance of housing within the political debate and its importance to both providers of accommodation and those hard-working households which rely on them for their homes.”
Meanwhile, on his first day in the job, Hopkins was getting stuck in. He was out and about yesterday with David Cameron, visiting a new housing development. Hopkins insisted that the Government’s housing policies are working and revealed that 15,000 reservations have now been made under the first phase of the Help to Buy scheme.