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01/11/2013

Housing minister role downgraded after government reshuffle

Mixed messages characterised the autumn reshuffle, as David Cameron harpooned the housing minister on the same day as pumping fresh air into the second phase of his help to buy scheme. 

“Invisible” Mark Prisk, so-named by Inside Housing magazine, slipped into further anonymity as he was axed after 12 months in favour of junior minister Kris Hopkins, Conservative MP for Keighly – suggesting that the role of housing minister had been significantly demoted in the government’s ministerial hierarchy.
 
Prisk tweeted it was  “disappointing” to lose the brief but puzzled his followers by stating that he had been asked to “step aside for a younger generation” – his successor is, at 50, one year younger. 
 
Prisk moved to housing from the business department and was deemed a quiet successor to the bellicose Grant Shapps. It’s rumoured that Prisk didn’t like the headline help to buy scheme.
 
It took 24 hours for the government to announce backbencher Hopkins,  arguably lesser known than media-shy Prisk, as the 14th holder of the housing portfolio since 1993. The new minister is a former leader of Bradford Council, member of the armed forces and a lecturer in media studies. The lack of urgency in replacing Prisk implied that housing would be marginalised in any shortlist of core election issues before 2015.
 
However, it was the downgrading of the position from minister of state to junior minister that proved most symbolic of the government’s commitment to the industry. National Housing Federation chief executive David Orr welcomed Hopkins but said he was “surprised and disappointed” at the minister’s slip in status.
 
Nevertheless, No. 10 dismissed claims that housing has been demoted and said the fact that the department now has no minister of state at all is inconsequential. Others say it is more an indication of the Treasury’s increased stranglehold on DCLG. 
 

"It was the downgrading of the position from minister of state to junior minister that proved most symbolic of the government’s commitment to the industry"

 
It was also dismissed by planning minister Nick Boles, who said: “You know what, are there more than 300 people in the world who know the difference between a minister of state and an under-secretary?”
 
Many detected a kernel of truth in his previous, tongue-in-cheek claim that if he was “still planning minister in 2013 – then shoot me”. However, his 12-month tenure has outlasted the nine-month average for a minister.
 
The Conservative reshuffle was markedly different from Labour’s. Emma Reynolds was appointed shadow housing minister and that means she will attend the shadow cabinet in place of Jack Dromey.
 
The reshuffle also saw building regulations minister Don Foster leave DCLG to take up the role of Liberal Democrat chief whip. At this year’s Lib Dem party conference he criticised government priorities after hearing that housing only receives a tenth of the investment that transport receives. 
 
Communities under-secretary Stephen Williams, Lib Dem MP for Bristol West, has replaced Foster. Hopkins will be responsible for local growth, cities and regeneration. Responsibilities for community rights, empty homes and sustainable development have been delegated to Williams.

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