Jack Dromey used to organise the intimidatory mass pickets at Grunwicks in the 1970s where he was trying to force the management to accept a closed shop.

He is now the Shadow Minister for Housing and is still having some success in persuading the BBC to present his version of events as the reality. After this spurious story about housing statistics he wrote to Housing Minister Grants Shapps complaining that an announcement was not brought forward concerning a drop in construction of social homes. Imagine the Dromey/BBC complaints if the Government did order the dates for the release of statistics to be changed?

Anyway, Shapps has sent a robust response:

Thank you for your letter of 24 November.

I appreciate that you have not been a Minister, so may not be fully aware of how official statistics are regulated under the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007. This Act was introduced because of the abuse of statistics under the last Administration.

The Homes and Community Agency’s statistics were published in the normal way, according to the Code of Practice for Official Statistics. As is the usual practice, a handful of people within my department were given ‘pre-release’ access to them, only 24 hours before the fixed publication date of Tuesday 22 November.

The timing of the publication by the Homes and Communities Agency of routine statistics had no bearing on the timing of the Government’s Housing Strategy announcement on Monday 21 November.

It would have been a breach of the Act for any Minister or departmental representative to have made public reference to these statistics on the Monday. Her Majesty’s Opposition cannot have it both ways: calling for statistics to be released in the proper way, and then implying that statistics should have been released to Parliament in a manner which would have breached the law. We have followed the Act: you imply that you wish to break it.

Moreover, because my department could not have been aware of the substantive content of the statistics until (no more than) 24 hours in advance of the publication date, there is no way in which its contents could have had a bearing on the timing of the Housing Strategy, which had been determined long before. Indeed, the formal notice of a Written Ministerial Statement was made to the House on the Friday before.

There were no discussions of the kind you suggest and no consideration by my department in any way of the two issues being related or connected. Your suggestion that the Government was “news managing the publication of official statistics” is completely and utterly without foundation. I consider your comments and associated press release a cheap political stunt – which in itself undermines public confidence in official statistics for petty partisan gain.

On the issues relating to government policy on housing, I would note:

  • The last Government was planning massive cuts in public spending, with cuts of £52 billion by 2014-15. These were frontloaded cuts – with £14 billion cuts falling in 2011-12 (HM Treasury, Spending Review 2010, October 2010, p.78).
  • The former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, said during the general election that “Housing is essentially a private sector activity… I don’t see a need for us to continue with such a big renovation programme” (BBC 2, Newsnight, 30 April 2010).
  • There was a net reduction of 200,000 affordable homes under the last Government (Lords Hansard, 10 November 2010, Col. 84WA). The total social rented stock fell by a net 400,000 over a similar period.
  • House building in 2010-11 was 29 per cent higher compared to 2008-09, and compared to 2009-10, it was 17 per cent higher (DCLG, Housebuilding: September Quarter 2011 England, 17 November 2011, Table 1a).
  • Social housing starts under the Coalition Government are almost a quarter higher than under the last Government in 2009 (average local authority and housing association housing starts since Q2 2010 in England, DCLG, Housing Statistics: Live Tables 213).
  • New Homes Bonus allocations for October 2010 to October 2011 will reward councils for an increase in housing of 159,000 homes, including 22,000 long-term empty properties being brought back into use; this includes rewards for the provision of 61,000 affordable homes (DCLG press release, 1 December 2011).
  • Moving forward, despite the need to tackle the budget deficit we have inherited from the last Administration, our affordable house building programme has exceeded expectations and is set to deliver up to 170,000 new affordable homes by 2015. Tuesday’s release was for the first six months of a new programme spanning four years. The figures simply represent a hiatus between programmes. Since virtually no providers were in contract by 30 September, no ‘starts’ from the new programme were included in Tuesday’s statistics – but 83 providers are now in contract, with contracts worth £1.3 billion.

The Housing Strategy sets out bold, ambitious plans to get the housing market moving again including plans for not only the £400 million Get Britain Building investment fund but also the establishment of a new £500 million Growing Places Fund, support for a new industry-led scheme to support access to mortgages, extra funding to tackle concentrations of empty homes, funding to support Custom Build Homes, freeing up public sector land with capacity to deliver up to 100,000 new homes and a consultation on a proposal to allow reconsideration of those planning obligations agreed prior to April 2010 where development is stalled. These measures will result in more community benefits and affordable housing – as opposed to there being no regeneration and no development.

This constitutes a far-reaching programme of action to deal with the housing challenges this country faces and address the legacy of boom and bust we inherited from the last Administration.

In relation to holding a debate on housing, I look forward to discussing housing policy with you at Monday’s DCLG Oral Questions. As you are not in government, your party is free to hold Opposition Day Debates on topics of your choosing.

Given you have raised these issues in Business Questions and press released your letter, I am placing a copy of this reply in the Library of the House and sending a copy to the National Statistician, the Leader of the House and the Speaker.

Yours sincerely,

Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP
Minister for Housing and Local Government