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Former DCLG permanent secretary slams government housing policies

Published: Thursday, 4th June 2015

Lord Kerslake, formerly the top civil servant in the Department of Communities and Local Government, told ministers this week that two new key Conservative policies were wrong in principle

He also threatened to reduce the stock of affordable housing.

Cross-bencher Lord Kerslake, also a one-time chief executive of the Homes and Communities Agency and head of the Home Civil Service during the time of the Coalition, attacked the government’s proposals to extend right to buy to housing associations and to force local authorities to sell off their highest-value properties as they become vacant to pay for the discounts to be offered to tenants.

Lord Kerslake, who is now chairman of social housing provider Peabody Estates, argued that housing association stock could not be considered as government assets for sale as the associations were mainly private and mostly charitable bodies,

In his maiden speech on Tuesday evening Lord Kerslake said: “There is a good case for local authorities being able selectively to sell off some of their high-value properties to reinvest.“However, a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach is contrary to the spirit of greater devolution and will bring with it unintended consequences. In London, for example, the top third by value of properties will be concentrated in the central London boroughs of Wandsworth, Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea, which stand to lose nearly two-thirds of their stock over time.”

The cross-bencher commented : "There are also real doubts in my mind as to whether the receipts from the sale of high-value local authority properties can simultaneously cover the cost of the discount, the re-provision of new affordable homes and a contribution to the brownfield regeneration fund.”

He added: “At the very least this should be subject to a full independent financial review. Ultimately, the route to more home ownership, which I support passionately, is to build more homes. There is a real risk that these polices will distract from that vital, urgent task.”

During the Lords debate on the Queen’s Speech opposition peers lined up to remind ministers that as well as housing associations the CBI, the Institute of Fiscal Studies, rating agencies and London Mayor and Tory MP Boris Johnson were all critical of the proposals and concerned that housing supply would be adversely affected.

View more information on the Lords debates on the Queen’s Speech

Roger Milne