Brexit, Barnet and Brokenshire: finding opportunity in political uncertainty

30 May 2018

Policy area: Brexit

Published in Estates Gazette this week, our Chief Executive Melanie Leech discusses our industry's future prosperity, amidst a complex Brexit.

Whilst as a nation, we can probably be fairly accused at times of over-focusing on what’s happening on our own doorstep while the world stage hosts momentous events, it has undeniably been yet another busy month for UK politics.

The Lords have put obstacle after obstacle in the path of a government trying to walk a tightrope on Brexit – and the concerns that we will end up with little or no time to finalise a Brexit deal that delivers a secure future for the UK (and for the rest of Europe for that matter) are growing. 

According to one Peer I spoke to recently, the Lords are less seeking to inflict further pain and difficulty on a hard-pressed Government, than trying to ensure that their sister chamber, the Commons, makes sure that both the policy and legislative arrangements we propose and try to negotiate are robust and fully thought through. Be that as it may, the risk is that we continue to present ourselves as divided, and holding a weak hand in the negotiations, whilst the clock ticks on. 

The complexities and challenges of Brexit also mean that there is little air time in the machinery of government – ministers, Parliament and the civil service – for much else. That’s not always a bad thing – for a long term industry like ours the stability of inertia arguably has some attractions. However, we are at the heart of many of the domestic policy issues which will be critical to our future prosperity and the quality of people’s lives. And we cannot afford to put these issues on hold, nor for the Government of the day not to set a clear policy direction and follow it through.

Sajid Javid’s tenure heading up the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government brought some welcome clarity and continuity to that department’s agenda – particularly on housing. The property industry is undoubtedly sad to see him go. His successor, James Brokenshire, has little track record of engaging with the built environment and therefore it is difficult to predict what exactly his priorities will be during his term in office but I am encouraged by early signs that he recognises the contribution the build to rent sector can make to increasing housing supply. And by what seems a genuine interest in supporting the modernisation of our industry and increasing its productivity – two strategic priorities at the heart of our proposal to government for a sector deal for real estate, which I am told is near the top of his in-tray.  

Finally, local elections came and went, with scandals and accusations of prejudice affecting Labour and Conservatives in both the lead-up and the aftermath.

There was no clear message or pattern emerging. The vote on May 3rd was by no means as radical as some had predicted, and relatively few councils changed hands. But each individual result will have an impact for our industry. Local councils are our key partners - our actions at a local level are what set the real estate industry apart as we seek to ensure that people across the UK have access to the very best places to live, work, and relax.  

With Whitehall mired in the legislative intricacies of Brexit, and a new Secretary of State finding his feet, it is the Mayors and councils that are at the coalface of government’s relationship with the built environment. These elected politicians and officials whether, new faces or experienced hands, are key to keeping the regeneration and housing show on the road. Our industry must signal loud and clear our appetite to work with them to create the great places that will serve their constituents for years to come.