Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has said Labour would spend the £3 billion or so won from the 4G mobile phone licence sale on building 100,000 new homes.
It’s a start. But it’s far from enough to fill the huge gap in house building created by the credit crunch, despite having the now de rigueur 100,000 figure that’s seemingly essential to all housing policy statements today.
However, I have a sneaking feeling (probably an irrational hope) that this slightly bold move may prove profoundly more significant than the piffling £3 billion might suggest.
I say piffling because the scale of investment needed to adequately tackle the problem is better measured in tens of billions.
Let’s get the scale here. There’s a general feeling that we are building half the number of homes we should be. But in construction costs alone even at current low levels of build we spent £21 billion last year. So, over a couple of years, or whatever the period envisaged, the £3 billion will not go that far.
In fairness the £3 billion of public money will, or at least should, prompt far more than £3 billion worth of construction work. It will lever in private sector money etc etc.
That debate aside, the real value to the construction industry of the Balls’ statement is that he has potentially set in train a bidding war.
We’ve already seen the LibDems at their conference make big statements about housing and the need to build more homes, though the detail on funding their ambitions seemed a shade obscure.
The Tories can ill afford not to talk big about housing – though I suspect that those who currently have their hands on the levers of power will feel the need to focus on slagging off the record of their predecessors. They have let’s not forget already had at least three (depending on your counting) shots at formulating a coherent policy framework to boost house building.
But should Mr Balls’ notion gain popular support among the broader electorate, the stakes would be raised.
He is after all promising real money in amounts that sound big to the public. And there appears to be a few little sweeteners in there for the aspirational as well as the needy.
So I’ll be optimistic, keep my fingers crossed that the public like the idea, and hope for a bidding war between the political parties that results in real money in realistic quantities being pumped into building the homes that most of the population regard as much needed.
More on the need to pump big money into housing and the four years of wasted opportunity later…