This year’s party conferences were an important political moment – the first opportunity for both the government and the opposition to set out their priorities since the break in parliamentary activity for the Conservative leadership contest and the death of the Queen.
The NHF’s Public Affairs team had a busy and productive schedule at the Labour and Conservative Party conferences this year. Here’s what we observed from both conferences and what it means for the housing sector.
There has been much speculation as to whether ‘levelling up’ – a term popularised during Boris Johnson’s government that relates to reducing the economic imbalances between areas in the UK – ended with Johnson’s premiership. However, this year’s conferences have shown that both the phrase and the policy idea behind it still exists as a priority for the two major political parties. The Labour Party have fully embraced the term, and it heavily featured in Keir Starmer’s speech at conference. Liz Truss promoted the Conservative Party’s new investment zones as a way to ‘level up’ the country.
Levelling up also dominated panel events at both conferences. The housing association sector held a Housing Fringe panel at the Labour and Conservative conferences, focusing on the role the housing sector should play in levelling up communities. MPs, councillors and party members heard how housing associations work closely with their communities, create jobs, regenerate their local towns and support the NHS. The NHF will continue to work with the government to ensure that affordable housing is at the heart of levelling up policies, and the provision of social housing is protected through secure funding and legislation.
A lot of focus has rightly been on the ongoing cost of living crisis and the impact on the public. What has been welcome is the discussion of future proofing communities from the impact of rising energy bills through net zero policies. The Prime Minister discussed reinforcing the country’s energy security through delivering on the commitment to net zero and tackling climate change. In panel events, ministers confirmed that the government remains committed to retrofitting new homes.
At Labour’s conference, Keir Starmer set out a Green Prosperity Plan, which included insulating 19 million homes. Both parties connected net zero to levelling up, setting out the job opportunities the policies can create across the country.
The social housing sector is leading the way in decarbonising homes, and this is recognised by the government. In September, the government launched the second wave of the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, which will enable housing associations to make significant progress in retrofitting and decarbonising their homes. There was a lot of talk amongst the sector about the need to address the skills shortage, and an interest in collaborating with relevant parties to deliver energy efficient homes that reduce carbon emissions, tackle fuel poverty and create green jobs.
While the two parties are ideologically divided, both leaders mentioned housing in their conference speeches. The Prime Minister has been clear that building homes is a priority for her new administration. Labour have announced that they want social housing to be the second largest form of tenure in the country. The NHF welcomes this and will continue to work across Parliament to show how housing associations consistently step in to meet the current demand of new homes.
The sector has an ambition to deliver even more and conference panels also highlighted the barriers to building new homes. There was much conversation at multiple events about planning reform and the role politics plays in the planning system. We will continue to champion for well-resourced planning teams who have the capacity to deliver for their communities.
The conferences had a clear focus on first time buyers but the social rented sector was frequently mentioned in panel discussions. We will work closely with both parties to show how a strategy around affordable housing works well alongside a strategy to increase home ownership.
The next general election is due to take place in 2024, and this conference season felt like a preview of each party’s manifestos. In the housing sector we should use this time to show the vital role housing associations play within their communities, and how even more can be done with a strong partnership with the next government.