Grant Shapps: Housing starts over the six quarters since the Government were formed are up 24 per cent when compared with the previous six quarters under the previous Government.
Rushanara Ali: I thank the Minister for his answer, but, despite his Government’s promise to build more homes than Labour, the actual figures are a seven per cent decrease in housing starts.
House of Commons, 5 December 2011
The week in Parliament kicked off with a heated debate on housing statistics in the House of Commons, with one Labour MP taking issue with the Government’s claims on housebuilding.
Housing Minister Grant Shapps told the House that his Government had overseen a 24 per cent rise in the number of housing projects started by developers, while Shadow International Development Minister Rushanara Ali claimed that housebuilding starts had dropped by seven per cent since the General Election.
So who is right?
Eagle-eyed readers might have noticed that the two claims are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
While Mr Shapps claims that more housing projects have started in total in the six quarters since he took up his post compared to the last six quarters of the previous Labour Government, Ms Ali’s claims that the number of starts in the most recent quarter is seven per cent lower than it was at the time of the election.
A look at the statistics published by the Department for Communities and Local Government shows that both perspectives can be stood up to varying degrees.
In the six quarters since the present Government took office (if you include the period April-June 2010, for which it was only partly responsible) a total of 150,340 housing projects were begun.
This compares with 121,200 starts in the six quarters to April 2010, covering the last 18 months of the previous Labour administration. This represents a rise of almost exactly 24 per cent, as Mr Shapps said.
As we have seen before however, fitting quarterly data around last year’s election is problematic, as the May ballot bisects the April to June period almost perfectly.
This was something picked up by another Labour Member, Nick Raynsford. He argued that the Minister “seems to be under an illusion that the current Government came to power on 1 April 2010. They did not.” In response Mr Shapps promised to stop using the problematic data in his analysis.
So how much difference would this make to his claim?
Comparing instead the 121,690 housebuilding starts undertaken in the five quarters covering the period July 2010 to September 2011, with the 103,870 begun in the last five quarters of the Labour Government (January 2009 to April 2010) gives a more modest rise of 17.2 per cent.
Looking at Rushanara Ali’s claim, we can also see that housing starts for the most recent quarter are lower than they were at the time of the last election, although it is harder to pin down the seven per cent figure that she gives.
If we take the 28,650 housing projects begun between April and June 2010 as the baseline, then we can see that starts have actually dropped by some 18.3 per cent to 23,410. If we use the last full quarter under Labour as the comparator instead, then the fall is more slight, dropping by 4.5 per cent, while a comparison with the first full quarter of data from the Coalition Government shows a 9.6 per cent decline.
As we’ve seen before, what appears at first to be a case of point-blank contradiction in the Commons is actually on closer inspection one where both sides’ claims can be substantiated.
While we haven’t been able to arrive at the seven per cent drop quoted by Rushanara Ali, we can nevertheless trace a fall in the quarterly number of housing projects started since the General Election.
Similarly, Grant Shapps’s claim that the total number of projects begun since he’s been Minister has risen when compared to the equivalent period under Labour is largely accurate. While the 24 per cent jump might be contentious as it relies upon data that straddles the election period, there nevertheless remains a rise even if this is discounted.
UPDATE: We’ve been in touch with Labour’s housing team, who have been able to tell us that the seven per cent figure is the fall in the number of starts in the year to September 2011 compared to the same period to September 2010. As DCLG’s housing bulletin states: “Annual housing starts reached 96,070 in the 12 months to September 2011, down by 7 per cent compared with the 12 months to September 2010.”
The year to September 2010 does of course included data collected under the Coalition Government. However whether the credit for the homes begun between May and September 2010 belongs to the present administration or its predecessor is a moot point, given that often projects require several weeks planning before they are undertaken. We’ll be looking at this issue in more detail next week.