Moreover, if, as the report also suggests, the department is understaffed and underfunded and should be broken up, determined action should clearly follow those questions.
However, there are fundamental issues concerning Housing which, over the years, have never been systematically or satisfactorily addressed. What exactly is its purpose and has its effectiveness been repeatedly diluted by responsibility for a range of ancillary functions?
Anyone who has followed the politics of housing over the years will know that the politicians and civil servants with responsibility for this sphere of Island life have, at various times, been charged with regulating market prices, controlling immigration through residential qualifications law, and providing subsidised finance under the States loan scheme. In addition, of course, the department has also been the custodian of the Island’s stock of social housing.
Although Housing Minister Terry Le Main and his advisers cannot expect to wash their hands of all responsibility for the defects recorded in Prof Whitehead’s report, there is sense in the argument that they have inherited problems rooted in the confusions of the past. But the point now is to react to any well-founded criticisms, though this will be a job for the States as a whole as well as Housing.
Given that the balance is shifting away from housing law as a means of regulating immigration and that price control and States loans are mere distant memories, the department’s tasks are now more straightforward than in the past. Unfortunately, some of the challenges it faces involve policies – and indeed forces – beyond its control.
If, as Prof Whitehead insists, the department needs an extra £7.5 million a year just to maintain housing stock adequately, the Housing Minister will have to persuade first the Council of Ministers and then the States as a whole that more money from rents must be retained for this purpose.
If this outcome is conceivable, other problems faced by Housing have far more to do with economic factors than any departmental deficiencies. For example, the critical report notes that house prices here are so high that a great many people stand no chance of owning their own homes.
Sadly, restructuring Housing’s finances or splitting the department’s functions among new bodies will make no difference whatsoever to the fundamental nature of our property market.