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09 April 2024

A new cabinet for Welsh Government, will there be changes for social housing too?

A new cabinet for Welsh Government, will there be changes for social housing too?
First minister of Wales, Vaughan Gething (Senedd Cymru)

New First Minister for Wales Vaughan Gething has confirmed his cabinet appointments - but what do the changes mean for the future of social housing? Policy and external affairs manager Bethan Proctor explains

In the opening pages of Vaughan Gething’s leadership manifesto, the then candidate set out his key ideas and priorities that, he said, were “rooted in our values and history” and “...[would] deliver a brighter, better, fairer Wales for our future”. As the country continues to face a housing crisis, it was only natural that Gething, and his opponent, Jeremy Miles, would both place some focus on addressing it and how Wales could deliver the homes that its people need.

On social housing in particular, Gething stated that “Building more social housing would be a priority for me. It is one of the most powerful tools in alleviating poverty and helping people to build better, more secure futures”.

In one of his first acts as first minister, it seems that Gething has already begun to put some momentum behind his pledges, with two notable changes in his cabinet to support this.

Julie James MS - previously minister for climate change (including housing) has been given a new remit as secretary for housing, local government and planning.

The retention of Julie James as the minister with responsibility for housing brings stability and continuity. The cabinet secretary understands the biggest issues facing the housing sector, and we can expect her to continue Welsh Government’s programme of work at pace, looking to achieve the 20,000 new social homes target, and homelessness legislation reform.

Julie James MS visits tenants at a Monmouthshire Housing Association home in 2023
Julie James MS visits Monmouthshire Housing Association tenants (2023)

We are likely to see James take on Gething’s manifesto plan to use the Social Housing Grant to “boost innovation in the next generation of social housing” too. The manifesto also recognised that planning backlogs are a barrier to developing, so, in order to move development plans forward, Gething has promised to establish an Affordable Homes Taskforce.

On decarbonisation, we are likely to see James’s department continue its work with the sector to source innovative finance models through private finance, with the aim of rolling this out at pace and scale. On the skills side, we could see the piloting of local retrofitting networks which will bring together small-scale providers and sole traders into a co-operative, to give contractors opportunities to grow.

Green prosperity

A new role has been added to the cabinet so that Gething can deliver his goal of green prosperity. In his statement announcing the cabinet appointments, the first minister said:

“This Ministerial team will…create a stronger, fairer, greener Wales. We will take action to strengthen our economy by providing opportunities for everyone and being steadfast in our commitment to a just transition to net zero.”

Gething promised in his manifesto to secure and create jobs in the green industries of the future. He said that he will prioritise Welsh supply chains, and work with the housing sector to ensure its workforce has the skills to fill these opportunities, including through apprenticeships.

Taking up the position of cabinet secretary for economy, energy and Welsh language is Jermey Miles MS. Community Housing Cymru’s director of policy and external affairs, Clarissa Corbisiero, met with Miles prior to the Welsh Labour leadership election, and it was clear that Miles was invested in opportunities to build good quality, local jobs. He also recognised the important role that housing can play in generating good quality, green apprenticeships and jobs.

Commenting at the time, he said: “...A decent home in a well-connected community should be a fundamental expectation of modern life…I want Wales to be a nation of thriving communities, where people can afford to live and work.”

“I also want to help young people make their futures here in Wales,” Miles added. “So we will do all we can to support them to live and work in Wales, by making it easier for them to find a place to live in their local communities, and help create the new jobs in the new sectors of the future.”

Looking forward

While it is encouraging to see a clear approach to tackling the tasks at hand from his very first days as first minister, it cannot be denied that Gething and his cabinet are facing huge challenges. Too many people still live in temporary housing; too many people are stuck in hospitals, unable to access the homes they need; and still there are too many old, thermally inefficient homes.

We are now quickly seeking to meet with the first minister and with Julie James MS to discuss renewed priorities in this new government, including his manifesto promises of accelerating social housing construction, social care fit for the future, and of green prosperity where green jobs are created through a just transition.