So the rumours of changing taxation in the property market that gained such credence during the run-up to the Budget were unfounded after all. Surprise. Surprise.
Housing, newly christened dysfunctional, is to stay dysfunctional for a while longer. Or until dysfunction in housing becomes the status quo.
Dysfunction rules, despite the flurry of protestation from leaders of the housing industry that they had successfully made the case to government for the reversal of George Osborne’s costly, politically-driven meddling in a free market and that this Government would sort it in the budget.
This is not to say that housing has the only players in the socio-economic life of the nation who appear to believe that pre–budget clarion calls after a year of silence will lead to a hasty rewrite before budget day.
And the general public, the audience, the customers and supporters of all socio-economic sectors, don’t get to hear reasoned argument, fact checked and properly presented, until it is patently too late.
And then, given the wealth of pre-budget submissions and stories suddenly coming at them from every angle, the thinking man in the street could be forgiven for wondering why the Chancellor doesn’t throw the whole lot up in the air and then pick up the first piece of paper he sees as he goes out of the door of Number 11 on his way to the Despatch Box.
Government knows the public doesn’t know the arguments or the true facts. Therefore the levels of opprobrium and the quantity of lost votes is hardly going to matter.
And it would seem government is well practised in the art of keeping it that way and in containing the representatives of the various economic and social sectors.
Grant a private meeting with a junior minister, be sure to roll out the best china and then nine tenths of those seeking to bend the ear of government will go away thinking that the private whisper was a good job done.
Instead of this same old round of tea and biscuits, those with something to say to revitalise moribund activities, kick-start projects or change tax regimes should start the day after the previous budget to get the public on their side, providing them with a true grasp of the arguments and the possible or probable downsides to government action or the lack of it. And in the strongest terms possible.
Only then, faced by newly recruited legions of voters with the media by their side, can government be shaken into producing better budgets.
Starting now, in time for the next Budget, the leaders of all housing sectors should be educating their publics into the problems caused by government.
An irrefutable case needs to be made for each sector – long and loud, all year round. Pressure groups do it and get their messages over loud and clear.
The industry should be asking questions and explaining the answers:
Where are housing associations going to get an income stream if right to buy is imposed on them?
How is a local authority going to be able to build the stock it needs?
How are 5m people going to be housed in the private rented sector if the landlords who finance it are to be driven out by high taxation?
How is the next generation going to start on the housing ladder when unnecessary mortgage regulation skews the market?
How, even, can you have a proper market at all if it is distorted by the highest property taxes in the western world.
These questions won’t be answered by an emollient junior minister and his officials over a cup of the best china.
These big housing questions, as much of a concern as the problems surrounding education and health, will only be answered and the answers acted upon if the public understands all the imperatives. And that takes time.
But it works. Detailed explanations well backed up by arguments from experts constantly in the public eye worked for those wanting a widening of schooling. It worked for social care. There, even for such a vital humanitarian problem, it took months and months of hard argument – all in the public eye – to finally achieve a result that might never have happened if the argument had been kept behind closed doors.
The same success could and should be happening for housing – the third basic strand, alongside education and health, of a modern society.
There are some eight months to go before the next Budget. Let’s see everyone concerned with housing out there now, getting the public on side, wearing down the Government.
Don’t wait until after the August Bank Holiday and then accept a cup of tea.
* Malcolm Harrison was a communications specialist across the property industry for many years