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A different kind of housing minister

Jules Birch gives a journalist’s perspective on Carl Sargeant’s legacy.

in 25 years of writing about housing-related issues I’ve seen many politicians pass through the revolving door marked ‘housing minister’.

With some honourable exceptions, most have seen it as a stepping stone to a bigger job, few have lasted long enough to make any real difference and many English ones have actively made things worse.

I only knew Carl Sargeant from interviewing him as a journalist and hearing him speak at conferences in his two spells overseeing housing but it soon struck me that he was not like most other ministers.

He was brought up on a council estate and his politics came from seeing the impact of mass redundancies in the 1980s in his home town.

He said things in interviews that politicians are not really meant to say. When he was first appointed minister, he admitted he didn’t especially want the job because he thought he was doing important work with local government.

He was a strong supporter of council housing and was suspicious of the private sector, including housing associations. But (again unusually) he admitted he had changed his mind and accepted that he had to work with all sectors to get results.

He will be best remembered for the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, the first primary legislation on housing passed in Wales. There are still problems but the Act really has changed things for the better.

Others have highlighted many other things but I remember a phrase about ‘decent homes in decent communities for decent people’ in his rst speech as housing minister.

From most politicians that would just be one more soundbite. He put it in terms that sound modest but I think say far more:

‘I think real people don’t aspire to want much providing you can give them somewhere that they feel warm and safe in, a nice home that they feel they can go back to of an evening.

‘It’s not big and beautiful, is it, but a decent home in a decent community for decent people. That sums it up really, people respecting their community, having somewhere they can feel safe and being part of that broader community.’

Those are words – and a minister – that are worth remembering.

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