POLITICS
30/04/2018 16:28 BST | Updated 01/05/2018 15:41 BST

5 Things New Communities Secretary James Brokenshire Has To Get To Grips With

Grenfell is top of his in-tray

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Sajid Javid has plenty in his in-tray as he takes over as Home Secretary, but so to does his successor as Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

James Brokenshire comes back into the Cabinet after taking three months away from the top of Government to receive treatment for lung cancer.

The former Northern Ireland Secretary now oversees a sprawling department, which has suffered some of the deepest cuts in the Government’s austerity drive.

Here are 5 items Brokenshire will have to get to grips with.

Grenfell

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More than 10 months on from the devastating Grenfell tower block blaze, and two thirds of families displaced by the fire are still not permanently rehoused.

According to Kensington and Chelsea Council, of the 211 households displaced by the tragedy, 76 are still in emergency accommodation, while 65 are in a temporary homes.

Handed the job just 45 days from the first anniversary of the incident, Brokenshire will no doubt be keen to help more people move in permanent homes as soon as possible.

Cladding

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In the wake of Grenfell, tests were carried out on the cladding of other tower blocks to see how many more buildings were unsafe.

In January, the Minister of Housing, Communities and Local Government revealed 312 towers were wrapped in similar cladding to that used on Grenfell – and only three had been fully reclad with suitable material. Cladding had been stripped from 17 buildings, and nine were having new material applied.

Many councils are angry the Government is not footing the bill for other safety work, including the installation of sprinklers.

Again, with the Grenfell anniversary fast approaching, Brokenshire might feel the pressure to write a few cheques to help avoid further claims the Government isn’t doing enough to keep people safe in their homes. 

Social Housing review

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Javid promised a “fundamental” review of social housing in the light of the Grenfell tragedy, vowing “a wide-ranging, top-to-bottom review of the issues facing the sector”. 

A MHCLG source told HuffPost UK just last week that the review was in danger of being narrower in scope than Javid had initially planned, with pressure coming from others in Government not to make it too ambitious.

With it now left in the hands of Brokenshire, it will be interesting to see if the review goes ahead as Javid planned, or is kicked into the long-grass.

Housing crisis

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Theresa May has claimed she is on a personal mission to solve the housing crisis, and Brokenshire’s status as an MP for a south-east constituency – London’s Old Bexley and Sidcup – was flagged up by Downing Street as proof the new man in the department understands the issues.

Javid’s approach to tackling the housing crisis was to go after as much money as possible from the Treasury – a tactic which failed. His attempts to bounce Chancellor Philip Hammond into borrowing £50billion in the Autumn Budget fell on deaf ears, and instead a series of measures were unveiled which won’t actually guarantee new homes will be built.

But Javid’s own credibility for wanting to tackle the crisis took a dent when it was revealed his department had sent back £1.1billion to the Treasury over two years earmarked for affordable and Starter homes.

Brokenshire will have to decide whether he follows the Javid playback of thinking-out-loud in an attempt to get more cash, or try to pull levers behind the scenes. But with May so explicitly aligning her premiership to solving the housing crisis, Brokenshire should count on the support of No 10 when it comes to dealing with No 11.

Another avenue open to Brokenshire is to force councils to spend the more than £375million they have stockpiled from developers earmarked for affordable housing. 

Homelessness 

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The rise in homelessness has been well documented in recent months, with a record 4,700 people sleeping rough on UK streets.

There has also been an increase in the so-called ‘hidden homeless’, where households are kept in temporary accommodation – with the true figures potentially much worse than the official statistics.

In April, the charity JustLife Foundation estimated around 51,500 households were living in B&Bs in England in 2015/16, whereas the Government claimed the total was just 5,870.

In March, Homelessness Minister Heather Wheeler said she would “resign” if the problem got any worse.