Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to the newest version of your browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of Construction News, please enable cookies in your browser.

Welcome to the Construction News site. As we have relaunched, you will have to sign in once now and agree for us to use cookies, so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Sir Howard Bernstein tells Construction News housing policy is too 'London-centric'

The driving force behind the capital of the Northern Powerhouse has criticised the government’s housing policy for being too London-centric.

In a rare sit-down interview, Manchester City Council chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein told Construction News housing markets outside of London
were “failing” and without intervention would not be able to function effectively.

Asked whether the current government had got its housing strategy right, Sir Howard said: “No… but then, I’m not sure any government over the last decade has got its housing policy right.

“Too much housing policy, at a national level, has been determined by the particular problems of the housing market in London and the South-east and not enough by the needs of the cities outside London, where housing markets are failing - and in the absence of intervention those housing markets will not become fully functioning.”

Sir Howard issued the warning ahead of the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, in which the chancellor was expected to announce measures to increase housing supply and rebalance the economy.

“I’m not sure any government over the last decade has got its housing policy right”

Sir Howard Bernstein, Manchester City Council

He said there was too much focus on homeownership, which he pointed out was just one part of the housing market.

He added that the social rented sector was “a critical pathway” for many people looking to own a home. “I think there is an absolute requirement to rethink the regulatory regime about how social housing is provided,” he said.

His comments came one month after the Office for National Statistics reclassified housing associations as public sector bodies.

“There is a debate that needs to be had [around social housing] and I don’t think the ONS’s decision to reclassify housing associations has helped those conversations, certainly in the short term.”

This could include moves to help housing associations consolidate and develop stronger assets, as well as merge assets with other housing associations, he said.

Read the full interview

More from Sir Howard on retaining Manchester’s heritage, better design and balancing foreign investment.


The UK should be looking at how people from the social rented sector can be encouraged to access homeownership, he added.

“That for me is a big priority, so we can start to understand what the role of the social rented sector is within a place like Manchester.

“[The social rented sector] is there to support people to achieve their potential, for people who can’t afford a house in the private sector, and so other public services can be harnessed around actual people.”

As Construction News went to press, the chancellor was also expected to reveal further details about the new apprenticeship levy in his spending review.

Speaking at a parliamentary reception on skills this week, skills minister Nick Boles said industry would find out more about what level the levy rate will be set at and which firms it would apply to.

“We know what jobs are going to be created over the next five years, so we want to be able to satisfy ourselves that those skills are actually being delivered”

Sir Howard Bernstein, Manchester City Council

He confirmed that companies that have to pay the rate will get a voucher for the same amount of money to spend on apprenticeship training and provision.

Sir Howard made clear he would like the council to have a much more “hands-on approach” to developing skills in Manchester.

The chief executive said this would see the council take on a “stronger” role alongside the Skills Funding Agency, to decide what skills are delivered in the city.

The SFA was one of two organisations that was created following the closure of quango the Learning and Skills Council.

The body gets £3.7bn of funding each year to fund skills training for further education in England.

Sir Howard said: “We know our labour market better than most and we know what jobs are going to be created over the next five years, so we want to be able to satisfy ourselves that those skills are actually being delivered.”

“We’re not very good at skills in this country are we? We don’t plan enough beyond cycles”

Sir Howard Bernstein, Manchester City Council

Construction skills were a “huge issue” for the whole of the UK, he added.

“We’re not very good at skills in this country are we? We don’t plan enough beyond cycles, so in 2007 when everything fell off a cliff, the industry had to adapt and were we upskilling people for the next cycle? Not really.”

In October, Manchester council leader Sir Richard Leese told Construction News that the city’s devolution deal had failed to give it sufficient freedom over apprenticeships.

Manchester was “constrained by national rules”, he said, adding that the city wanted greater control of apprenticeships for young adults aged over 19, rather than 16-19-year-olds, as is currently the case.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.