Most of NAO’s report output is focused and evaluative: examinations of the value for money of particular programmes and policies, with conclusions about their strengths and weaknesses, and recommendations for improvement. This report is rather different. It looks across the wider housing and policy landscape, but it is purely descriptive, setting out the state of play in early 2017. It leaves readers to draw their own conclusions about the sense or otherwise of the picture it paints.
What’s good about it is that it is a mine of useful, and clearly presented, information about housing in England, and the whole array of CLG’s policies and programmes. The first main section (“Housing landscape in England”) contains no surprises for those with a longstanding knowledge of the sector, but is a very useful concise but comprehensive summary, and would be particularly useful for “new readers” like those without a previous background in housing, but taking on new roles as Board Members or executive councillors. The third section on CLG’s housing policies, is the only comprehensive and “un-spun” description of the whole complex array of current policies, of which I am aware, and is therefore, again, thoroughly useful both for veterans and newcomers.
A couple of warnings, though. Although the Government spends far more on housing via the welfare system than via CLG’s programmes, the report’s coverage of welfare spending and the DWP’s policies affecting housing is far less thorough. I don’t blame NAO for this, particularly, the Government’s own inability to join the dots across the whole policy and spending landscape is far worse. It is also, of course, just a snapshot of the housing market and housing policies and programmes at the time it was written. Unless NAO update it every year or so (as CIH publish their annual UK Housing Review), it is likely to become out of date fairly quickly.