Tories tried to cover up failings of self-build revolution

Senior ministers ordered to release figures that show key housing  policy isn’t working

Whitehall Editor

Senior Conservative ministers have been rebuked for attempting to cover up Government statistics showing one of their key housing policies is not working.

While serving in opposition, the shadow Housing minister, Grant Shapps, promised Tory backing for people who built their own homes to kick-start a house building “revolution” in the UK.

Two years later in Government, he launched an action plan to double the number of self-build homes within a decade.

But when Labour attempted to find out how the Government was getting on with its pledge, senior officials in the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) attempted to prevent the release of statistics showing how many self-build homes had been started.

Bizarrely, they tried to claim that they could not provide the information because to do so would “prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs”.

“Officials and Ministers need a safe space in which they can offer free and frank advice and exchange [of] views,” they wrote. “It is reasonable to acknowledge that data from a variety of sources will form an important part of this essential process and therefore should have the same degree of protection as other information.

“If this data was made available at a premature stage it would result in weaker discussions, poorer decision-making and the closure of policy options.”

Not surprisingly, aides of the now shadow Housing minister, Hilary Benn, were a little surprised at the decision and lodged an appeal with the Information Commissioner.

In his ruling, seen by The Independent, the Commissioner roundly rejected the argument put forward by DCLG officials and demanded that the information be released.

“The exemptions cited by DCLG require more than the possible inconvenience in responding to queries about disclosures,” he wrote scathingly.

“The Commissioner considers that DCLG has not provided arguments which demonstrate that disclosure would inhibit the free and frank provision of advice or the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation.”

He ordered the information be released.

And what did it show? In a short table released to Labour it showed that the number of people who begin self-build homes had fallen since the depths of the recession in 2009 under Labour from 11,800 to 10,400 in 2011.

Oddly the department claimed it did not hold the statistics for 2012 – despite the fact that more than five months had elapsed since the period covered by the data.

Labour claimed the episode had echoes of previous attempts to suppress uncomfortable information by DCLG – which it said was a waste of public money and civil servants’ time.

Earlier this month The Independent revealed that the Department had spent thousands of pound attempting to suppress internal emails which showed officials in the department believed Mr Shapps may have misled MPs.

When they were finally forced to back down by the Information Commissioner and release the emails they showed that civil servants believed Mr Shapps, who is now Conservative Party chairman, had made inaccurate statements about the number of affordable homes being built in Britain.

Last night Mr Benn said that the latest episode appeared to show similar form.

“Eric Pickles has yet again wasted public money on trying to suppress evidence of the failure of his and Grant Shapps’ ‘self-build revolution’,” he said.

“He attempted – and failed – to use the ministerial veto as a way of not disclosing these basic statistics. Mr Pickles likes to lecture councils on the virtues of transparency, but as this case shows he’s not really very keen on it himself.”

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “The Government does not produce official statistics on self-build and the crude estimates we have had methodological flaws, which is why we did not release them.

“However, we remain determined to help the self-build industry double in size over the next decade, which is why we’ve made £44m available to provide short-term loans to help community groups get their self-build projects off the ground, made public land available to accommodate self -build and why our reforms require councils to consider the needs of self-builders when drawing up their local plans.”

News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
arts + entsBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features playground gun massacre
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Hydraulic Power Pack Design Engineer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I recruit for contract mechanical design...

SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

SCO Supervisor Electrical

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client based in the Midlands is looki...

Ecommerce Executive

£20000 - £24000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Ecommerce Executive Working with an...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices