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Conservative MPs demand that Home Information Packs be abolished - but the Labour minister defends them, saying "thousands of jobs" now depend on them

During questions to the ministers from the Department for Communities and Local Government yesterday, a torrent of Conservative MPs asked questions of Ian Austin - a junior minister and former aide to Gordon Brown - about Home Information Packs, demanding their abolition.

It's interesting to see the argument being deployed by Labour that abolishing the bureaucracy of Home Information Packs - as Conservatives are committed to do - will cost "thousands of jobs". Doubtless they will be deploying the same tactics when Conservatives talk about making cuts in the bloated public sector.

Here are the exchanges on the subject from yesterday afternoon:

David Amess David Amess: Whatever methodology the Department intends to use, is the Minister aware that Southend estate agents, without exception, believe that although HIPs may have been introduced with the best of intentions, in practice they have not worked out at all well and have damaged the housing market?

Ian Austin: I do not accept that at all. Despite a difficult housing market, evidence shows that HIPs actually speed up sales. I am not sure whether there is a branch of Connells estate agency in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but its survey of more than 37,000 transactions showed that sales with HIPs go through an average of seven days quicker.

Andrew Mackay Andrew Mackay: Why is the Minister in total denial? Nobody whatever thinks that HIPs work, and it would be sensible for the Government to knock them on the head before the election rather than have that albatross around their neck. For our part we are delighted that they are not doing so, but it is in his interests that he should.

Ian Austin: As always, I am very grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's advice, but I can tell him that thousands of jobs and hundreds of small businesses depend on the HIP process and 13,000 people have invested thousands of pounds in training as energy assessors. The Opposition need to explain why they want to put all those jobs and businesses at risk. He needs to tell all the people in his constituency whose livelihoods depend on the process why the Opposition want to put them out of work.

David Jones David Jones: The interim results of the updated baseline research report are not due to be published until this summer at the earliest. Given that no empirical evidence is therefore available to the Government about the impact of HIPs on the current housing market, why do they not listen to bodies such as the Law Society, which has said clearly that HIPs "add a significant layer of costs for consumers but produce no discernable benefit"?

Ian Austin: As a result of HIPs, more than 2 million home owners now have an energy assessment and recommendations in their energy performance certificate that can help them cut their fuel bills by hundreds of pounds and reduce carbon emissions. That is just one of the many benefits of the HIP process that we have introduced. I thought that tackling climate change was one of the big priorities for the new, modern Conservative party. So much, I suppose, for voting blue to go green.

JACKSON STEWART Stewart Jackson: Parliamentary questions have compelled Ministers to publish opinion research on HIPs done at a cost of £60,000. The survey of 4,000 buyers, sellers and estate agents showed, among other things, that there was minimal public knowledge of and interest in HIPs, that people considered them a waste of time, that buyers were not consulting them and that costs were being duplicated. When will the Government admit that their £500 million experiment has been a disaster, listen to consumers and scrap this discredited scheme?

Ian Austin: As I said a short while ago, what the research actually shows is that in a short period, nine out of 10 buyers used the HIP. One in three said that it helped them decide which home to buy, which is a big improvement on the figures shortly after the introduction of HIPs, and shows that the system is becoming more helpful and useful all the time. The question that the hon. Gentleman and other Conservative Front Benchers must answer is why they want to sling out of work the thousands of people who have invested time and money in training to implement the process, and to cut the jobs of their constituents who depend on it.

Jonathan Isaby


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