Housing Support Grant (Scotland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:09 pm on 23rd January 1991.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart 8:09 pm, 23rd January 1991

I have listened many times to this Minister and to previous Ministers speaking about housing in Scotland. I despair of their ever understanding that Scotland has a housing crisis, especially in the public sector, and that that crisis has existed for far too many years.

The Minister made it clear that many local authorities receive no grant whatever from central Government—either in housing support grant or through the general fund contribution. I point out to the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) that, of the three local authorities in the Tayside region—Angus, Dundee and Perth and Kinross—only Perth and Kinross receives any grant; the other two receive no grant whatever. The collusion between the two Members in suggesting otherwise is wholly unfair.

Every time the Minister comes to the Dispatch Box, he reads a brief that is complacent, to say the least, and paints a picture of housing in Scotland that no one—except Ministers and, presumably, the advisers who write their speeches—would recognise. Perhaps even they do not recognise it. Certainly no local authority facing the continuing deterioration of its housing stock, no housing charity and no academic researcher would recognise it. Most important, no tenant paying ever-higher rent for ever-poorer housing would see the house in which he or she lives depicted anywhere in the Minister's speech.

Everyone involved in Scottish housing has tried to show the Minister that there is a crisis. As long ago as 1986, the Confederation of Scottish Local Authorities spelt it out. Using Scottish Office statistics, the convention showed that more than 356,000 houses needed modernisation, 88,000 needed rewiring, 234,000 suffered from damp or condensation and more than 153,000 needed major or structural repairs. I make no apology for repeating those figures. I do so practically every time I make a speech on housing. No Minister has yet been able to refute them, no Minister has been able to say that they are incorrect and no Minister has been able to produce alternative figures.

Whether through housing support grant, through general fund contributions or through capital allocations, the Government have failed to provide local authorities with the funds that would allow them to tackle this appalling problem. The crisis has almost certainly deepened since 1986. Ever-deeper cuts have meant insufficient money being spent on basic repairs and modernisation. The orders are part of that pattern. They represent cuts in housing expenditure that can only drive rents ever higher and lead to a poorer repair service and a further deterioration in Scotland's housing stock.

Before Christmas, the Minister seemed to recognise, at least in part, the desperate plight of the growing army of homeless young people. It appears that that recognition was short-lived. There is little point in the Minister's giving money to local authorities to spend on hostels for the homeless if he then takes all that and more away by other means, thus reducing the authorities' capacity to provide permanent homes for those same homeless people. There is no point in providing hostel accommodation if fewer houses are available for the homeless once their spell in hostel accommodation is up.

Let us look at the figures showing the total resources that local authorities in Scotland will have to spend on housing this year. The general fund contribution is to be reduced from £3 million to £2 million. If that is all that the Minister proposes to allow, there is little point in keeping the general fund contribution; one might almost say that it should be abolished. Only eight Scottish local authorities can use it. Housing support grant is to be reduced from £58 million to £55 million. Capital consents—the money that local authorities can borrow to spend on new buildings and major developments—have been reduced from £459 million to £415 million. Local authorities expected the total to rise, at least in line with inflation—from £520 million to £572 million—rather than being reduced to £472 million. That represents a cut in real terms of £100 million in the money that will be spent by local authorities on housing in Scotland during the coming year—hardly the increase that the Minister tried to pretend would take place.

Ten years ago, housing support grant was £228 million —in cash terms, not real terms. The general fund contribution—or rate fund contribution, as it then was —provided a further £100 million. Next year, the two together will provide only £57 million.

COSLA estimates that, since 1979, more than £1·5 billion of direct Government support has been cut from housing in Scotland. The House should remember that those are cash figures. In real terms, the facts are even more catastrophic. In 1979, 47 per cent. of local authority housing costs came from rents, 39 per cent. from housing support grant and 14 per cent. from then rate fund contribution. This year, 93 per cent. will come from rents, 7 per cent. from housing support grant and less than 1 per cent. from the general fund contribution.

All that has placed an intolerable burden on tenants. Rents in Scotland have risen from an average of £4·92 per week in 1979 to an average of £20·88 this financial year. COSLA expects that average to rise by more than £3 a week next year—whatever the Minister may claim to the contrary. A comparison of Scottish rents with equivalent rents in the north of England and the midlands will show the Minister that many Scottish authorities' rents are now far higher than those in England. He can arrive at the overall English average only by including the London boroughs and authorities in the south-east of England.