Housing Support Grant (Scotland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:49 pm on 22nd January 1992.

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Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart 10:49 pm, 22nd January 1992

I suppose that the only good thing that could be said about that speech is that it will be the last one that the Minister will make before the election in his present role as Minister responsible for housing. It is the last one that he will make because he will be returning to the Bar thereafter. God help the criminals that he will defend. I have a great deal of sympathy for them.

As the Government stagger towards defeat in the election, I thought that because this was the Minister's last speech we might just have had a contrite speech which at least recognised that over 13 years he and his Government had created a major housing crisis in Scotland. It is a crisis which has led to a deterioration in our housing stock, to which my hon. Friends have referred in terms of housing support grant for empty properties.

The most ridiculous position with regard to empty properties is in Castlemilk where hundreds of houses are standing empty as part of a redevelopment programme that is at least partly financed by the Government. Glasgow district council is losing housing support because those houses are standing empty and bringing in no rental income. What an absurd position. It is also the case in other partnership areas.

Our housing stock has deteriorated. Fewer and fewer houses are being built in the public sector. Our houses are increasingly damp. As my hon. Friends pointed out, there is an ever-increasing number of homeless people. My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) was right when he said that Shelter's figure showed that the number of homeless people had reached 34,000. But let us remember that that figure does not include young homeless people living rough, in hostels or on the streets in both Scotland and London. The figure includes only those people who are accepted by local authorities as homeless. Of course, we also have ever-rising rent levels.

The Minister's speech was, as ever, bland, inadequate and complacent. We have come to expect that from the Minister, as we did from his predecessors. As ever, he says that all is well. He says that he is allowing local authorities to spend enough money to fulfil housing needs in their area. That is a travesty and a farce. Let me give some of the facts and compare next year with this year and with those for the whole period of the Government. Let us look first at basic figures for the total resources that local authorities in Scotland will have to spend on housing in the coming year. As the Minister said, the general fund contribution has been reduced from £2.2 million to £1.5 million.

The Minister made much play of how he was improving housing support grant. It has been reduced from £55 million to £47.5 million. Capital consents—which are not part of the order but will be very much part of the overall expenditure on housing in the next 12 months—have been reduced from £453 million to £412 million. Of course, there is the £120 million for the non-housing revenue account. But local authority expenditure on capital allocations has been reduced from £453 million to £412 million.

Local authorities expected a rise at least equivalent to inflation, which would have meant a rise in total housing expenditure from £510 million this year to £531 million next year. Instead, it has been reduced to £461 million. The Minister made great claims about the £7 million increase, but total housing expenditure for local authorities, the statutory providers of accommodation for homeless people, is being reduced. That is a farce. In real terms, the Government are making a cut of £70 million.