I am delighted to present to Parliament the committee's report on housing stock transfer. I thank my colleagues, particularly John McAllion, who was our housing reporter, for all their hard work. I also thank our adviser Mary Taylor, who put in many hours of hard work; Stephen Curtis from the Scottish Parliament information centre, who was of great assistance to the committee; the staff of the official report, for their forbearance; and Lee Bridges, our clerk, and his staff, who were outstanding in their support for the committee.
I recognise that some publicity has surrounded this report and the circumstances of its publication. My views on that episode are clearly on the record and today I do not wish to be distracted from the issues of substance.
The critical issue is set out in the first sentence of our report, in which the committee acknowledges that much of Scotland's housing stock is poor and fails to provide acceptable homes for many people. That is the heart of the problem and the heart of our report. Access to affordable, safe and warm housing is the cornerstone of any attempt to promote social inclusion; it is an issue that the committee takes very seriously. I wish publicly to pay tribute to all members of the committee for their work. I can report that they served the Parliament well, working hard to grasp the detail and the principles of this subject. They investigated and scrutinised the policies of not only the Executive, but other bodies.
The report makes 63 recommendations. Members will be pleased to hear that I do not propose to run through them all—[MEMBERS: "Aw."] There is disappointment all round. I will, however, provide members with an overview of the key findings and the conclusions that the committee reached.
The new housing partnership programme was established to support initiatives that encourage
The committee was very aware of the interest in this issue throughout Scotland. We determined to listen to varying perspectives to ensure that we heard the case for and against stock transfer. Evidence was taken from many sources: tenants, trade unions, local authorities, campaign groups, professional bodies and the Executive. The fundamental questions were asked, and I hope that our detailed evidence, which is appended to the main report, will assist others as they reach conclusions on this policy. This afternoon I will speak to the majority conclusions, but I recognise that there are other views.
Much of the public debate has focused on the case of Glasgow, to which we paid particular attention. However, Glasgow is not the only local authority that is considering transferring its stock to alternative landlords. The committee deliberately invited evidence from other areas of Scotland. The report comments on the particular and extreme problems that affect Glasgow, but our views and recommendations are intended to address the situation throughout Scotland.
As I said, the report states:
"The Committee acknowledges that much of the social housing stock in Scotland is in an unacceptable condition and that major additional resources are urgently required to tackle this problem."
We recognise that at the heart of the explanation for the scale of housing need in Scotland is the debt problem, which is crippling council housing and strangling decisive progress in parts of Scotland.
The report states:
"This situation is not untypical for councils across Scotland. The consolidated Housing Revenue Account shows loan charges to cost £465m in 1998/9 and that almost 43% of council rental income (43p in every £) went on debt servicing. The proportion varied widely - from 30% in the City of Aberdeen Council to 51% in Scottish Borders Council and 57.7% in Highland Council."
The committee welcomes a strategy that breaks the vicious cycle where rents are paid to furnish the bankers' coffers rather than being reinvested in housing. We welcome the Executive's commitment to redistribute responsibility for the
We heard concerns about future insecurity and recommend that where a council is
"left with residual debts to be serviced, a binding and enforceable mechanism must be in place to service the debt until it expires."
The committee also welcomes the vision of community ownership of social housing. It endorses the principle of stock transfer as a primary method of accessing major additional capital investment and moving towards effective community ownership. A counter-argument was proposed; I am sure that some members will focus on that in their speeches.
Margaret Curran has frequently mentioned community ownership. Does she agree with George McKie of the Edinburgh Tenants Federation? He said:
"My home is in community ownership. It is owned by all the community. That is the true meaning of community ownership."—[Official Report, Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee, 24 November 1999; c 363.]
If Sandra White bears with me, I will go through the logic—I hope—of my contribution. The Edinburgh Tenants Federation and the Scottish Tenants Organisation were among those who expressed a counter-argument. A range of views was expressed.
The counter-argument was that the Executive should lift the debt but not link it to stock transfer. The committee heard evidence from various witnesses on that, but the majority of committee members were not convinced and were persuaded that stock transfer facilitates higher and quicker investment and brings the benefits of community ownership.
The majority found it a compelling argument that the dynamic of community involvement would perhaps prevent the mistakes that had been made in the past in the planning and design of council housing. When people have to live with the consequences of a decision, that tends to focus minds. Over many years, there has been too much distressing evidence from tenants about gross errors made by planners, architects and housing managers. Too often, tenants have said, "Couldn't they have asked us? After all, we only live here."
We were also influenced by the success of the community-based housing movement as it has developed in Scotland. To learn and adapt most from that model, we recommend that the Scottish Executive should, after consultation, establish a model for the maximum number of housing units to be managed by a registered social landlord. Locally based investment strategies have been developed. We found no evidence that that form of provision led to an increase in rents or a decrease in workers' rights. We found no substance in the suggestion that stock transfers were tantamount to privatisation. It is important to deal with that issue because, if unchecked, it can lead to unnecessary fear.
Housing providers within the social rented sector, in which I include the municipal sector, have always borrowed from the private financial markets. That does not mean private ownership and control. Ownership of the stock remains firmly within the social rented sector. Provision remains shared and collective; it responds to needs and is, critically, non-profit making.
The committee believes that a strong regulatory framework must be in place to keep in check any undue influence by the lenders. We recommend that
"appropriate statutory safeguards should be in place to preserve access to social rented housing."
We also recommend that the Executive
"should encourage the development of a code of practice or suitable protocols between lenders and borrowers in the new framework."
Having accepted the above, the committee still had some debate about the case for whole stock transfer, which we know is very much a live issue in Glasgow. Although the committee acknowledged that, to ensure that local authorities are not pushed into whole stock transfer, more work is required on alternatives to that approach as a means of improving conditions, the majority of committee members were impressed by the argument that there is a case for whole stock transfer.
The leader of Glasgow City Council told us to avoid a plan where the best housing is transferred first, as that would lead to cherry-picking and increasing residualisation within the municipal sector. However, the committee was clearly of the view that transfer was a first step. It recommended:
"The Scottish Executive should only approve large scale stock transfer proposals subject to guaranteed speedy progress to second stage transfers to community based RSLs."
We recognise the central importance of rents to tenants. We heard evidence of rent increases in the municipal sector. The committee noted the rent guarantee of inflation plus 1 per cent for five years and we urged that rents should be determined by what tenants can afford.
Housing benefit is of some importance in that context. Although in-depth consideration of housing benefit was outwith the scope of our inquiry—and, indeed, of this Parliament—we emphasise its significance as a factor within wider housing policy and strategies for social inclusion. The committee wishes to pursue the issue with a parallel committee at Westminster. Why should joint working take place only at ministerial level? On behalf of the committee, I ask the minister how she intends to pursue the Scottish Parliament's interest in the matter.
We detected worrying trends in the evidence that we heard. It is important that we bring them to the attention of Parliament. There is undoubtedly unanimous agreement that tenants should be involved at all levels of planning and decision making on the future of housing stock. However, we were presented with a picture of tenants and trade unions who felt excluded from and uninformed about the development of the Executive's strategies. Given the centrality of tenant control within the strategy, we find that worrying.
We urge that tenants should be supported through the process by independent advisers, whom they select but who are funded by the local authority. It is of fundamental importance that the process leading to transfer is as transparent and open as possible. Recognition must be given to trade unions as the legitimate representatives of the work force. The committee argues for the development of a best practice approach. Tenant participation should be a fundamental principle across all housing policy and practice. We recommend the establishment of a forum for that good practice.
The nature of the ballot was another aspect of our inquiry. Endorsement by the tenants is critical in all transfer situations. The committee considered different arguments about ballots and concluded that a straight majority of those participating in the ballot should be required, with reference to the First Minister to ensure that a reasonable threshold has been achieved.
What happens if the tenants vote no? What is plan B? I can assure Parliament that the minister was pressed by committee members to outline the consequences of a no vote. The replies that we received indicated that, in the event of a no vote, housing would have to compete with health and education for much-needed public spending and so would not be able to attract the same scale of
Does the member agree that the most serious and worrying aspect of the exercise is what happens if the tenants vote no? Does she agree that we have yet to receive an adequate answer about what happens when tenants vote no? Does she also agree that the key issue must be the availability of public investment in public housing, regardless of whether tenants choose to go for wholesale stock transfer? There is no answer on plan B. Last week, Jim Wallace could not answer the question. Is the member satisfied with that?
There were a lot of questions in that. I was just trying to explain what I thought the answer that we had was and to give the committee's perception—or the perception of at least the majority of committee members—of it.
The big issue that we face in Scottish housing is investment—there is unanimous agreement about that. Either housing has to compete with education and health for resources in the traditional way or, as the committee concluded, there is another way, which keeps housing in the social rented sector but gives it access to more funding. Fiona Hyslop is right to say that that is the kernel of the argument, but she must accept that the committee went through the evidence for nine months. It heard evidence from all sides. People were clear about the arguments that they put, the questions that they asked and the evidence that they took.
I refer people to the text of the evidence that we took. We scrutinised the evidence and looked at the figures in depth. Given the scale of investment that is needed in Glasgow and elsewhere, it seems to us that stock transfer is a viable way of producing higher levels of investment.
People might not like the answer that they received but, after searching through the evidence, the committee concluded that the consequence of a no vote would be that housing would have to compete with health and education for much-needed public spending and could not
I realise that there is much interest in this public debate, which it is right we are holding, but members should bear with me. The tenants are perfectly entitled to vote no. If they do so, the current situation will continue. It is not that there would be no housing investment; housing would compete for investment. Under stock transfer, there will be more investment.
Some have hesitated about this policy because they fear the impact that it may have on homeless people, women fleeing domestic abuse and young people leaving care. The committee heard evidence from Shelter Scotland and the Scottish Council for Single Homeless. Although Shelter is far from uncritical of the Executive's housing policy, it said:
"As long as rents are affordable and the condition of housing is improved, and if people are secure in that housing and homeless people have access to houses, we will not oppose the stock transfer in principle. We are concerned that something better for homeless people should come out of stock transfers—that is what we want."—[Official Report, Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee, 8 December 1999; c 492.]
The committee recommended that the current regulatory framework should be developed to provide guarantees on access to housing for those in greatest need. We recommend that a robust system of arbitration should be established to resolve disputes.
I referred earlier to the sense of exclusion that trade unionists have felt. The committee thinks that employees and their trade unions should be involved in the decision-making process for housing-related services. To that end, an independent staff adviser, who is acceptable to the trade unions and funded by the local authority, should be appointed as soon as possible. The committee believes that the protection of staff interests is essential, both immediately following stock transfer and later.
Direct labour organisations often deliver
The impact of transfers on the local economy, particularly within the construction industry, has to be thought through and planning has to start now. It would be a lost opportunity of huge proportions if the areas that so need housing investment did not reap any of the employment benefits. Therefore, we recommend that a multi-agency task force should be established to ensure that we maximise the use of local labour and that local people take advantage of opportunities for training and apprenticeships.
When I was a councillor in Aberdeen and the capital programme increased from £18 million to £26 million in one year, the local labour market did not have the capacity, either in the DLO or private construction firms, to cope with the increased demand. What confidence does the committee have that the step change that is clearly needed can be delivered?
The committee shared grave concerns about the capacity to meet that demand. We took evidence on that question and made a number of recommendations, to which I refer members. Glasgow City Council—the council that I know best—appears to be making much effort to ensure that some of that work goes ahead. As the tenants have the right to say no to the transfer, the process could still be stopped. However, there must be arrangements to ensure that, if the transfer goes ahead, the people most in need can respond. We are at last back to interventionist economics, and key agencies are putting in place some of the things that need to be done.
I conclude on a personal note. I well remember, as a child, the security that the council offered to many people from working-class backgrounds. The council protected us from the vagaries and exploitation of the rampant private sector, and I pay tribute to the people who, over generations, fought to preserve and improve public housing. I hope that the housing stock transfer model does not undermine such provision. I grew up in an environment where things were done to you and for you; it is now time to move forward and provide the means for people to do things for themselves.
The Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee of the Scottish Parliament considered the various aspects of the policy and the majority of its members concluded that the status quo is not acceptable; that urgent resources are required; and that, where councils wish to provide housing, they should be permitted to do. Furthermore, the Executive must be made to listen
I am sorry—I am over time and on my conclusion.
We welcome decisive action to deal at last with the debt and to put in place a strategy for increased investment that makes tenants a key driving force for change.
The Executive must listen to our findings and respond to the real concerns of the public. We need regulation by Scottish Homes or its successor to ensure that lenders do not wield undue influence. We also need enforceable mechanisms to protect homeless people and a continuing commitment to social housing.
I am pleased that, in this Parliament, the issue of housing has finally been taken so seriously—we very much need such thinking in Scotland—and I welcome this debate on a matter of fundamental importance to many people in this country. I commend the report to the Parliament.
That the Parliament notes the content and recommendations of the 3rd Report of the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee on Housing Stock Transfer.
First, I welcome the many tenants and housing professionals who are in the gallery today. There is justifiably much interest in this controversial issue and it was right and proper at this time for the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee to take on the task of examining the matter in detail. The committee inquiry was a most interesting experience in more ways than one, but I stress that I intend to concentrate my remarks on the core political and financial issues.
The inquiry was interesting particularly because of the range of organisations involved—from tenants groups to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors—whose evidence reflected all aspects and angles of interest in this subject matter. I, too, thank the clerks and our housing adviser for their hard work. In particular, I thank all those who gave evidence, especially the representatives of tenants organisations who in many cases had to pay their way—including the costs of photocopying their written evidence—from limited resources. I am pleased that the Parliament is addressing the issue of paying personal costs to committee witnesses.
The committee report is the first to contain a minority commentary. However, despite being the
I do not agree with some of the majority report's fundamental assertions and broad recommendations and endorsements about the concept of stock transfer. Indeed, I am especially concerned by the recommendation that stock transfer should be used as a primary method of investing in housing.
I am sure that, during this debate, plenty of speakers will outline different aspects of the many recommendations on which the committee agreed. I will leave them to do so. However, I will say that many of those recommendations deal with best practice and protecting the interests of the public, staff and tenants if any council expresses an interest in stock transfer. Stock transfer is the Government flagship policy. The committee had a duty to study and make recommendations on which aspects central Government and local government should take into account, especially when local authorities are contemplating or being forced to contemplate taking this route.
Currently, stock transfer is the only game in town. That is because the Government chooses to make it the only game in town. That is the nub of the argument. I intend to outline the case and witness evidence as presented in the minority commentary.
The statement that stock transfer is the only game in town grossly misleads the public. Will Fiona Hyslop acknowledge that many local authorities in Scotland are investing in their stock by other means and that that demonstrates that stock transfer is not the only game in town? It is perhaps the only game that can deal with the Glasgow-like situation that exists in some of our bigger cities.
The reason for the minority report is the fundamental failure of the majority report to address the issue of public investment in housing, particularly what the problem is and what the solution might be. The real problem in housing is
The real issue is the fact that the Treasury rules fail to acknowledge that councils should be able to borrow on the strength of their rental income without having it treated as public expenditure, because it is not central Government borrowing. The real issue is that the Scottish Government does not want to fall out with Big Brother in London and demand commonsense accountancy for housing. The real issue is that wholesale stock transfer is a long route for a short cut. It is too risky, potentially too expensive to tenants and the public purse, and too long-winded and complicated to be worth the candle. We can secure investment in housing to create jobs, tackle dampness and improve stock if the Government acknowledges that the constraint is its fixation with getting public housing off the public expenditure book.
Will Fiona Hyslop clarify what the SNP's position was in 1999 on the block grant that is available to Scotland? Would she tell me how much would be left to spend on the other priorities that the SNP's spokespersons have identified in the past few months if the SNP went down the route that she might mention in response to my question?
I was pleased that the SNP put housing at the core of its manifesto for election to the Scottish Parliament. We would have generated an additional £170 million; that could have generated private finance and kept public housing in public control.
I refer the chamber to the Official Report of 2 February. I asked David Comley of Glasgow City Council's housing department the following question:
"Would relaxation of borrowing consents with the same rental income stream allow you to achieve the same level of investment in the same time scale? I understand that Unison argues that, if borrowing consents were relaxed and debts transferred, the same level of investment could be achieved over the same period."
I think that that is the same point that Tommy Sheridan just made. David Comley replied:
"By the relaxation of borrowing consents do you mean that there would be no control over the council's borrowing and that it could borrow whatever it felt was appropriate?"
"I mean that it could borrow what it could sustain."
I ask members to listen carefully to his answer. He said:
"That is fair comment. If the current debt were removed
The ideologues in this debate are the members of the Government, who insist that tenure must be changed; they make tenure the issue rather than examining the many and varied ways in which we could invest in housing, putting the tenants first and leaving arguments about tenure second.
In 1979, borrowing consents in real terms were £629 million. When asked what will happen if the tenants vote no, the minister says that councils will be faced with the same level of borrowing consent that they would have had otherwise. However, I understand that, in 2000-01, the borrowing consent will be £180 million. That is a collapse in public investment. Total housing investment, which ran at more than £1 billion a year in the dark days of the Tory Government, has been halved under the Labour Government. Those figures represent a voluntary public policy that is intended to squeeze investment in the Government's early years so that it can appear as lady bountiful—disguised as Jack McConnell—to give the people back their money in public spending announcements.
If Fiona Hyslop is giving a high priority to investment in public sector housing, could she explain why the SNP group on West Lothian Council voted against the investment programmes put forward by the Labour council over the past five years? If the SNP had been successful in that, £10 million less would have been invested in West Lothian council housing over that period.
Let me move on. The majority report completely takes on board the Government spin, which says that debt alone is the problem.
We have differences in principle, most of which are about investment and public policy. This is about recognising that, in housing policy, we are constrained by self-imposed London Treasury hoops. It is about what will happen to public housing policy, not just under the current Administration, but in the future. It is about the scale and risk involved. The Minister for Communities may be happy to risk her own career on this venture, but I am not sure that the future of Scottish housing needs to be put on the line when it does not have to be.
Ambition and innovation are indeed required, but we had our sufficiency of big-bang solutions for Glasgow and other places in the 20th century. The same mistakes should not be made this century and our children should not be made to pay for this in 15 years' time, when the stock needs repairs and there is not enough money. I understand that, under the current proposals, in Glasgow the period of 13 to 30 years for loans means that there will not be that—
I would like to move on, please.
We are concerned that we are putting all our eggs in one basket. We need a portfolio of solutions. That might indeed include stock transfer, but not wholesale stock transfer. We want not a one-size-fits-all policy, but alternatives to stock transfers. It is irresponsible and anti-democratic not to offer that.
We have five conditions on Glasgow: area-by-area ballots; the involvement of staff in real consultation; the real involvement of tenants; ensuring that there is investment, should the tenants say no; and ensuring that the debt is serviced now, rather than waiting until after the ballot. Those are five things that could be done in Glasgow now.
I would like to continue.
If community involvement and empowerment are to be genuine, they should have happened in the process before now. I welcome the fact that guidance was produced—in August, I think—after the publication of the initial report.
I remember that, in the 1980s, the Labour party of old campaigned to allow tenants in new towns who were transferring between landlords to have councils as an option on the ballot. What has changed since then? Perhaps the Conservatives might be able to answer for their new colleagues.
Under the proposed housing bill, should not the tenants know before going to the ballot box what new tenancy they will get? That was suggested in the minority report and I hope that the minister will take it on board. I am also concerned that, welcome though it is, the single social tenancy may give eviction rights to private lenders, which would send shivers up tenants' spines.
Wholesale stock transfer is likely to be one of the biggest financial commitments that this Parliament will make in its first session. It could mortgage us and future Administrations for 30 years. It could destroy council housing for good and leave any residual council housing as ghetto welfare housing.
In considering stock transfer, we keep coming back to the question of what counts and what does not count for public expenditure. That leads the minority group in the committee to suggest that that is the real issue to be addressed. We need housing policy that puts tenants first, that respects tenants and that is made in Scotland for Scottish tenants. We do not need hand-me-down London solutions.
My colleague Bill Aitken regrets that he is unable, because of other parliamentary business, to participate in the debate. The debate is the culmination of a considerable investment of time by the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee, on which he is the Conservative representative.
With some reservations—on which I shall expand later—the Conservatives support the concept of stock transfers as a positive way forward. We might be expected to say that; stock transfers were originally our policy and we are pleased that Labour has now adopted that policy.
The economics support the argument for stock transfers, as is evidenced by the situation in Glasgow. The problem is that too many council houses were built in the 1950s and 1960s, many
Not at this stage, thank you.
That servicing of debt, together with administrative and management costs, leaves a meagre 23p in the pound available for repairs that it is estimated will cost £1.3 billion. Those repairs are necessary to bring the stock up to an acceptable standard.
Council housing generally has failed the Scottish people and that is especially true in Glasgow. Housing associations, on the other hand, have delivered. Where people have been given ownership of a problem, they have responded positively. Tenant representatives on housing association management committees take a much more robust view of rent arrears and anti-social behaviour, for example, than do council housing officials.
There is clear evidence that tenants will vote for rent increases above the rate of inflation to fund a better repair service. There are also many instances of extremely positive initiatives being introduced by housing associations, which would never be considered by a city council. Glasgow City Council's housing department is a by-word for incompetence, inefficiency and unresponsiveness to tenants' aspirations. Tenant dissatisfaction runs deep and, on the basis of the evidence of the stock condition surveys that have been undertaken, that dissatisfaction is more than justified. The situation must be addressed. For the majority of Glasgow tenants, the status quo is not an option.
The Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee heard from the mortgage lenders that there should be no difficulty in attracting the substantial investment that will, in turn, lead to many job opportunities in the manual trades. I trust that the minister will take on board Bill Aitken's comment in the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee that it is essential that our schools and further education colleges are geared up to exploit those opportunities.
I am happy to give that assurance. Glasgow City building has recently promised to take on 1,000 full craft apprentices from schools in
I thank the minister.
I turn now to the recommendations of the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee. There is one major point on which the Conservatives feel that the success or otherwise of the project depends. The success of housing associations has been due largely to the fact that they are community based and local. The transfer of stock should be broken down quickly into smaller parts. The transfer of the stock in its entirety—although that might be administratively preferable and correct—will fail. People in Glasgow are prepared to associate themselves with housing associations in Partick, Yorkhill or Maryhill, but would feel that even a west Glasgow housing association was remote from them.
Tenant management committee members want tangible results from their efforts. I realise that they are not concerned only with their close or street and that currently we want each housing association to control about 6,000 houses or fewer. That does not preclude associations combining to purchase a repair service, but it is essential that the local dimension is not lost.
During the years of Conservative government, much was done to invest in Scotland's housing stock, as has been mentioned. Moves were begun to include private investment when stock was being transferred to community control. Some of the best examples of urban regeneration have been brought about through joint ventures between housing associations and the private sector. Those ventures provided not only homes for social rent, but homes that were for sale at market value through low-cost home ownership schemes. By ensuring a mixture of tenure in new developments, sustainable communities have been built—communities that work because they contain a mixture of people who have different economic statuses and different needs, rather than being homogeneous blocks of disadvantaged and socially excluded people. That is why we are so concerned about the Glasgow stock transfer proposals.
If the Tories were in power we would continue to support housing to the level that
Will Keith Harding tell the chamber whether he has read the report on Glasgow and whether he can identify the role that area housing partnerships will play in giving the tenants' perspective on future management of their housing? That role is aimed at ensuring that tenants are at the heart of the debate. Will he welcome and recommend that?
The remainder of my speech will answer that question.
The transfer will not give genuine local control and could scupper any chances of real change in Glasgow's communities, which could come through a revised tenure mix and a wider regeneration strategy. Without a focus on wider regeneration, the stock transfer proposals will mean that there will be problems in future that are similar to those that we see in Glasgow now.
I agree that there are problems throughout Scotland, but nowhere is the problem as great as Glasgow's. I am concentrating on Glasgow because it is the big issue before Parliament. I am in favour of stock transfers.
The other area of contention is recommendation 49, on the role of direct labour organisations. The Conservatives believe that management buy-outs of DLOs should be encouraged because that would offer a more secure future for the workers, although they have little to fear, particularly because of the job opportunities that will arise from the investment that will be generated. Irrespective of the time limit, the DLOs will
I hope that the minister's response will address the extension of the right to buy for housing associations, particularly its impact on small, rural and island associations. I would also appreciate a clear definition of "pressured areas", where councils can apply to suspend the right to buy for five years. Will the minister also explain why she is not exempting all housing associations that have charitable status?
Does the minister believe that her colleagues in councils have the political will to deliver the policy? When I was leader of the then Stirling District Council in the early 1990s, we considered limited stock transfer. I recall the vociferous and successful opposition to that by Labour members, most of whom are members of what is now Stirling Council.
Standing orders should be reviewed—this will answer Frank McAveety's question. On one occasion the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee met in private to discuss the stock transfer proposals for Glasgow. Bill Aitken was away on parliamentary business, but despite the fact that I am the party spokesperson for local government and housing, I was not allowed to substitute for him. To this day the Conservative group is unaware of what took place at that meeting. In the interests of openness and transparency—favourite words of the Executive—I believe that any MSP, especially a spokesperson, should be allowed to attend parliamentary committee meetings, private or otherwise. That affects particularly parties that have one or no representative on committees.
I commend the convener and the committee for their comprehensive and informative report.
The Conservatives support the continuation of the policies that we introduced when we were in government—the extension of home ownership and the encouragement of stock transfers of council housing to local housing associations, co-operatives or other housing providers. That will bring control of housing closer to tenants and will ensure that decisions are more in tune with the needs of local communities. Labour's new housing partnerships are simply a continuation of a policy that was championed by the Conservatives to end Scotland's housing problems—many of which were created by Labour councils. We will continue to encourage the Executive to promote that policy, as long as it sticks to the principles on scale and local control on which the policy was founded.
It might seem unusual that the justice and home affairs spokesman is opening the debate for the Liberal Democrats. That is partly because my colleague Robert Brown will close for the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee and partly because of our party conference.
As members might know, my constituency includes Berwickshire, where a wholesale stock transfer took place in 1995. The motivation for doing that, just before the advent of the unitary Scottish Borders Council, might not have been entirely tenant-oriented and serious reservations were expressed about the transfer at the time. However, I can say with some confidence that the transfer has worked.
Berwickshire Housing Association is generally well regarded locally. Of course, there are problems—rent levels for new tenants are quite high. Tenants who transferred did well, but new tenants do less well. That is worrying for the tenants who are involved in the housing stock transfer that is proposed for the rest of the Scottish Borders.
The Deputy Minister for Local Government knows about the innovations and developments that Berwickshire Housing Association has introduced; we were pleased to see him in Duns recently, visiting some of the schemes. Wholesale stock transfer can work and Berwickshire proves that point to a degree.
I will finish this section and then give way.
My local authority—Scottish Borders Council—is one of six councils that are considering transferring all their council houses to housing associations by 2002. The council proposes to combine with Eildon Housing Association to establish a Borders housing association. Locally, the advantages of the major injection of funding into the housing stock that will accompany the stock transfer are well understood. The transfer must be accompanied by tenant involvement. Scottish Borders Council has made efforts in that direction and will need to ensure that there is full compliance with the Scottish Executive's code of practice for tenant participation in stock transfers.
The likely investment in the 9,000 houses of the proposed new housing association will deliver welcome, necessary improvements for tenants and will be a more than useful stimulus to our brittle local economy.
Mr Robson said that
If I may continue, there is—and I was just about to say this—a world of difference between the situation in Glasgow and the successful transfer of 2,000 houses in Berwickshire and the potential advantageous transfer of 9,000 houses in the rest of the Borders.
I will talk about Glasgow in a moment, but first I will talk about the general recommendations in the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee's report. I will make some general points of behalf of the Liberal Democrats. We see stock transfer as an opportunity to tackle the poor state of council housing in Scotland. We take a pragmatic but not a dogmatic view of stock transfers. We want to see an end to the stifling and damaging control over traditional council housing in some parts of Scotland. We see major advantages in moving towards a modern community-based form of social housing that empowers local people. We want to build upon the success of community-based housing associations.
The Glasgow housing association will include five tenant members and five independent members who together will form the majority. That is right and proper. However, in the Liberal Democrats' view, the key will be the 14 area housing partnerships, which will develop detailed housing plans for each area.
The essential ingredient will be the input from local housing organisations, which will be controlled by locally elected tenant management committees. Stage 1 in the Glasgow stock transfer must lead naturally—and at a pace that is determined by tenants—to a further transfer to other social landlords, such as the local housing organisation, an existing housing association or another non-profit-making group.
Surely it would benefit tenants to have the city's debt burden lifted and £1.6 billion—about £16,000 per house—made available for improvements.
Mr Robson mentioned that the GHA transfer process holds the prospect of an investment of £16,000 per unit. Is Mr Robson
The key point is that £16,000 is an average figure—not all houses will need renovation on that scale. The figures that Mr Sheridan quotes are important and should be used as a benchmark. However, I suggest that £16,000 is an average figure that will not necessarily be typical throughout the city.
The Liberal Democrats agree whole-heartedly with the first two recommendations in the committee's report. We also support recommendation 20 on the legal requirement for a ballot of tenants. The Executive's response was a bit woolly on that point. What did the Minister for Communities mean by guidance and did she wish to imply that the guidance would require the secret ballot that was mentioned later?
We welcome recommendations 3 and 4 on involving tenants in the management of and decision making about their homes and the objective of tenant-led community ownership.
In particular, I will pick out recommendations 14 and 15. We accept that a model should be established for the maximum number of housing units to be managed by a registered social landlord and that large-scale stock transfer should take place only if a second stage follows rapidly—that is our ambition for Glasgow.
Recommendations 32, 37 and 38 are crucial—there must be scrutiny and regulation of the performance of registered social landlords. That is especially important to tenants in the Borders and, no doubt, elsewhere. The Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee has made important points about future employment conditions of staff in local authorities and DLOs who will be affected by the stock transfer. We must not lose sight of that.
Further important points have been made about the impact of stock transfers on local economies. It is important to trap the increased economic activity locally. Training programmes must be developed rapidly to ensure that improvement work is carried out to the highest of standards. Stock transfer and the warm deal will offer a guaranteed secure employment base for some trades for up to 10 years. More people must be encouraged to train in the relevant skills so that there are no local shortages of skilled labour, which would lead to an imported work force.
I will comment briefly on the warm deal proposals that were announced recently by the minister. Stock transfers give us an opportunity to
In relation to the warm deal, the point about training is as important as the opportunity that is presented by stock transfer. I urge the minister to contact organisations such as the Council for Registered Gas Installers—CORGI—and the Heating and Ventilating Contractors Association, if her department has not already done so. I know from my previous career in the gas industry that poorly installed heating appliances can be lethal—we must guard against that.
I will conclude with two points. First, the ministers will know that tenants' choice has provoked some controversy in the Borders. If housing stock transfer took place, would that end the issue of tenants' choice? Would there be any tenants' choice after that?
Secondly, Scottish Borders Council is particularly concerned about whether it will have sufficient resources for provision for homelessness after the stock transfer. That is important. The strategic role of the housing authority—the local council—will be important in provision for homelessness, but resources have to accompany that, because it is difficult to find temporary hostel accommodation in rural areas. It is important that such accommodation is available in towns in rural areas. For example, if a person were offered work in a town but could not be accommodated in that town, they would have to go to a hostel in another part of the area. The person might then lose that job opportunity, particularly given the difficulties in travelling between towns.
Finally, I congratulate the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee on a most thorough and detailed report, which illustrates the value and importance of Parliament's committee system. I commend the report to the chamber.
I concur with the sentiments in Margaret Curran's speech on the wide-ranging investigation that the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee undertook. The issue of stock transfer has generated a lot of public debate and I am pleased that the committee took the opportunity to investigate the issue and engage in the debate. Although stock transfer is not an emotive phrase, it has proved to be an emotive subject. I welcome particularly the level of
When the committee discussed the report it was clear, for example, that Karen Whitefield had concerns about the regulation of and statutory provisions on homelessness. Mike Watson had concerns about DLO staff and the services that they provide. He was concerned also about the construction industry's ability to cope with the increased employment opportunities that will be created through the huge cash investment in housing. John McAllion had concerns about community ownership and the need to ensure that communities are in the driving seat and in control. He also was keen to explore the issues of rents and rent guarantees. Those concerns were shared by all the committee members and I am pleased that they came through in the committee's report and recommendations. I am also pleased that the Executive has addressed some of them in its response.
It is to the credit of most committee members that we were able to sit down as a committee, share our concerns, discuss them and come to a collective conclusion. However, not all committee members conducted themselves in a manner that brought credit to the work of the committee or the Parliament. Obviously, in a cross-party committee there will be a wide range of opinion between and within parties. It is interesting that Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative members all worked together collectively to produce the recommendations. There were disagreements, but we engaged in the process. It is a credit to most committee members that the report and the recommendations were agreed without splits along party lines.
Mr Quinan should have waited to hear what I was going to say. He should also have waited to hear what the committee was going to say. The point is not about disagreement; it is about the way in which members conduct themselves in a committee and how they deal with consensus and accept other people's opinions.
Most of the issues that we debated did not result in members splitting along party lines, apart from SNP members. When they could not win the argument, they walked out. That was a childish act, which was obviously stage-managed and prearranged. A clear distinction can be seen between—
It was—and still is—my opinion that it was a stage-managed performance.
There is a clear distinction between principles and pragmatism on the one hand and political opportunism on the other, which is what the SNP demonstrated that day. However, enough has been said and I will not dwell on the negative points that the SNP introduced that day.
I have finished discussing that point. Sandra White can mention it later if she wishes.
The committee made a large number of recommendations and the Executive has listened to most of our concerns. I am especially pleased that our recommendation for guidance on stock transfer for local authorities has been acted on and that it was issued at the end of August.
It was clear from the evidence that was given to the committee that tenants want to be in the driving seat. They want to be involved at the earliest opportunity. I share that view. Tenants know best what needs to be done. They live every day with the results of chronic under-investment in their homes and they want action sooner rather than later.
As a committee member, Cathie Craigie will have asked many questions and listened carefully to the evidence that was given by witnesses. Will she say why the Treasury rules insist that capital that is funded from current revenue scores against the public sector borrowing requirement?
That is something that we live with. If Bruce Crawford considers the evidence that was taken by the committee, he will find the answer—it is a reserved matter. We want to get finance into housing now and to deal with the issues as they affect Scotland. I do not believe that tenants are concerned about that either. I do
Tenants' priorities are security and investment in their homes. The opportunities that arise from the investment that stock transfer can bring will deliver on those priorities.
No. I have less than a minute left and I have taken enough interventions. The member will have her opportunity later.
Rightly, tenants' involvement is paramount in the committee's recommendations. The Executive has recognised that in its response and has agreed with the committee's recommendation to increase that involvement from the earliest opportunity. Because of the importance of the issue to the future of Scotland's housing and because of the level of misinformation that has been bandied about—we have, I am sorry to say, heard more of it today—dialogue between tenants, local authorities and the Executive is necessary. That dialogue will ensure that the information is accurately relayed to tenants.
It was clear, when the committee took evidence, that the perception is that stock transfer is the only option. The statement was made and it was repeated here today, that stock transfer is
"the only game in town".
Anybody who is involved in housing or who considers the detail of it knows that that is not the case and that solutions will be found to meet particular circumstances as they exist in local areas. Solutions are being found and will be found in future. [Interruption.] However, I agree with the Executive's response, which clarifies— [Interruption.] Presiding Officer, I have been interrupted a number of times, so I hope that you will allow me—
I will be asking for a time check.
The Executive's response clarifies that no alternative financing arrangements can be introduced at the moment to provide the scale of investment that is needed. The situation in Glasgow is particularly complex. The council's housing committee is dealing with that and neighbourhood forums are discussing it.
The debate is not only about housing. There are frequent references to "housing stock". The term "housing stock transfer" is too technical. We should remember that we are dealing with people's homes, their futures and the futures of
One of the best examples of community ownership that was seen by the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee was Queen's Cross Housing Association in Glasgow. The management committee is made up of local residents and it not only manages and runs homes, but invests in the area and provides work space for small businesses and training and employment opportunities. It provides community facilities, where people can meet community groups of all interests, and it provides play and recreation facilities. The basic thrusts of that opportunity are to allow people to run what is theirs as they see fit and to change the system in a way that would be impossible without the investment that new housing partnerships can bring.
To conclude, Presiding Officer—
In 1913, during John Wheatley's campaign for a radical change in Glasgow's housing policy, he stated:
"By sustained united effort the democracy could raise a city which would be a worthy monument to the capture of civic power by the common people".
In 1913, John Wheatley argued for an original approach to the funding of new housing and advocated challenging alternatives. Times change and needs change, but his message remains pertinent. Council housing in many parts of Scotland needs a radical change to address the current chronic under-investment—
As we debate the third report of the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee, it is important to consider why stock transfer is so high on the agenda, particularly in Glasgow.
In 1987, the year in which Mrs Thatcher won her third term in office, City of Glasgow District Council received permission to borrow £67 million for council housing. That figure was considered to be totally inadequate by the council's then Labour administration. In 2000, the First Minister, who is a Glasgow MSP, and the Minister for Communities, who is a self-confessed Glaswegian, sanctioned a total spend for Glasgow, inclusive of all revenues,
That amount is in cash terms, but examining what the council had to invest in real terms makes pretty embarrassing reading for Labour members. Glasgow had 350 per cent more to invest in council housing in 1987 than in 2000, which is equivalent to £178 million at today's prices. As recently as 1995-96, total investment in council housing in Glasgow was just under £100 million. Today, the council has half that figure.
"starvation diet of investment in Glasgow."—[Official Report, 14 September 2000; Vol 8, c 417.]
At the time, Margaret Curran said that that was "absolute nonsense". I would have been prepared to give way to Margaret on that point, had she still been in the chamber, so that she could refute those figures or apologise to Fiona Hyslop and admit that, far from Fiona's accusation being nonsense, it was absolutely correct. Given that the Deputy Minister for Local Government presided over the biggest post-war reduction in investment in Glasgow, perhaps he would like to stand up and refute some of those figures, which came from the Minister for Communities in an answer to a written question.
As everyone knows, Glasgow's tenants are being softened up so that they can be corralled into a yes vote on wholesale stock transfer. The figures prove that that is the case. However, given the pressure that tenants are under, with repairs not being done and a capital programme that is slipping into the 22nd century, it is remarkable how resistant they are to the proposals that are being foisted on them by the Executive.
I will repeat the question on SNP policy that Fiona Hyslop failed to answer.
Does Mr Gibson agree that SNP policy in 1999 was that there was no solution to the debt problems that faced Scottish local authorities and that we would have to await independence? That was the SNP manifesto commitment. Is that policy still in place, or has the SNP changed its mind, in the same way that it has changed its mind on every other issue since its members arrived in the chamber?
It is clear that the re-emergence of Scotland as an independent, sovereign state is the only way forward for Scottish housing and for the rest of Scottish society. [Interruption.]
However, until we reach that destination, we should have a relaxation of the rules on the public sector borrowing requirement, so that this Government is in line with every other European Government.
I will move on. On 4 September, David Comley, the director of housing services, presented a report to Glasgow City Council's housing services sub-committee on housing management and participation. The views of tenants, as expressed through tenants' forums, were made clear in that report. [Interruption.] If members will listen, I will give them the views of tenants. The report says that
"most forums would like the debt removed, the stock improved and the Council still to be their landlord.
Forums feel the process is moving too quickly for them. They feel that they are being given a lot of detailed information with little time to fully consider it and broadly that they are being driven towards stock transfer. They would like more time to consider issues."
If Johann Lamont had been here earlier, she would have had an opportunity to intervene.
The document continues:
"Generally they do not understand the speed at which Area Housing Partnerships are being formed and are suspicious of them."
The document also says:
"There is a good deal of confusion over the Area Housing Partnership role. Again many feel that this issue is being railroaded through without proper consultation", and goes on to say:
"Many (tenants) see Community Based Housing Associations as predatory".
What did tenants say to the committee? John Carracher of the Scottish Tenants Organisation said:
"The language that has been used, such as community empowerment, is part of the problem, and we take issue with that way of dealing with the situation."
George McKie of the Edinburgh Tenants Federation said:
"I heard a number of people mention community ownership. I am a tenant of City of Edinburgh Council. My home is in community ownership. It is owned by all the community. That is the true meaning of community ownership."—[Official Report, Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee, 24 November 1999; c 352, 363.]
Rankine Kennedy of the Glasgow Citywide Tenants Forum said:
"We have been led to believe that the policy is about stakeholders and that tenants will be involved in the process from the beginning. The stakeholder issue has not been addressed in our case as we have had no information or representation whatsoever over the past nine months."—[Official Report, Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee, 15 March 2000; c 823.]
The majority report does not identify a single tenant organisation or group that agrees with the definition of community ownership outlined on page 63 of the report. In fact, the report does not appear in any way to reflect the views of tenants given in evidence to the committee. Only the views of the Minister for Communities have been taken into account in the report.
For large-scale stock transfer to work, it must have tenant support. That support does not exist at present and may never be forthcoming. The tenants are not buying; it is time that the minister considered plan B.
Let me say at the outset, Presiding Officer, that I am extremely unhappy that my amendment for today's debate was not accepted. It was the only
The issue facing us today is of enormous significance for social and housing policy throughout Scotland. Small-scale stock transfer has been a fact of life for many years in Scotland. The majority of stock transfers have been very successful in Glasgow, where I live, not because housing associations have a secret formula, not because they have better staff than Glasgow City Council has—
I am only 40 seconds into my speech. Margaret Curran can intervene later, but she should at least give me more than 40 seconds to get started.
It is not because housing associations have better staff than the council that they have been successful, but because they have been well funded and resourced. It is the level of investment and thus improvement that makes housing associations successful, not the style or type of management. Wendy Alexander's community ownership is not—
Perhaps members could just give me a second to finish my argument. The problem with not being allowed to speak to my amendment is that the time for my speech is reduced to four minutes.
Wendy Alexander's community ownership is not demanded by our tenants; it is being imposed by the Scottish Executive in pursuit of its ideologically motivated agenda to remove councils as landlords. Since 1988, the council in Glasgow has transferred 14,000 homes to community-based housing associations. The average size of the transfers was 300 units and those 14,000 units were transferred over 12 years. What the Executive is trying to impose on the city of Glasgow now is the transfer of 90,000 units in one year, with secondary transfers within three years. That represents the continuation of Tory housing policy and is an ideological crusade against public provision of housing.
Wendy Alexander preaches about community ownership. Municipal housing is community ownership, and it was not so long ago that individuals in her party agreed with that description.
Mr Sheridan has used two of his four minutes to talk about ideology. Does he agree that, when Price Waterhouse considered the
I had expected Mr McAveety to be better informed for this debate. Both the HACAS report and the Ernst and Young report estimate that investment in Glasgow's housing, if the city were to follow the Glasgow housing association model, would be 20 per cent more expensive than if the council itself invested in its stock. That is a fact that the minister must live with. What we have here is the Executive trying to out-Tory the Tories on housing. We are constantly told that the process is tenant driven. I would like to refer to the report that Mr Gibson cited earlier.
Is the member aware that the list was drawn up by area managers? Does he agree that one of the problems with the way in which we manage our housing is that too often we listen to area managers and do not find ways of listening to what the tenants have to say?
Area managers were instructed to set up neighbourhood forums to assist the stock transfer process. Those forums have now been established. Most have been going for 18 months; some have been going for years. The area managers are now reporting the conclusions of the forums, but because the Executive does not like what they are saying, it wants to reject those. The managers are saying that the forums would like the debt to be removed, the stock to be improved and the council to be their landlord. They say further that the process is moving too quickly for them and that they are being driven towards stock transfer.
Everyone who has spoken today has asked, "What about the tenants?"
I am sorry, but I have already taken three interventions.
What is the alternative? The alternative is to offer tenants a real choice. If Margaret Curran is saying—and I hope that the minister will back this up—that the choice facing Glasgow's tenants is between voting for transfer in the expectation of
If tenants vote against transfer, and the Executive manages Glasgow's capital housing debt, that will release our rental income and give us £124.6 million a year to invest in our stock. That would add up to £1.2 billion over 10 years. I remind the Executive of its figure—£1.6 billion under the Glasgow housing association. Of that, £400 million consists of set-up costs and consultancy fees. A further £200 million is set aside for VAT payments. In other words, £600 million of the £1.6 billion that the Executive is arguing for is of no direct benefit to tenants. The council could invest the full £1.2 billion to benefit the tenants and give them the homes that they deserve.
It is right to say that the status quo is not an option. However, the minister stands accused of political blackmail, unless she is willing to clarify today that if tenants vote no, the capital debt will still be serviced by the Scottish Executive. If she is not willing to give that commitment, she is blackmailing the tenants. She is saying, "Vote for transfer and you will get investment; vote against it and you won't." If any Labour member worth their salt thinks that that is choice, they should be ashamed of themselves.
I always seem to follow Tommy Sheridan in these debates. I do not criticise him for getting steamed up, because I know where his heart is and I understand that he is doing a job for the people of Glasgow. However, he does go over the top slightly. Words such as blackmail do not serve his argument.
Over the years nobody has been more committed to municipal ownership than I have. Tommy Sheridan will know that. However, we cannot say that municipal ownership is the panacea for all the problems. It is not the panacea for the problems that are brought to my surgeries and, I am sure, to Tommy's surgeries and the surgeries of SNP members. Municipal ownership is one way of dealing with social housing. Over the past 80 years, it has been the main way of dealing with it in Scotland. That does not mean that we must do things that way or that that is always the best way.
The proposal that the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee has been discussing over the past year would not mean the end of municipal housing. It is not the answer for all parts of Scotland. Cathie Craigie and other
I am conscious that Mike Watson is a Glasgow MSP and that the debate has been focused very much on Glasgow. However, take the example of Dumfries and Galloway Council, which also faces wholesale stock transfer. Consider the rural dimension of wholesale stock transfer. In some villages and towns, a transfer means that no municipal housing will be provided. No municipal housing will be available to allow young people who want to stay and work in their own communities to do so.
I am aware of that.
I was at the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee when members of Dumfries and Galloway Council gave evidence. That evidence does not suggest that municipal housing would end in those areas. Other forms of housing will be made available to young people. I am sensitive to that need. It is an exaggeration to say that that will be the end of life as people who do not want to buy their own house know it. There are other opportunities; that was made clear at the committee and Fiona Hyslop was there when it was made clear.
Tenant participation is a major aspect of the issue. I think that it was Kenny Gibson who quoted Rankine Kennedy. I know Rankine personally; he is involved in the Glasgow housing association and might be present today. The quotation that was thrown across the chamber by Kenny Gibson was from the time before the Glasgow housing association was proposed. There were certainly problems; members from all parties have acknowledged those problems. It does not serve the debate to throw that up now. If Rankine Kennedy and the Glasgow Citywide Tenants Forum had been that dissatisfied, they would not be participating in the process now.
No. I will not take the intervention because I am short of time.
Glasgow Citywide Tenants Forum is participating in the process. That is the key. The code of practice for tenant participation, which has now been issued, enshrines many of the demands that were made in the early part of the process and will ensure that if there are other moves towards housing stock transfer in other parts of Scotland, that problem will not recur.
I will highlight one aspect of the Executive's response. I am pleased that many of the report's proposals have been endorsed, but I must say—and I am not saying anything to the minister publicly that I have not said to her privately—that I am extremely disappointed that the safeguards that the committee wanted to provide for staff, especially those in DLOs, have not been met in the Executive's response. That relates specifically to recommendations 47, 49 and 50.
The Executive's response is of great concern to me. I visited Glasgow City building and examined things in great detail two weeks ago, and I know that the minister was there this week. That DLO is a classic example of one that is doing a first-class job. It is restricted only by the inability to compete for contracts outwith Glasgow City Council. There is a proposal for that restriction to be lifted, which is welcome. However, that does not provide the job protection that the committee felt had to be offered to the employees of DLOs, many of whom do an excellent job and are well placed to do the work that will be required if the housing stock transfer goes ahead.
While I welcome the proposal to remove the restrictions on DLOs—especially in Glasgow's case—can we have a greater commitment that the staff's conditions of employment will be protected? We talked about the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981, which are a basic minimum. They do not last beyond the time of transfer and they do not last for new employees. We cannot have people working side by side doing the same job under different conditions. That is not sustainable. That is why the committee said that we must improve on TUPE and ensure that it is done at the time of the transfer.
It is impossible to do this issue justice in the time allowed, Presiding Officer, but I will finish there.
We must be clear on two issues. We have dealt with tenant participation. Staff and trade union issues were very important in the committee report, and I hope that the recommendations on those issues will be revisited. If not, trouble is being stored up.
I had intended, rather naively, to make a positive speech, because I thought that the debate would be about the committee report.
I hope to come to the report later, but I am pleased that Fiona Hyslop mentioned Dumfries and Galloway. On the previous occasion when stock transfer was debated, she failed to give me a satisfactory explanation as to how SNP councillors could remain in the administration of
David Mundell will be pleased to hear that I was in Castle Douglas on Sunday, discussing stock transfer with Dumfries and Galloway councillors who are part of the coalition administration. They pursue consistently the issue of what the tenants can get from the stock transfer. They want to ensure that the tenants' views are heard and that they will be on the scrutiny committee that will examine the proposals. The councillors admit that transfer is the only game in town; that is the point I made in the previous debate. What do members expect those councillors to do? Should they stand back and not participate, or should they ensure that they get the best deal for the tenants? That is the issue.
When I was in Castle Douglas on Sunday, I was ensuring that the councillors in Dumfries and Galloway are operating the same policy that we operate nationally.
I am clear that Fiona Hyslop was in Castle Douglas to tell SNP councillors to leave the coalition, but that they would refuse to do so because, once again, being on committees and getting allowances is far more important than principles when it comes to the bit.
I know that the Deputy Minister for Local Government takes the Dumfries and Galloway situation seriously. He even grew a beard to come to Dumfries to discuss it; I hope that that was not because he did not want to be recognised, because the other perverse thing is that the leading advocates of the argument against the stock transfer in Dumfries and Galloway are Labour councillors, who are in the vanguard of opposition to the proposal. Some of them have
That visit might have been surreptitious.
Does the member agree that the leader of the Labour group on Dumfries and Galloway Council is involved in the process of examining the stock transfer and that a number of principles underpin that examination? If Labour councillors are satisfied on those points, they will be happy to support the transfer.
I agree. I applaud the leader of the Labour group and his colleagues who have supported him in his work with the independents, Liberals and Conservatives in taking the stock transfer forward. The transfer is more advanced thanks to that commitment.
It is important that rural areas are not forgotten. A great deal of emphasis has, rightly, been put on Glasgow, but even Fiona Hyslop pointed out—
No. The member has already tried to make a speech when I had not even accepted an intervention from him.
It is important for social rented housing to be available in rural areas, which it is not at the moment. On a small scale, we face the same problems that cities face. I am sure that Dr Murray will agree that in towns such as Annan, the council has housing available, but it is not taken up because of stigma and the requirement for maintenance work. As a result, there is a housing shortfall.
I commend Dumfries and Galloway Council and the stock transfer proposals in general. I will write separately to the Minister for Communities with my proposals on taking the tremendous opportunity that is offered by the process to digitalise a great part of Scotland's housing stock. I believe that the minister could incorporate into the conditions the requirement that each home that is modernised be given the opportunity of high-quality fibre optic access to either a community intranet or the internet. That could be done at marginal cost.
As someone who is not a member of the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee, I wanted today's debate to deal with the issues, which Labour members seem all too eager to avoid. That is no wonder, given the years of underfunding of Scotland's public sector housing, over which the Labour party and the Tories before it have presided.
In 1979, housing support grant was £564 million at today's prices. This year, the grant has been slashed to only £11 million. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities estimates that housing departments have lost £2.4 billion in revenue because of reductions in housing support grants since 1979. The clawback of right-to-buy receipts, which was endorsed by the Executive, ensures that much-needed resources are not invested in the vital modernisation and upgrading of tenants' homes. That is the context in which the debate must be set.
I agree absolutely. It comes down to political will and, unfortunately, there is no will in the Scottish Executive at the moment.
It is clear to me, as it must be to anyone else who has read both the majority and minority reports, that the tone and content of the evidence that was gathered is not reflected in the majority report. For example, the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations gave extensive evidence on the need to change borrowing rules, yet the majority report gave those opinions only a one-line mention. To compound matters, that mention is followed by a full explanation of the view of the Minister of Communities on the matter. There is no comparison or analysis of that view, simply a bland assertion. Wendy Alexander's views are quoted throughout the report—31 times, compared with only two mentions of the Scottish Tenants Organisation. So much for the importance of tenants, to which Cathie Craigie referred earlier.
It is nonsense to minimise the importance of Treasury rules, given that they prevent housing investment. Let us be clear that that straitjacket is self-imposed; there is no evidence that the Treasury compels the Executive to count rental income as borrowing. The minister has never said that the rules could not be changed, only that it
What is the real problem? I think that the answer can be found in the evidence of Charlie Gordon, the leader of Glasgow City Council, who implied that the reason for the stock transfer policy has more to do with the perception that Glasgow City Council has made a mess of the city's housing.
Charlie Gordon's view may well be true, given that Glasgow City Council has been a Labour-controlled authority, over which the Deputy Minister for Local Government has presided in the past. However, that should not direct Scotland's public sector housing policy. There should not be a Glasgow-led housing policy of one size fits all. Again, the perception in Glasgow and elsewhere that debt is being used as a carrot and stick to muscle local authorities out of public housing is not reflected in the majority report.
There would be more substance to Shona Robison's argument if there had been a continuation of housing strategy in Glasgow. Does she accept that during my tenure as leader of Glasgow City Council we addressed the issue of investment? That is why we explored the option of stock transfer, which is a solution that is appropriate to Glasgow's conditions but is not necessarily a solution for the whole of Scotland.
Mr McAveety's self-justification and defensiveness says it all.
The problem with the one-size-fits-all solution is that other areas will suffer. The minister's response to partial stock transfer is quite incredible. She states:
"The danger of taking on partial stock transfer is that councils try to load more of the debt on to us without dealing with the worst parts of their stock."—[Official Report, Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee, 29 March 2000; c 915.]
So much for partnership, trust and co-operation. The whole policy is being driven by distrust and suspicion of local government, much of which, ironically, is of the same political colour as the minister.
The minister's refusal to consider the servicing of debt without stock transfer means that if there is only a partial transfer, the council's debt will only be serviced for five years. What happens after that? The council tax payers will have to foot the bill when the debt is returned to the council after five years.
For the minister and her Labour back-bench fan club, of which Cathie Craigie is of course a member, there is a one-size-fits-all policy—take it or leave it. There has been a consistent refusal to tell the tenants what the alternative is if they vote no to stock transfer. The tenants are hardly being offered an informed choice by the so-called listening Government.
I will begin by focusing on something on which we all agree. Despite the torrid and well-publicised disagreements that emerged during the committee's investigation into housing stock transfer, members agreed on the basic point that the status quo is not an option.
Too many Scots live in houses that are barely fit for the 19th century, never mind this one; too many pay large parts of their rents to service unsustainable and crippling debts rather than to provide decent, comfortable homes; and too many feel excluded from the decision-making process.
Committee members agreed that urgent action must be taken to tackle those problems and that tenant participation should be a vital element of that action. However, we differed on how to achieve that goal. The committee report represents a reasoned and considered response to the intricacies of housing stock transfer and recognises the opportunity that stock transfer offers for the significant improvement of social rented housing. Furthermore, it endorses the principle of stock transfer as a primary method of accessing the additional capital investment that our housing so desperately needs and highlights opportunities for increased community and tenant involvement, which is in line with our wider social inclusion agenda.
At the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee meeting on Wednesday 14 June 2000, Fiona Hyslop proposed the retention of recommendation 9, which said that the Scottish Executive should examine ways for its empowerment objectives to be achieved even when tenants did not pursue stock transfer as an option.
Why did Karen Whitefield vote against that recommendation?
Stock transfer is not the only option. At the committee, I received assurances from Wendy Alexander that it was one option. In North Lanarkshire, we will not be forced to transfer our stock if we do not want to do so. The proposal is meant for Glasgow, and tenants will be involved in the process.
I shared the concerns of Shelter and the
I welcome the minister's recent response to the committee's report, in which she highlighted the measures in the proposed housing bill that will address those issues. I particularly welcome the Executive's intention to place a statutory duty on registered social landlords to comply with a local authority's request to house an unintentionally homeless person in priority need. I also welcome the inclusion of arbitration arrangements between councils and social landlords. Those measures will address many of the concerns that the committee heard and will help to ensure that stock transfers do not impact negatively on relief of homelessness.
I welcome the Executive's response to recommendation 61, which addresses the important issue of affordability. Many people are concerned that stock transfer will result in housing that is not affordable. The committee recommended that
"central and local decision making in developing and approving stock transfer proposals should take account of long-term affordability and social inclusion" and that
"rent guarantees should be binding for the agreed period and should have regard to what tenants can afford".
I am pleased that the minister agrees with that unconditionally.
I join my colleagues in commending the committee's report to the Parliament. The concept of stock transfer stood up well to scrutiny. I take members back to my opening remarks: for much of Scotland's council housing, the status quo is not an option. Not only can stock transfer deliver the social rented housing that tenants deserve, it can nurture and develop the level of tenant involvement that will ensure that this housing regeneration is sustainable in the years ahead.
I want to concentrate on three of the Executive's key aims regarding the housing stock transfer. The first is
The second aim is stable and affordable rents, which—by the minister's admission—can be guaranteed for only five years. As Margaret Curran pointed out in her opening speech, benefit rules could change. What would happen then? What would happen to affordable guaranteed rents if the lenders and the bankers decided that the houses were no longer a good investment? What if the houses were no longer deemed viable? What if the cost of repairs and building work spiralled?
We are talking about thousands and thousands of homes being transferred in the city of Glasgow. Scottish Homes and small housing associations are an entirely different issue. The report mentions that there is no evidence that the Treasury compels Scotland's Government to control rents. The Executive has the power to make a change, but it does not have the will.
The third aim is community ownership. Karen Whitefield mentioned the promotion of community empowerment, community control and community ownership. At the moment, more than 90,000 houses are in council ownership in Glasgow. Some 13,000 of those will be demolished. I want to know where the tenants of those houses will go. Like many Glasgow MSPs, I have been around the country, and Glasgow in particular, to meet tenants and go to public meetings. The tenants are terrified that they will be scattered to the four winds. Cathie Craigie mentioned Queen's Cross Housing Association in the Maryhill area. Tenants in that area would love to go to Queen's Cross. Will the minister give us a guarantee that those communities will not be torn apart and that the residents will be allowed to live in a community with improved houses if the stock transfer goes ahead? The minister is shaking her head at me, but I wish that she or someone else from the Executive had turned up at the public meetings to offer that guarantee. When we talked to housing associations, we were told that they could not take those houses over. Tenants were told that,
I want to talk about local councillors' responsibilities. Will there be genuine liaison between councillors and tenants in the huge organisation that is proposed? As members who have been councillors will realise, councillors find it difficult to get anything out of Scottish Homes or housing associations regarding tenancies or anti-social tenants. It was easier when councils controlled the homes. Will the minister assure us that liaison will be guaranteed? The Executive has set up executive councils in other areas to ensure that councillors are not involved in outside bodies, so why will this situation be different?
On empowerment, where is the plan B that will come into effect if the tenants vote no? If they vote no, does that mean that there will be no improvements and no partnership? Or are the tenants being told that they have no genuine choice and that they had better vote yes or else?
I was a member of a housing committee on a district council, and was convener of that committee for four years. During my convenership, only one thing mattered to me: maximising investment in the housing stock that was given into my trust for four years. As Fiona Hyslop said at the beginning of the debate, we had considerably more money then than the successor council has now. That point goes to the heart of what the debate is about: how to maximise investment in the housing stock.
Every SNP speaker—I include Tommy Sheridan, as I do not see the difference between him and the SNP on such issues—has gone on about Treasury rules. Let me tell them a secret: when I was a housing convener, I was frustrated by Treasury rules, because I knew that the cash flow through the council that I served on could sustain a higher level of capital spending than was allowed. I made representations about Treasury rules, and guess what? The Treasury would not change them.
The Treasury has not changed its rules under this Government either. Who might form the next Government is now a matter of dispute, but let me predict that the Treasury will not change the rules under that Government either.
The Treasury rules will not change, so the acid question becomes, what in a devolved Scotland does the SNP think we should do with the powers and resources available to us to maximise investment in housing? In positing the alternatives—£1.2 billion or nothing—SNP members are the ones who are offering the nothing. They have no alternative. The only alternative is to go on as we have been going and, by common consent, that is not enough.
We heard the excuses for the councillors. We heard Bruce Crawford talking about his private finance initiative in Perth. We heard, "It's the only show in town," and, "We have to go with what we've got." Actually, I agree—if the only way of investing in our housing stock is to lever in private money, I have no objection to that.
I thank Murray Tosh for allowing my intervention; it was for his own good that I hoped he would take one. I am glad that he just held up the monthly magazine of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations. I have with me the magazine of the Hilltop View Housing Co-operative, which has a £45,000-per-unit investment, which is marvellous and something that I am absolutely willing to support. That is a small-scale stock transfer.
Murray Tosh mentioned the figure of £1.2 billion, about which there has been much debate. That was the figure that the City of Glasgow Council could invest from its own resources. There is only £1 billion available in the transfer, because of the amount of money that will go on costs. Will he comment on that?
Tommy Sheridan made a point earlier about the difference between the amount that was invested in the stock transfers that had gone ahead and the money that needed to be spent on the remaining housing stock in Glasgow. I think that Euan Robson responded to that and pointed out that the £16,000 that had been mentioned was an average figure. Glasgow City Council did not pluck the average cost figure out of thin air; the figure was based on a housing conditions survey. The whole proposal has been built on fairly scrupulous modelling, which shows that the resources will be there.
We have heard complaints this afternoon about people being afraid that communities will be scattered to the four winds, and about people's
What is happening this afternoon is an exercise in old Labour ideology. The SNP has talked about ideology, but the only ideology here is the one that says, "We put the tenure before the investment." That is what SNP members are saying. They are committed only to retaining the houses in municipal ownership. They know the public sector borrowing constraints, and they do not care.
The SNP game plan is for there to be no improvement in housing; that is the SNP's intended vehicle to take it to power in an independent Scotland. That is a disgraceful abdication of everyone's responsibilities to the people of Glasgow and of other council areas throughout Scotland.
I congratulate the Executive on its willingness to depart from the old ways of thinking, to engage private capital and to empower communities to deal with their problems once and for all. I hope that the stock transfer becomes the vehicle that will achieve the step change that we badly need.
With friends like Murray Tosh, the Executive does not need enemies. If political arguments were won on the basis of who had the best pair of lungs and could shout the loudest, Murray would be master of all that he surveys.
My advice to anyone who approaches the thorny problem of Scottish housing policy is that they should do so with a degree of caution, and with more than a modicum of humility. Those qualities have not been evident in the debate so far this afternoon. If the debate teaches us anything, it should teach us that housing catastrophes are invariably introduced to great acclaim, mostly with the best of intentions and always with the conviction that what is being done to the tenants is the best and only hope for them.
Billy Connolly once described Glasgow's council housing schemes as "deserts wi' windaes".
However, even he would admit that, when they were first built, they were hailed on all sides as the future way of keeping working-class people out of the private, Rackrenten slums in which I grew up in Glasgow. Therefore, I suggest that caution should be the keynote theme that is adopted by everyone who speaks in the debate.
My favourite writer, Bertolt Brecht, wrote "Blessed is doubt". We need to remind ourselves that Parliaments are elected to cast doubt on policy proposals that are put forward by whatever Executive happens to be in power. It is our constitutional role to doubt what Executives do, and we should all have that in mind when we speak.
I look to housing co-operatives and housing associations in my constituency to deliver high-quality housing at a lower rent than that of the municipal landlords and to create a huge community dividend. Would it not be reasonable to say that, in doubting, we should look at the evidence of our eyes, and that any plan that includes community ownership and tenant participation—as is the case in the GHA—is a reasonably sufficient ground to put doubt aside and work with the tenants towards an alternative that will make a difference?
I spoke at the annual general meeting of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations to praise community-based housing associations, and I have never criticised them as a legitimate form of social ownership.
However, let me cast some doubt on some of the features of the Executive's stock transfer policy and of the report. The key recommendation, recommendation 2,
"endorses the principle of stock transfer as a primary method of accessing major additional capital investment and moving towards effective community ownership of social housing."
Stock transfer is one possible means of attracting investment and providing effective community ownership, but by no means is it—nor should it be—the primary means of doing that.
How can someone define what is and what is not community ownership? I agree with George McKie that council housing is a form of community ownership—one that is as valid as housing associations, housing co-ops or any model of that kind.
Does Mr McAllion agree with John Carracher of the Scottish Tenants Organisation? When he was asked whether he regarded housing associations as being in the private sector, he said:
"The answer is yes, they are in the private sector".—[Official Report, Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee, 24 November 1999; c 352.]
Does Mr McAllion think that housing associations are in the private sector, and that we should endorse that view?
No, I do not. I agree with the view that is expressed in recommendation 4 of the stock transfer report, that stock transfers are not the same as privatisation. If ownership is vested in a not-for-profit, tenant-led organisation, clearly it is not in the private sector. However, if the question is who controls the rental stream before transfer and who controls it after transfer, a very different dimension starts to come into view.
Before transfer, the rental stream is under public control; the elected Government of the day decides on the subsidies and the loan charges, and the elected council decides on the rents—they are accountable to the people for that. After transfer, the rental stream is under the control of the private sector; effectively it has been privatised.
I do not have time.
The Council of Mortgage Lenders told the committee that as long as there is a rental stream coming to the lenders, their lending is safe and they do not care who owns the houses. But if the rental stream ever stops any time in the next 25 to 30 years because of the right to buy or housing benefit being withdrawn, who owns the houses will matter to the private sector, and we should take that into account.
I do not have time to make the speech that I want to. Let me come to a conclusion by saying that the housing association movement took 25 years to grow from nothing to ownership of 125,000 housing units across Scotland today. If whole stock transfers go ahead, as suggested by the Executive, that figure will more than double overnight. Whole stock transfers represent a prodigious leap into the housing dark that is without precedent in Scotland and leaves hanging in the air a series of unanswered questions and doubts. We as a Parliament should demand answers before we embrace stock transfers.
It is a pleasure to follow John McAllion, because for eight years when I had the housing brief in the House of Commons, he used to shadow my every step and raise every single point on the agenda and a great many more that were not on the agenda. I do not think that he is right in
I appreciate the point that Mr Tommy Sheridan is making and it will be for the minister to decide. But when housing was my responsibility, if the tenants said no, their view would be respected. It will be extremely interesting to see how the matter unfolds.
The policy is being presented as bright, shining, new and radical. Perhaps it is—but on closer examination it appears to be a Conservative policy sprinkled with a few specks of new Labour paint.
I shall give way in a moment.
Colleagues may recall the celebrated occasion when the United States gave tractors to Pakistan and the local Communist party painted hammers and sickles all over them. For a long time, it was believed that the tractors came from Russia. It might be believed that this policy emanates from new Labour, but some of us may be pardoned for thinking that it comes from somewhere else. Of course, that is only an idea.
Writing off the debt at that time meant in excess of £1 billion and the Scottish budget could not have stood that, in that form. The whole purpose of drawing in the private sector is to make public sector funds go much further. The late John Smith argued for more expenditure and said that he did not much mind whether it was public or private as long as there was more expenditure.
The two great successes in Scottish housing in recent years have been the housing association movement and the growth of home ownership. Some of the best examples of urban regeneration
It is important that board members acknowledge tenant housing priorities—in relation to allocations, community needs and the management of stock. If some 87,000 council houses are being considered for stock transfer, I suggest that—as Tommy Sheridan said and many others echoed—the status quo is not an option. The public sector cannot do everything, and the council, with more than 50 per cent of its rental income going to service existing debt, does not have the funding. Keith Harding touched on that point. It means that 23p in every £1 is available for repairs.
If more funding could be drawn in from the private sector, that would be significant. There is clear evidence that tenants will support an above-inflation rise in rent if a better repair and maintenance service is provided.
Does Lord James agree that debt is crucial to the debate, and that it is within the power of this Parliament, under devolution, to service the debt or to transfer the debt of Glasgow City Council or of any other council? Stock transfer is purely and simply a Government policy; it does not have to exist in fact.
In relation to stock transfer, every conceivable detail of finance has to be thought through with the utmost precision—in contrast, if I may say so, to the Holyrood project. The details have to be exact; there is no room for error.
It is important that there should be a powerful local input. Each housing association should, in our view, control not more than around 6,000 houses. Smaller housing associations may be highly desirable, but it is necessary to have a critical mass to achieve economies of scale. There is nothing to stop housing associations banding together to purchase the best repairs services.
Public-private partnerships have worked. We believe that, through the housing association movement, they have produced greater satisfaction for the tenants than have the local authorities. We support the principle of stock transfer as the primary method of accessing major additional capital investment, provided that it is thoroughly thought through in every detail.
The exchanges during the debate, and the failure—I agree with John McAllion—to consider the broader picture have been depressing. The whole business of stock transfer is being presented to us as the cure for all ills. However, I am concerned that we have not properly addressed the financing. I go back to what a number of my colleagues have said, and to what we often heard in evidence in committee: there was not a full and proper examination of the possibility of a change in Treasury rules. That simply was not done. I believe that the principal flaw in the majority report is the failure to examine every possible way of raising finance for Scottish housing.
I believe that that is tied closely to an inner sanctum ideology within new Labour. Those in the inner sanctum intend to make up for the failures of 50 or 60 years of municipal government. They have no respect whatever for their local councillors—hence the move to cabinet-style councils, the resistance to proportional representation, and the basic desire to take power away from people and away from members of their own party at that level.
Mr Quinan has clearly not read any of the submissions to the Local Government Committee, on which many of my colleagues sit. Through the housing bill, we are looking at ways in which local authorities, if they transfer stock, will have control of the development budget and will have a leadership role in developing housing plans.
What is the SNP's position on investment in Scottish housing? Does the SNP say that we must wait for independence before tackling debt? SNP members have avoided that question three times today and it is time that they gave the Parliament an answer.
I find it extraordinary that, yet again, Mr McAveety has failed to recognise what has been said by several of my colleagues. He is well aware that we could deal with the debt problem through the powers that he and the Minister for Communities have within the Parliament. To say any more on that would be to dignify a cheap and shoddy remark from a man who never took responsibility for being the largest slum landlord in Europe during his tenure as leader of Glasgow City Council.
Charlie Gordon's name has been mentioned. It is interesting to find such a divergence between the ex-leader of Glasgow City Council and its current leader. Charlie Gordon
I would like the minister to tell us what plan B is, particularly in relation to the commitment to the empowerment of tenants. Will those tenants receive the same empowerment and investment if they reject stock transfer? It is a simple question that has been asked many times. We seek clarity on that issue this afternoon.
Last night, in a discussion on "Newsnight Scotland", we discovered, bizarrely enough, that the Tory candidate for North Tayside in the coming Westminster elections would campaign on fiscal autonomy. The Liberal Democrats, in the form of Malcolm Bruce, also suggested that we should operate on the basis of fiscal autonomy, as happens in the German Länder, the Navarrese autonomous community in Spain, in Catalonia, and indeed in the Basque autonomous community. The Labour party's problem is that it believes that fiscal autonomy, like Calton Hill, is a nationalist shibboleth. I tell members that it is called advanced, modern, 21st century thinking.
What is the SNP's plan B? SNP members say that if people vote for independence, they can get investment, whereas we tell people that they can vote for stock transfer and get investment. Is the SNP claiming that its version is not blackmail?
Michael McMahon should buy some eardrops. I made no reference to independence—perhaps he did not notice. We must look to modern structures and take on our proper responsibility as a Parliament, which is to run finance and local government properly. I am on the edge of being sick when the Deputy Minister for Local Government tells us that there is nothing he can do about that because it is an issue for local government and the Minister for Finance tells us that he cannot do anything about it because it is a local government issue. We have to take responsibility; responsibility comes with the control of finance.
We all know that we can deal with the debt problem in Scotland, right now, and provide the investment—members will read that in the report. However, that does not suit the ideological book of pink new Labour.
I recommend the minority report.
I congratulate the committee on providing such a comprehensive and penetrating report on a wide range of complex issues. I welcome everyone who has come to hear today's debate.
I am pleased that there is extensive agreement between the committee and the Executive. The committee has greatly assisted the Executive in thinking through some of the fundamental issues that we face in the weeks and months ahead.
I want to bring the debate back to the fundamentals. Why are we here? We are here because 15 months ago, when the Parliament took on its powers, we faced real despair about prospects for Scottish housing, 350,000 kids growing up in damp housing, rising homelessness and declining investment inherited from the Tories.
Shelter said that £10 billion of new investment was needed to deal with Scotland's housing. We had a budget that was one twentieth of that. What could we do? Wait 20 years? Did Scotland's council tenants have to wait 20 years? No. As a Parliament, we had to find a way to do it differently and do it better. When Scotland's electors go to the polls in May 2003, the spending on housing in Scotland, adjusted for the Scottish Homes debt, will be more than 50 per cent higher in real terms than in 1997-98 when Labour was elected. What will we do with it? We will end the need to sleep rough.
On the next Holyrood elections in May 2003, is not it the case that the timetable for the Glasgow ballot is such that there will be little opportunity for the minister's grand scheme to bear fruit before members face the ballot? The problem is that we will have had about four years of Labour Government rule at Westminster and another four years under the minister's rule, and little housing investment will have hit the streets of Glasgow. Members will be up for re-election and the minister will not have delivered.
The difference between Fiona Hyslop and us—and my goodness, the tenants will see it clearly—is that under us not a ha'penny of debt will remain to be serviced by Glasgow tenants, but with her step-by-step solution, they will still be holding on to 90 per cent of it.
Let me return to what we promise to do. We will end the need to sleep rough. We are building refuge places for women escaping violence. We are getting kids out of temporary bed-and-breakfast accommodation. We will ensure that no old person in Scotland ever again will have to crouch over a two-bar fire, by giving them central heating, and we will lift the debt burden. That is a record that no party in the chamber promised
The issue is: how will we get new money into council housing? How dare other people accuse us of having no will—we have not heard one promise from them today about how much money will be spent, where it will come from and what the controls will be on public expenditure. How will we do it? Our biggest challenge is how to get new investment into Scotland's housing.
Let me explain what that will mean. Our proposals represent the most radical redistribution that we have seen in decades. The estimated amount from the public sector that we are putting in to meet the debt burden, in today's money, is £1,000 million in Glasgow, £60 million in the Western Isles and £80 million in Shetland. But lifting the debt burden is not enough; we need to bring in additional money to invest in houses.
Why does Glasgow have only £50 million to invest in its council housing now, when it had £178 million in 1987, when the Conservatives were in power? The Executive has deliberately starved Glasgow and other councils of investment in order to force through, for ideological reasons, the stock transfer proposals.
The truth is that we will have increased investment in housing throughout this session.
The question that dominated today was: is there a plan B? Is this a one-size-fits-all situation? If people take nothing else from the debate, take this: only seven councils are pursuing a wholesale stock transfer, and they are doing it because it is right for their area. It is being done in Glasgow because the disrepair is highest. It is being done in Shetland because the debt burden there is highest. It is being done in the Western Isles because new houses need to be built. But that is not the only option. Let me tell members what plan B is: should tenants in Glasgow vote no, they have the opportunity to pursue the solution that Edinburgh and Dundee have chosen. Those who live in Craigmillar have partial transfer and £25 million investment. In Ardler in Dundee, another £25 million of public money is being invested. Therefore, there is a plan B, and it is the one that the SNP offers.
The SNP has said that it wants small-scale transfer. It wants to do transfers area
On the specifics of the transfer, will the minister clarify that if the Glasgow tenants vote no, the debt will still be serviced by the Executive? Is she saying that the tenants will have to struggle to get public funding from elsewhere or is she giving a commitment that the debt will be serviced and that the rental income can be spent?
The crux of the matter is the powers of the Government to deal with the servicing of the debt. Under the Executive's powers, it can decide under partial transfers—which I understand it has done—that it can deal with debt, but only for five years. After five years, in Fife and in Dundee, council tax payers will have to pick up the debt. That was one of the main issues of difference between the minority and majority reports. Under partial transfers, will the minister guarantee that she will continue to service debt after five years?
We said that in circumstances of partial transfer, there will be partial debt servicing for five years. The issue here, which I have just exposed, is that plan B is being pursued all over Scotland. The choice is with the tenants.
Cathie Craigie touched on Glasgow. The history of at least some of us here is about opening up new tomorrows and new opportunities for people. The crux of the issue is this: when John Wheatley was elected in 1911 to Glasgow Corporation, as an elected representative he was not satisfied with saying, "Woe is me." He was not satisfied with condemning the landlords of the day and he was certainly not satisfied with condemning the Gordon Browns of the day. Instead, he sat down and wrote a plan to build £8 cottages in Riddrie in Glasgow. He did not say that he would pay for that by pleading with the Treasury to change the rules. He said; "Look at our tramways. Let us get hold of the private profits from the tramways and get on with changing the face of our city." That is the sort of imagination that the Parliament should bring to a new century and to the city of Glasgow. We have talked to the banks, the construction companies and the tenants, and we are delivering what tenants want.
Last week, Mr Sheridan said that tenants
I will not take any more interventions.
Let us deal with the fears. On the fear about privatisation, we have promised that the landlords will all be non-profit. On the fear that the rents will go up, we have promised guarantees. It is to the sceptics that I say that a 15-year rent guarantee was announced today by Sanctuary Scotland Housing Association in Dundee. On the fear that tenants' rights will be at risk, we have the chance to deliver the best ever tenants' rights package.
On the fear that the homeless will be at risk, there will be a new obligation to house the homeless. On the fear about job losses, there will be new rights for the direct labour organisations to undertake work. On the fear that workers' rights will be threatened, not only does TUPE stay, but there will be stability on pensions, job security, union recognition and training opportunities. On the fear that the bankers will come in, I guarantee that Scottish Homes will be the regulator. On the fear that the tenants will not be consulted, 750,000 items of information have been sent out to tenants already. One hundred organisations are involved and now, arguably, we have the largest participation exercise in this country.
The tenants can say no— [Interruption.]
No member, regardless of rank or title, will have exchanges across the floor of the chamber. A member is on her feet, trying to address everyone in the chamber. Please continue, Ms Alexander.
I say to the Parliament: let us all have the courage to lead on this one. Of course the tenants can say no—they have that choice. However, I am confident that when they look round and see what community-based landlords can achieve, they will want to go forward.
Let the tenants judge, as it is for them to make a choice. Our role as national politicians is not to sit back and be the Jeremiahs of our generation. Many of us come from a proud tradition, with a history of battling against the wisdom of the day to do what we believe is right and to lead, taking people with us.
I say to all members, "Look to your conscience." To the Tories, I say, "You like the idea of the tenants being in charge and I welcome that, but you must also like the social justice of this proposal." I want to hear Tories across Scotland say that they are happy for us to lift the entirety of the debt burden, because that is what is required in places such as Glasgow.
To the SNP, I say that we have had an afternoon of fear-mongering. The SNP will choose a new leader this weekend, so let us talk about leadership. The only answer that we have heard from the SNP today is, "We don't know." We do not know whether the SNP believes in lifting the entire debt burden from Glasgow and in allowing the housing stock to transfer to community ownership.
John McAllion called for humility, and rightly so. We should be out to destroy the despair, the debt and the dampness, rather than deal in dogma or dwell on doubt. Our responsibility is to lead and to give people a new future. Scotland will remember those who show leadership in the debate—those who do not simply talk about social justice but who go out and deliver it.
The Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee report opens up a new tomorrow for tenants. We must trust the tenants. Housing stock transfer will go ahead and it will be a new start for Scottish housing. The tenants will choose their destiny and we should thank the committee for its support.
I listened to the debate with a degree of weariness. When Margaret Curran, on behalf of the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee, opened the debate on the committee's excellent report, she tried to put in perspective the various issues that arose in committee and to put them before the chamber for members' consideration. Since her speech, we have heard tirade after tirade from different parts of the chamber on issues that, in large measure, are not within the control of the Scottish Parliament.
The stock transfer proposal comes from the Executive and is for the Parliament and the country to consider. The proposal is on the table and we should deal with it. John McAllion spoke about caution and humility, and I agree with him. However, the debate should also contain an element of hope and optimism, but that element was missing from the speeches made by Opposition members.
The fact that the report is good is not down to the efforts of one or two people, as every member of the committee had an input. Some members, such as Mike Watson, concentrated on staffing issues, while others concentrated on the size and type of the new social landlords. Euan Robson, who is not a member of the committee, spoke about the rural dimension. For others, the Glasgow stock transfer was, inevitably, the dominant issue. Other issues, including local employment, rent levels, investment levels, monitoring arrangements, the tenant ballot and homelessness, were raised in committee and dealt with in the final report.
Today's debate reflected the framework of the report, which was set by the overriding political debate. The implications of the political debate showed up in the report and in the minority report that was attached to it. I do not think that division at that level in any way devalues the detailed findings of the report, which were often critical of the Scottish Executive, the proposals and the process to date.
An important part of today's debate has been about how to deal with debt. Recommendation 12 of the majority report says:
"Where alternatives represent both a means to social inclusion and community regeneration, and also good value for public money, the Executive should consider assistance with relief of housing debt."
I take it that Robert Brown accepts that fundamental point. Will he acknowledge that debt and treatment of debt in situations other than wholesale stock transfer should be on the table?
I do indeed acknowledge that. Debt is one of the three or four major issues running through this debate. A large proportion of the money comes from public funds and must be targeted, well spent and effective. I shall show how that can be done as I proceed with my argument.
The central theme of the stock transfer report is that a unique and dramatic opportunity is offered to the tenants to take control of their future and see a major change in the quality of their homes. The decision on whether to go ahead with the transfer will be taken by ballot. Although there is work to be done in Glasgow to overcome a bad start, I am confident that the right decision will be
No, I will not accept an intervention.
I urge the minister to give us an assurance about the ballot process. The committee made a clear recommendation that there should be a legal requirement for a ballot of tenants requiring a majority vote. The minister's reply is not at all clear. She should remove any uncertainty by making an unambiguous statement that the decision will be made by tenants in the ballot.
At the heart of today's debate has been the claim that the ballot would offer no choice. That is not so. The ballot will certainly offer a better choice and some less good choices. The better choice is to proceed towards tenant-led community ownership, which can access the major investment needed and spend it as decided by the community. The less satisfactory choices are either to continue as at present, with inadequate finance and limited participation, or to consider partial transfer in limited areas. In short—John McAllion is well aware of this—it is a choice between two forms of social housing in areas such as Glasgow.
That is absolutely right. What is being offered is a step change not just in investment but in the way in which the housing stock is run. It is a choice between the traditional municipal model that John McAllion, Tommy Sheridan and the SNP seem to like, but which I regard as a backward step that would condemn people to poor housing indefinitely, and—
The alternative choice is the community ownership model, where people take charge of their own situations. It is built on the highly successful experience of the housing association movement.
Let me deal with the other funding possibilities. According to the report, the committee was
"a primary method of accessing major additional capital investment and moving towards effective community ownership."
It may not be the only method of accessing capital, but it is the only one that we know will achieve both adequate capital and community ownership. Changes in the public sector borrowing requirement could be made by the Treasury, as Liberal Democrats have argued at Westminster, but that is of little use to this chamber here and now.
When I was a member of the City of Glasgow District Council, there were innumerable grandiose schemes to deal with the housing problems of the day, including planned maintenance, whole-life maintenance and cyclical repair schemes. Each was launched with a grand fanfare; each vanished without trace. That happened not just under the Tories, but under previous Labour Governments. I wonder how many people in this chamber remember that Clive House, the headquarters of the housing department at the time, was popularly known by the public as the wailing wall—and for good reason.
The whole municipal housing system was rotten to the core, unaccountable in practice, expensive, unsuccessful and unmanageable. Some areas of Glasgow have been renovated two or three times over and are still a mess. The nearest parallel that I can think of is the Russian nuclear facilities—built at enormous cost, badly designed and not maintained. Russian submarines and Glasgow's council housing stock alike end up collapsing around us, leaving an enormous financial and political problem to resolve.
Stock transfer offers a new start. It gets rid of liability for the debt that currently costs every tenant anything up to 55p in the pound. It provides guarantees of stable rents and of investment. Council tenants up and down the land would have celebrated if they had had rent increases limited to inflation plus 1 per cent in any of the past 20 years. However, the devil is in the detail. The committee was anxious to ensure that the tenants had cast-iron guarantees on rents.
I return to the political argument. SNP members have argued that pots of untapped housing capital would appear miraculously if Scotland were separate. However, they have also made it clear—at a fairly late stage in the proceedings—that they will oppose whole stock transfer and will campaign for a no vote. The members of the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee will agree that they did not make their view on that clear until a late stage.
The SNP's strategy would be hugely damaging to every tenant in Glasgow. The SNP would bang the door shut on major capital investment adequate for the job. It would cost the deprived areas of the city up to 3,000 much-needed jobs, largely in construction. Glasgow needs SNP policies of that sort as much as it needs a hole in the head.
I will answer that specific point, as it was dealt with in considerable detail by the committee. Stock transfer would result in increased investment in the city of Glasgow. The result of increased investment would be more rather than fewer jobs, particularly in the construction industry. Our job is to ensure that those jobs are invested in the deprived areas that need them. Let us have an end to people frightening the horses—using scare tactics and frightening folk out of their wits about what is going to happen.
Order. We do not take interventions once the member speaking has gone past the allotted time. The member is getting extra time for interventions and we cannot allow more interventions on top of that.
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
Let me say what this is about. Thousands of people in Glasgow are living in housing conditions that we can no longer tolerate in a civilised society. As a number of members have indicated,
However, the issue is also about control and power. People in Glasgow and across Scotland have been used to having decisions about housing stock being made by councils and Governments, which, as has been said, have not always got things right. Margaret Curran recalled a tenant saying to her, "Couldn't they have asked us? We only live here." That sums up the debate. The chamber has the committee's report, which is a major contribution to the debate. Let us now go forward positively and in hope, in partnership with the people of Glasgow and the other areas involved, in planning whole stock transfer. I commend the stock transfer report of the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee to the Scottish Parliament.