Scotland's housing is in crisis. There has been a collapse in investment, with housing investment at a fraction of what it was; and Government housing legislation has yet to surface. Quite simply, Labour is not delivering on housing for tenants. In 1979, borrowing consents in real terms amounted to £629 million; however, in 2000-01, that figure has dropped to £180 million. Glasgow had 350 per cent more to invest in council housing in 1987 than in 2000. In 1987, the city had £178 million to invest; in 1995-96, it had £100 million; and in 1999-2000 the figure dropped dramatically to £52 million.
Although we can criticise the Government for its record on investment, we also recognise that it has moved on certain issues and support its policy of dealing with council debt. Indeed, the SNP first introduced the policy of lifting the debt burden of councils that had been placed on them by Government policy and allowing them to invest tenant rents in tenants' homes. At the time, we were accused by new Labour of fantasy economics; however, it is now happy to embrace the policy.
Members will recall September's debate on the extensive Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee report on housing stock transfer—a debate that, for Labour, had been conveniently organised on the Thursday of the SNP conference. The report also included my detailed and comprehensive minority commentary which covered the whole of Scotland, not just Glasgow.
We are bringing this debate to the chamber today because there have been three major developments in the city of Glasgow and the Government that demand that we do our job and come back and scrutinise what Government policy is—or rather is not—doing in that city. Those developments are the change in ministerial control of housing policy; the election of the new First Minister, who wants to dump a bad policy; and the delay in the Glasgow ballot.
We must remember that what happens in Glasgow is of serious concern to the whole of Scotland. Councillors, officials and tenants are waiting to find out what will happen in Glasgow as
Anyone tramping the streets of the Glasgow Anniesland constituency for the by-election knows that housing stock transfer is a major issue on the doorsteps. From Drumchapel housing in desperate need of repair and renovation—or what will be left of it after demolition—to Knightswood where people live in the city's better-quality stock, tenants are wondering what exactly they will get out of the deal. The issue for them is rents and whether they will be affordable in 10 years.
I want to expand on the three developments in recent months. First, the ministers who, in their various roles in the chamber and before they were elected to the Parliament, were in charge of housing policy are no longer in charge of it. Frank McAveety had had a significant role as former leader of Glasgow City Council, as had Wendy Alexander in her previous role as adviser to the housing minister, Calum MacDonald—or perhaps it was Malcolm Chisholm; I am not sure—who kicked the process off. The removal of the two ministers from office begs the question: will the new ministerial team take the opportunity to revise the policy? I suggest that it should.
Secondly, a new First Minister has been elected with a demand that the Government dump its unpopular and bad policies. Our motion demands that wholesale stock transfer be dumped. The new team knows the difficulties that it faces in convincing tenants on that issue, despite the expensive, one-sided propaganda that has been issued at taxpayers' expense. As the Executive runs into the electoral sand on the timing of the ballot in relation to electoral contests at Westminster, councils and Holyrood, the pressure must be on to revise radically or abandon the policy while the going is good. Indeed, this week's edition of The Glaswegian contains an interesting article by a certain back bencher—not of this chamber, I might add—on that very subject.
Talking of press coverage, I must ask what was meant by stories of the appointment—or non-election, rather—of Cathy Jamieson, who is an impressive woman, as deputy leader of new Labour in Scotland. There was speculation in the Sunday Herald that her appointment would bring concessions on stock transfer. If a rethink is afoot, we demand to know about it—concessions by whom, for whom? There is another serious question: will the policy shift from the community ownership-empowerment model pushed by Wendy Alexander and Frank McAveety, or will there be a shift back to the Glasgow-wide model
It is important that they are aware of the political changes and developments. Those are political facts. Changes and developments have happened. We have a First Minister who is reviewing Government policy. I believe that the tenants deserve to know that there is now an opportunity for change in Government housing policy. One serious concern for many tenants in Glasgow is whether regulation will be the same for the different social landlords or whether there will be a two-tier system.
The third development, and the most important, is the discovery this week that the ballot is to be delayed. The ballot was originally due to be held in November this year, but was then put back to spring 2001. I refer members to the timetable on page 16 of Scottish Parliament information centre research paper 99/13 on housing stock transfers. The ballot may now not take place until November 2001. That means that significant levels of investment in Glasgow's stock would not take place until summer 2002. A whole term of office for new Labour at Westminster would come and go with nothing done to improve the state of people's homes.
I want to move on.
New Labour is not delivering. Time has been wasted on an ill-thought-out policy, with Glasgow tenants paying the price. Almost £170 million in capital investment has been lost in the past four years of Labour in Glasgow, which has led to a massive deterioration in Glasgow's housing stock. Glasgow City Council's borrowing consent was
We are told that the delay is because Glasgow tenants want more time for consultation and to get the facts, which is perhaps the point that Cathie Craigie made, but that is because years went by in the early part of new Labour's Administrations at Westminster and Edinburgh when the tenants were frozen out of the process and staff and unions were kept out in the cold. There was general criticism of that across the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee. Do not blame the tenants for the delay.
The delay has other significant ramifications. I have been pursuing the Government's central heating proposals, which are to be welcomed, but I have concerns about what the delay will mean for the people and pensioners of Glasgow. I have written to Bob Allan and Charlie Gordon, who told me that they are concerned about the timing of the proposals. I am not saying that the Glasgow pensioners would be excluded from proposals relating to central heating. I am concerned about whether the investment will come by winter 2001 or be delayed because the finance is tied up in stock transfer.
That is why, more than a month ago, I lodged a series of questions asking whether each of the seven transferring authorities would get finance from the £350 million announcement and, if so, when they would get it. I believe that the reason why there is a gap between the £120 million that was earmarked in the budget for central heating and the £350 million trumpeted by the Executive is that the central heating proposal for the seven authorities is tied up in stock transfer. Will Glasgow pensioners get the same pro rata access to the fund as every other pensioner in Scotland from April 2001 in time for next winter?
Where is the money coming from and how can it be accounted for? Council housing throughout Scotland and particularly in Glasgow is in appalling disrepair. Children are being brought up in cold, damp housing that is having a damaging effect on their health and on their opportunities in life.
The status quo is not an option—no one is arguing that it is. The SNP wants to see a series of steps being taken. There are many ways in which to invest in public housing: public investment from the people's war chest; the release of capital receipts; borrowing from the Public Loans Board, which we can afford to do; using local housing companies; enabling small-scale transfers to existing co-operatives—
I am winding up.
Public service trusts could be used to allow all landlords to access private finance pooled with stock managed by whatever landlord tenants want, including the council, but with democratic reassurances. The debt—or debt servicing—could be transferred without the need to transfer the stock. In Glasgow, that would involve £1.2 billion over 10 years. Equity release schemes could be developed and the debt could be privatised rather than the housing sold off.
The tenants of Glasgow are left waiting for new Labour to deliver. The SNP will keep bringing the issue back to the chamber. We will keep on the tail of the Executive, demanding detail and scrutinising its proposals. We have heard much of progressive pragmatism from the First Minister, but what ministers will hear from the SNP on this issue is progressive scepticism. The people of Glasgow and Scotland deserve no less.
That the Parliament notes that the ballot for the proposed Glasgow housing stock transfer may now be delayed until late 2001; calls upon the Scottish Executive to abandon its wholesale stock transfer policy in its current review of problem policies and further calls upon the Executive to release budgets allocated for stock transfer now in order to improve housing stock in Glasgow and throughout Scotland.
I am delighted to have this opportunity to put the case for community ownership on behalf of the Executive and to respond to the SNP motion. I categorically assure the Parliament and everyone who is listening to the debate that the policy is not under review and that we are completely and utterly committed to community ownership.
I am grateful for my time as convener of the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee. We conducted a marathon inquiry that ensured a great degree of scrutiny of the Executive's proposals and is a tribute to the parliamentary process. It allowed us to assess the varying perspectives and consider the evidence behind the arguments. Working with tenants in Glasgow 20 years ago, I was committed to helping them tackle need and create the means by which to decide policy. I continue to be committed to that.
I was struck by the terms of the SNP's motion, which illustrates fundamental contradictions in its approach. Before dealing with those, I want to talk
I am delighted to be working with my colleagues in Glasgow City Council and I have good relationships there. This is a tenant-led proposal. The Glasgow housing association will take forward the proposal in Glasgow. There are also partial transfers and regeneration partnerships across Scotland.
I will not be shouted down again by Lloyd Quinan. I think that I have made my position very clear with him. He will not shout me down. I will keep saying it: he should learn some manners.
Partial transfers and regeneration partnerships are appropriate to deal with the pockets of worst housing.
I am fascinated that that is the substance of the SNP criticism of my approach.
Partial transfers are appropriate in certain cases, such as Ardler in Dundee and Craigmillar in Edinburgh.
I am a Glaswegian and I love my city dearly, but I take seriously my responsibility to Scotland in my new role. I am delighted to announce that my first ministerial visit in connection with this policy will be to the Borders, where I look forward to meeting Euan Robson. However, we do not apologise for recognising the scale of need in Glasgow, although we have been criticised in some quarters for doing so. It is important, particularly given the
Our resources will be delivered within a framework of sound finance and effective management—that is what is missing from the SNP approach. Tackling the debt, maximising investment opportunities, enhanced regulation and community ownership represent sound results for the public purse.
I will discuss the text of the motion. I have argued many times, with undoubted support from the SNP, that we must have tenant involvement and consultation. I strongly welcome the approach of the Glasgow housing association, which is to have a tenant in the chair—we all know that Rankine Kennedy clearly asserts tenant authority. If we accept a tenant-led model, we must accept the pace that tenants determine. That is the first of many contradictions within SNP policy. The SNP argues that tenants must be involved, but when tenants' influence is shown, the SNP wants to abandon the policy.
I referred earlier to my many years of activity with tenants groups throughout Glasgow. Twenty years ago, I worked in the east end of Glasgow, where tenants set up tenant management co-operatives. Brian Adam should look at the history of housing associations.
I do not deny that there is urgency in the housing situation. I want to move at as fast a pace as possible. However, it is better to take a few months now to consider the baseline and work out the process than to wait decades for the alternative.
On the question of urgency, the minister mentioned the working relationship that she has with her colleagues on Glasgow City Council. Does she accept Glasgow City Council's submission to the Executive paper, "Better Homes for Better Communities", in which the council tells us that there has been a £230 million cut in real terms in investment in council housing in Glasgow since Labour was elected?
By 2003-04 we will have increased public investment in housing by 36 per cent in real terms above that in the plans that we inherited in 1997-98.
I want to discuss some of the points that Tommy Sheridan and other members have made previously. Some people have argued that we should lift the debt and leave the council to deal
I am sorry—I am beginning to run out of time.
In previous debates, Mr Sheridan's figures have been wrong. He used the figure of £125 million, but the correct figure is £93 million. If the route that he supports were taken, it would take more than 15 years to match the spend under the transfer option and nothing would be done for community ownership.
The Scottish Executive will increase its housing budget by 20 per cent in the next three years. Given the scale of the problem that we face, with 600,000 homes in Scotland with dampness, condensation or mould, even that increase is not enough. We need to find alternative resources and to bring more finance into council housing.
The transfers to community ownership will deliver up to £3 billion of new investment, a major improvement in the quality and energy efficiency of the housing stock as a result of that investment, and substantial public health benefits as better housing leads to better health. It will deliver the local, responsive decision making that tenants have always argued for, with tenants and others in the community leading the decision-making process. It will deliver accountability to tenants and the wider community through properly regulated not-for-profit voluntary organisations. It will stimulate local economies by getting jobs into our deprived local communities.
That is the way forward for Scottish housing—getting investment, putting communities in the driving seat. I am delighted to say that community ownership is not part of our policy review and we will be taking it forward.
I move amendment S1M-1355.3, to leave out from "notes" to end and insert:
"supports the community ownership policies that the Scottish Executive is taking forward to attract significant new investment into housing and supports putting tenants at the heart of the decision making process relating to their homes, in line with its commitments in Partnership for Scotland and Programme for Government."
The more frequently we revisit the issue of housing stock transfer, the more compelling it seems to the Conservative party that we transfer Glasgow's housing stock. Fiona Hyslop made one basic, correct point: the status quo is not an option. How can it be when so many Glasgow tenants are living in conditions that are deplorable by any standard? Something has to be done, and we must do it by empowering people to do things for themselves. Massive investment is obviously needed; the Deputy Minister for Social Justice quantified it and few disagreed with her figure. The time scale is worrying, however, particularly because there has been so much slippage. The boost to the local economy will be tremendous. Many jobs and apprenticeships for young people from disadvantaged areas will be provided. It could be a major success story.
We are not seeking to end council housing; we seek to end the culture that for so long has pervaded the thinking behind council housing. Social housing will always be needed in Scotland. We accept that and indeed might argue that the Executive's figures on the need for social housing are on the conservative side—an unusual argument for us to make, perhaps. Surely it is incumbent on all of us to ensure that the quality and standard of social housing is of an acceptable nature, providing the type of house that we ourselves would like to live in.
If we go down that road, we will be following what other countries have done, such as the former Soviet Union and the United States of America, which have realised that that culture must be done away with. With reference to America, it gives me particular pleasure to welcome Tanya Harding from the United States, who is in the public gallery to see her father, Keith Harding, in action. I know that she will be impressed.
The argument against housing stock transfer is that we are talking about privatisation of social housing. We are not doing that. In no way can it be perceived as privatisation.
We do not know what people think of the proposal and we will not know until they are properly balloted. It is essential to get on with the ballot as quickly as possible. How can it be privatisation when the control of the housing will be with the people themselves? It cannot possibly
The SNP position has changed to some extent over recent months. What was being put forward when the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee looked into the matter was a relaxation of Treasury rules. However, that did not break up the unsympathetic and unresponsive culture in council housing.
No—I must get on.
We want to give power to the people. The greatest success story in social housing in Scotland has been the housing association movement. People respond positively when they are given ownership of, and responsibility for, a problem. I could cite many examples of that, in Glasgow and elsewhere.
I am sorry, but I am running out of time.
We part from the Executive in this way: we believe that the one-off stock transfer will not work. The Executive is, in effect, imposing upon the people of Glasgow a Glasgow City Council housing department mark 2. That department has hardly been a tremendous success story, has it? We will therefore press for an early breakdown into localised housing associations. People will respond to that.
I listened carefully to the deputy minister. I am not entirely reassured. I suspect that Labour is going wobbly over the whole issue of transfer. I think that she would agree that the process has already taken a ridiculous length of time and I cannot understand why a ballot is unlikely to take place before late next year.
Yes, of course.
A transfer of this type is the only hope for Glasgow's social housing. The blunt truth is that the Executive is having difficulty in getting agreement from the dinosaurs that still dominate much of local government thinking in the west of Scotland. Stock transfer provides what may be the last opportunity to bring Glasgow's housing up to an acceptable standard. In time, it would lead to the end of the culture that has pervaded thinking on social housing for far too long. I condemn that culture absolutely: it has done much damage to Glasgow's community. Has Labour lost its bottle on this issue? There is a conspiracy of silence. The housing bill takes longer and longer to see the light of day.
For Labour, I understand that adopting a
I move amendment S1M-1355.1, to leave out from "notes" to end and insert:
"calls upon the Scottish Executive to recognise the rapidly worsening condition of Glasgow City Council's housing stock; agrees that improved standards of social housing can only be achieved through the genuine devolution of control of housing from councils to local housing providers with tenant involvement as initiated by the last Conservative Government and continued by the current Scottish Executive; recognises that tenant priorities will only be achieved if the size of community housing providers is limited to reflect genuine communities and maintain local control, and urges the Scottish Executive to expedite its stock transfer policy to appropriately sized community housing providers."
I have enormous respect for the abilities of Fiona Hyslop, whose contribution to the stock transfer report in the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee was considerable. She has considerable expertise in that area. Her speech was excellent, but when boiled down, it was repetitive and unnecessary. It raised no new issues, just as the debate raises no new issues.
Fiona Hyslop talked about ministerial changes and changes to do with the ballot. However, the real change that lies behind today's debate is the imminence of the Anniesland by-election. Baldly, the SNP—and especially those behind the scenes such as Dorothy-Grace Elder who had a pot-shot at the policy earlier—wants to stir up worry, unrest, uncertainty and doubt in the minds of the electorate in Drumchapel and Knightswood in particular.
The SNP has given us its usual spurious assertion that there is no plan B if the tenants vote no, but in essence its gripe is that the whole thing operates in a financial framework laid down by the Treasury in London. SNP members
Let me move on to the merits of the issue. Glasgow tenants have had to put up with deplorable housing conditions for years. Comprehensive schemes to deal with the problem have been put forward repeatedly. The direct labour organisation has undergone numerous reforms; there have been cyclical repair schemes and a major borrow-forward project, which put in quite a lot of money. Some areas have been renovated three times over, but essentially the position has not changed.
There has been considerable investment in areas such as Castlemilk, where time after time money has been spent on the same house.
Stock transfer presents three key elements. First, there is a transfer to smaller community units—bodies modelled on the highly successful housing associations, in which local people control and run their own housing. As Margaret Curran has pointed out, that is an essential part of the scheme and one that the SNP appears to be downgrading.
Does the member accept that the reason for the success of the housing associations—no one would deny that they have been successful—is that they have had massive public subsidy in the form of direct grant, which has not been available to council housing departments for many years?
They have also had effective and small-scale management, which is something about which we have not heard too much from the SNP this morning. We are talking about a new form of social housing. With respect to Dorothy-Grace Elder, that is not privatisation. We are discussing a new form of social housing that is characterised by success and effectiveness, rather than bureaucracy and failure.
Secondly, stock transfer releases the debt burden and utilises the security of the rental stream. Thirdly, it involves a business plan agreed by the tenants, which incorporates rent guarantees and satisfactory issues to do with forward investment.
I am well aware that there are difficulties and
I urge members to have no truck with the SNP's approach to the debate. The SNP proposes to stop the whole process and to start again. If the motion is to be read literally, the SNP intends to take the new housing partnership moneys away from Glasgow to be used elsewhere in Scotland. The SNP wants to work up another scheme: either one that does not meet Treasury guidelines and was rejected or one that hands over millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to the Labour-led council in Glasgow, which the SNP has characterised as a terrible council. Why does the SNP want to hand money to a terrible council? That approach is rather paradoxical.
I am sorry, but I am about to finish.
The SNP would condemn thousands of Glasgow tenants to damp and intolerable housing indefinitely. Its proposals would condemn deprived communities across Glasgow to further decline. The SNP would be saying to the 3,000 people—mainly from deprived areas—who would get jobs as a result of stock transfer that those jobs would not be available after all. It is time for the SNP to join the real world—no more fancy schemes or independence myths. Stock transfer is the way forward for Glasgow. I ask Fiona Hyslop to lend her considerable talents to help make stock transfer work and to meet the challenges that we face. It is time for the SNP to speak up for Glasgow and for Scotland.
We move to the open part of the debate.
Several members want to speak in what will be a short debate. I ask members to keep their speeches as short as possible. If members respect a time limit of three minutes to three-and-a-half minutes, I will be able to accommodate everyone. However, if speeches run to four minutes or more, my ability to accommodate members will be very constrained.
I will try to respect that limit.
Wholesale stock transfer first reared its ugly
In the October issue of "Glasgow City Housing Tenant News"—an expensive council propaganda sheet aimed at convincing sceptical tenants of the merits of wholesale stock transfer—Glasgow City Council leader Charlie Gordon said that the council would agree to transfer if
"Write-off of the city's £1bn housing debt and completion of all the major work within six years is achieved."
Is that on the agenda?
At a seminar on the housing stock transfer at Hampden on 12 April, the then Minister for Communities informed those in attendance that the debt would remain with Glasgow but that
"£50 million would be contributed by the Scottish Executive towards servicing that debt".
We were also told that the refurbishment of stock would take 10 years, not six. Has the Executive's position changed? If not, how will the demands of Charlie Gordon and company be satisfied?
In November last year, in response to written question S1W-2601 Wendy Alexander stated that the Glasgow ballot would be in November 2000. Unless time is suddenly to stand still, the ballot will not now take place for six months, or a year, or ever. Meanwhile, time is standing still for the tenants whose homes have been starved of investment since new Labour came to power and who have no prospect of house modernisation or refurbishment while the stock transfer shambles rumbles on and on.
Even if the difficulties that are currently facing the Glasgow housing association are resolved and a ballot is held with the tenants overwhelmingly voting for transfer, when will the first house be modernised and the first home refurbished? Will it be four or five years after the idea was first mooted? How much will have been lost in public sector investment in Glasgow during that time and how much will have been spent on consultancy fees?
Charlie Gordon said:
"We . . . are on the verge of beginning the most ambitious council house modernisation partnership ever launched."
On the verge? And the band played, "Believe it if you like." The pyramids were built more quickly. Only last Friday, at a meeting of the south-west area housing partnership, community representatives were told that the GHA still had not set criteria for the establishment of local housing organisations, which will be expected to assume immediate responsibility for managing the
One of the arguments that we hear for the transfer is that it will create 3,000 much-needed jobs. Given that over the past four years, according to the First Minister in his previous incarnation, only 543 apprentices were trained in Glasgow in construction-related trades across private and public sectors, I thought that that would be a tall order. That was until I received a letter from the Scottish House Builders Association, indicating that the Glasgow and Clyde valley joint structure plan 2000, if approved, will lead to 3,000 job losses in the private house-building sector. Under this Executive, we are to see not only a transfer of stock, but a transfer of jobs.
Finally, what would the SNP—Scotland's party, the party of the Scottish people, independence and national renewal—do? We would abandon the policy of wholesale stock transfer. However, if the Executive presses on, Glasgow City Council's housing debt should be transferred to central Government now; the debt should not be linked exclusively to the tenure of the stock as a lever on the tenants to persuade them which way to vote in a future ballot, should one ever come to pass. Funding for public sector housing should not be dependent on wholesale stock transfer. Resources that are tied into lubricating the wheels of the stock transfer should be allocated now to public sector housing in the city.
The Executive should pull its finger out and secure a relaxation of the public sector borrowing requirement, so that the Government is in line with other European nations in terms of how public investment is secured. We are told that
"This is the only game in town", but that is an insult to the tenants of Glasgow who continue to live by the thousand in substandard housing. The Executive, which boasts daily of additional resources, should direct some of those resources to Glasgow, a city that it has starved of investment. I urge members to support the motion.
I am delighted that the SNP has chosen this subject for debate today, because it gives us the opportunity to extract SNP policy. Fiona Hyslop spent nine and a half minutes criticising the Scottish Executive's policy, and one and a half minutes introducing the SNP's policy. Perhaps in her colleague's closing remarks we will hear more about what the SNP proposes for the future of tenants in Glasgow in respect of the GHA model.
I will deal with the scaremongering that is going round Glasgow at the moment, particularly about
I saw some of the fat cats—the financiers—who appeared before the housing committee in Glasgow in February. One or two of the remarks were about the dowries that they wanted—in other words, land. They showed that they were nervous about the deal, as they admitted that they had never handled 89,000 houses before.
I am sorry, Dorothy. Give me a chance to speak.
I take offence in the name of people such as John Butterly, who has given 25 years to Reidvale Housing Association, and the unpaid local heroes throughout Scotland who have given their time and made things happen in their local communities. I say to Brian Adam that that work happened not just because of subsidies, but because of the commitment of those people to their local communities.
I will bring Fiona Hyslop in later. She must give me some time.
At every tenants association meeting that we attend, we see a wish list. The Armadale Tenants and Residents Association wants new central heating systems. The residents of Red Road, Sighthill, Charles Street and Balgrayhill multistorey flats all want double-glazed windows, fabric improvements and environmental improvements. People in the Ruchazie, Haghill and Carntyne areas all want environmental and fabric improvements. I am talking about groups in my constituency, but such requests are repeated throughout Glasgow. People want us to deliver those improvements with a package of investment throughout communities.
I want to move forward on behalf of my constituents. I want to talk about not what
I would like to bring Fiona in, but I must carry on, because I am struggling for time.
We should have an informed debate. Tenants need support to formulate their plans. We do not want any more isolated housing investment programmes. We want to improve local schools, shopping facilities, nurseries and local amenities.
I will finish with the words that I heard from Rankine Kennedy, who attended a meeting with me and my colleague Councillor Allan Stewart. He said simply that he wanted his children, his grandchildren, their children, his neighbours and all tenants in Glasgow to live with a decent roof over their heads and to feel safe. He wondered whether that was too much to ask in the 21st century.
In May 1977, I was privileged to be elected leader of a minority Tory administration in Glasgow. In the first two weeks, we requested a meeting with the then Leader of the Opposition, Margaret Thatcher, to discuss the city's debt and housing problems.
At the Scottish Conservatives' conference in Perth that year, I was accompanied by my deputy leader, Derek Mason—who was to make a considerable impact on Scottish housing in the years that followed—and the city's treasurer, Maurice Toshner. For 40 minutes, Mrs Thatcher listened to our representations, at the end saying that when she became Prime Minister she would review the situation. Alas, there was no joy when she became Prime Minister. Prior to that, there had been representations to the Callaghan Government on the same themes—no joy. Representations were made to the Heath Government—no joy. What is on offer today is the first gleam of light in this situation.
We should bear in mind the fact that Glasgow now has its lowest population since 1891; the population is still declining. By 2005, Edinburgh's population will surpass that of Glasgow. Glasgow's housing is among the worst in Europe. The city is saddled with a £1 billion debt, accrued for buildings demolished before they were paid for. The council has agreed to ballot its tenants on a proposal to transfer the debt to the Glasgow housing association, which in turn would register with Scottish Homes. If tenants vote yes, the GHA will seek private investment to cover the £1.6
Today, only 26 per cent of Scots live in council housing, compared with 54 per cent around 30 years ago. Some people argue that servicing the debt should not be a condition of transfer. They tell us that, with the rental released by removing the debt burden, plus capital receipts from council house sales, the council could restore its own stock, saving £200 million in VAT. However, Treasury rules do not allow for that approach. For years, people have lobbied for changes to the Treasury rules, but they have always been refused.
I do not exaggerate when I say that, if the vote is no, areas of Glasgow will eventually descend into satellite shanty towns. Political dogma and outdated concepts must not be allowed to stand in the way. It is no exaggeration to say that, in some ways, the vote is more important and more crucial than votes that are cast in political elections.
Sorry—I am on my last minute.
Fiona Hyslop touched on the point that the outcome of the vote will not only decide the future of Glasgow but have a considerable impact on west central Scotland and on Scotland as a whole.
Presiding Officer, I do not know whether I am about to break the rules—if so, so be it; you can throw me out if you like. I show the red card to all those who oppose the housing stock transfer proposal.
I rise to my feet with some trepidation, given that the Liberal Democrats' new enforcer has just appeared in the chamber to keep an eye on me and to ensure that I am on message.
It is a pity that a lot of people who do good work—namely, the housing associations—feel pretty raw about the hints that are being given that it might be dreadful if Glasgow were to go down the stock transfer route. I make a recommendation: as the ballot in Glasgow approaches, we should invite people down from north of Scotland housing associations, such as Pentland Housing Association, Cairn Housing Association and Albyn Housing Association, so
No problem. I will give way in a moment.
As Robert Brown said, housing stock transfer will release money. I was a councillor for long enough to see that, as the years went by, councils were trapped in an old, unimaginative way of doing things.
I warned the minister that I would flag up the issue of the flight of people from city and town centres. There is an empty flat or two above almost any shop that one might look at. An imaginative approach would be to get people back into town centres. That could work well for old people, who would have access to shops and could also help to keep an eye on vandalism. It is completely impossible to take that sort of imaginative approach under the present regime. However, by unlocking the capital resources, we could forge ahead.
I agree with Jamie Stone's comments about regeneration. If he were to examine the record of housing associations and co-operatives in Glasgow, he would see that they have been very much part of the regeneration of the city. The problem is that those are not the associations and co-operatives that we talk about when we discuss wholesale stock transfer. The existing housing associations and co-operatives that undertook the regeneration work in Glasgow are being excluded from the wholesale stock transfer proposal.
I thank Fiona Hyslop for her generous comments about housing associations and co-operatives, but I apply a liberal amount of salt to them.
Robert Brown was right to point out that the situation is driven by the Treasury and the Public Works Loan Board. We cannot alter that. I realise that I am playing straight into the hands of SNP members, who will say, "Well, of course, that's why we want independence and separation". I conclude by telling them, "That's why you are going to fail ignominiously in both Anniesland by-elections, where you will see two historic Liberal Democrat victories".
Today, there has been a lot of talk of figures and statistics and the Deputy Minister for Social Justice has accused me of being wrong. I hope that the figures that I will use during my speech will be challenged
I am glad that both the deputy minister and Paul Martin, a new Labour member, were unable to challenge the fact that, since Labour was elected, £230 million in real terms has been cut from investment in Glasgow's council housing.
I will go further. People ask me all the time, "What's your alternative? It's not enough to stand up and oppose things. What would you do? How would you lever in the essential money that's required for council housing, not just in Glasgow but throughout Scotland?" I accuse new Labour of denying 251,000 council homes central heating and new double-glazed window units over the past three years. By retaining capital receipts and denying councils the right to spend what they have raised from selling their own stock, the Executive has denied councils £640 million of investment.
I am unaware of the details of the Fife situation. However, I can tell Helen Eadie that Fife is being refused £8 million of extra investment this year alone because of the capital receipt clawback.
I am probably the only member in this chamber who is opposed to the sale of council houses. However, if the Executive is going to sell council houses, it should at least allow the councils to reinvest the money in their existing stock. The rejected amendment to today's motion would have released £151 million this year, right now. That would have delivered 10,000 central heating units in the city of Glasgow alone and 60,000 central heating units throughout Scotland in the next two months, with no need to wait until April next year to start delivering. That is the record that the Executive must defend.
Does Tommy Sheridan seriously think that, in a Scottish Parliament with responsibility for Scottish resources, we should not pay any attention to the debt situation faced by Glasgow? Should we simply say to Glasgow City Council, "You can just have all the money with no consequences," as the SNP stance implies? What we are trying to do is one of the most innovative and radical policies that Glasgow has seen for 20 years. We are trying to resolve the city's debt situation at last and get investment into housing. Tommy Sheridan's policies would bankrupt Scotland. He would just tell councils to spend, spend, spend, without thinking of the consequences. It is time that he started to be responsible and told tenants the truth.
I do not know whether the
What would be available to Glasgow? What would happen if the Executive decided to manage Glasgow's capital housing debt without strings and without conditions attached? The deputy minister questions my figures, but I have a letter from David Comely, dated 8 November, which explains that a no-strings policy would create 2,305 brand-new jobs. He goes on to say that he does not know how many jobs the GHA would create, because it does not have a proposal yet. He also lists the possible investment. For example, if the servicing is freed up, £92.2 million of new money becomes available.
However, what Margaret Curran forgets and will have to learn now that she is a deputy minister—I do not mean to be patronising by telling her what she should know—is that the city already invests capital receipts in its capital programme. That is where the £124 million becomes available. If we were to return to the 1996 Tory levels of borrowing consent, we would have not £124 million a year, but £182 million a year.
There is no need for the transfer. Ministers are trying ideologically to abolish council housing rather than to deliver for the tenants of Glasgow the central heating, windows and new jobs that they want, and they should be ashamed of themselves.
The SNP motion asks us to abandon wholesale stock transfer, apparently because of a delayed
The money for servicing the debt could be made available without stock transfer. It is a political decision by the Executive to tie in the servicing of Glasgow's housing debt with stock transfer. That has nothing to do with Treasury rules.
I was about to say that stock transfer is not just about debt; it is about a new way of delivering housing. It means an end to municipal dominance of housing, to be replaced by tenant-led, tenant-driven housing associations.
I understand that the debate has focused on Glasgow. However, the minister alluded to the situation in the Scottish Borders, where I look forward to welcoming her when she visits. If Parliament were to agree to the SNP motion, the progress that is being made in the Borders would be curtailed. I understand that the Eildon Housing Association ballot is to take place next month. That will be the first stage in the decision about whether to amalgamate Eildon's stock and Scottish Borders Council's stock in a new Borders housing association. In my view, that would be a welcome development, because it would mean a boost in investment in housing stock from between £2 million and £4 million per annum to between £10 million and £12 million. It would also mean tenants having a greater say in the delivery of repairs to and development of what would become, in effect, their houses. I would like that model to be adopted in other parts of Scotland.
I accept that there is a difference in scale between housing stock transfer in the Borders—which involves 9,000 houses—and the proposal for Glasgow, where 90,000 houses will be transferred. However, as I said in a previous debate, we do not see the transfer of those 90,000 houses to a single housing association as a permanent arrangement. We support a second-phase transfer, of the sort to which Bill Aitken alluded.
I hope that the minister will confirm to us in writing that tenants' choice will be ended in the Borders, where it has had a corrosive influence. I would welcome the assurance that, when the stock is transferred to the new housing association, tenants' choice will cease. I am grateful to the minister for agreeing to look into this problem. We will explain it in more detail when she visits us in the Borders.
Kenny Gibson made an important point about the stimulation of local economies. If stock transfer takes place in the Borders, we will need a major investment in skills. We will have to call on not only the local enterprise company but the local further education college, to ensure that the required skills are available. In the past, the level of investment has been such that some of those skills have fallen into abeyance. The number of apprenticeships has dropped. Housing stock transfer offers a major opportunity to restore employment levels in the construction industry in places such as the Borders. I hope that in future we can do the same in Glasgow.
Liberal Democrat members have no hesitation in welcoming this policy and the minister's commitment to continuing with it. I hope that there can be a constructive debate in front of tenants and that there will be no scaremongering. The advantages of stock transfer should be explained to tenants so that, when the ballots take place, tenants will be able to make an open, free and fair decision against the background of proper information. I hope that the wholesale stock transfers will proceed, but only if that is the will of tenants.
I have to be on my best behaviour today because my daughter is in the gallery.
Margaret Curran will be worried because I agree with much of what she said. As I said in the previous debate on this issue in September, the Scottish Conservatives support the concept of stock transfer as a positive way forward.
The SNP asserts that council tenants are being given Hobson's choice. The SNP is right to bemoan the lack of investment during the first few years of the Labour Government, as well as Labour's dictatorial linkage between investment and transfer that goes far further toward controlling local government than we did. However, it is wrong to decry the transfer option. It is a fundamental approach that, in the long term, will rid Scotland of its huge housing problems. Stock transfer is not only a means of accessing housing investment, although it does that in a way that the state could never manage and without the damaging economic consequences of hugely increased taxes and borrowing. By choosing transfer the tenants not only are choosing investment, but are choosing to liberate themselves and their communities from the stifling control of local government.
I am sorry, but I do not have
The transfer proposals will give tenants more say in the way that their estates are run, regenerate whole communities and, to echo yesterday's debate, will develop our civic society by giving tenants greater rights and responsibilities, and so bring social justice.
In Glasgow all the problems that exist throughout Scottish council housing are amplified in one place. Of the 87,000 houses that are to be transferred, most require major repairs and refurbishment. The council cannot make those repairs because the resources are not available. That leads to the conclusion that council housing has failed the Scottish people, especially the most vulnerable. That is especially true in Glasgow. Housing associations have delivered what tenants want in an affordable way. If people are given ownership of a problem, they will respond positively. Tenant representatives on housing association management committees are very keen to deal with the problems that blight council housing, such as rent arrears and anti-social behaviour. That is because they have the good of their community at heart.
The economics are such that the mortgage lenders see no difficulty in attracting the substantial investment that is needed to improve the housing stock on transfer and to bring job opportunities to the manual trades. That is not possible for councils, which are constrained by rigid Treasury rules. The massive injection of private investment brings its own disciplines that help to ensure realistic management of repairs for the future rather than a make-do attitude, which says that the state will eventually provide taxpayers' money, while tenants live in cold, damp houses.
The Scottish Conservatives realise that success or failure will hinge on the degree of linkage between communities and the new community landlords. The success of housing associations has been due largely to the fact that they are community based and local. The transfer of stock in Glasgow must be broken down quickly into smaller parts. Tenant management committee members want tangible results from their efforts. A limit must be placed on the initial size of the new landlord organisations to allow for that. That limit should be about 6,000 houses or fewer. That would not preclude joint purchasing of repairs services.
I confirm our support for the continuation of the policy that we introduced. 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.
The debate is yet another example of the SNP wasting the Parliament's time. It is another opportunity for the SNP to peddle even more confusion and distortion. The more cynical among us would perhaps be forgiven for making a connection with the Glasgow Anniesland by-election. It would be more helpful if the SNP could produce something credible. I challenge it to do that. Frankly, SNP housing policy is a mess. Let us consider it.
Policy 1 is where the SNP started—independence is the answer. In 1998 the SNP said that
"there are simply not the funds in the Scottish block allocated to pay for a proper solution."
An independent Scotland would have all the housing debt, taxes would go up and not one extra house would be built.
Policy 2 is that the UK Government is now the answer. The SNP national council wanted the UK Treasury to meet the costs of debt write-off. That write-off would be of not just housing debt, but all debt. We would constantly be going cap in hand.
No, I will not. I suggest that the SNP should grow up and take some responsibility.
"well aware that we could deal with the debt problem through the powers that he and the Minister for Communities have within the Parliament."
In the same debate, policy 4 was revealed. Kenny Gibson, who was on message, got up and said that
"Scotland as an independent, sovereign state is the only way forward for Scottish housing".—[Official Report, 21 September 2000; Vol 8, c 610, 589.]
For goodness' sake, which is it? I would be grateful if SNP members made up their minds and stopped dithering. Instead of carping, they should focus on the issues.
We know the legacy of debt and disrepair that characterises public sector housing in Scotland. In Glasgow, there is a debt of £850 million and a backlog of repairs totalling £1.6 billion. However, stock transfer is not just about Glasgow. Seven councils are currently considering community ownership and a further 24 are undertaking feasibility studies across both urban and rural Scotland. We recognise the need to secure significant new investment in houses and to tackle housing debt. We must also promote community
What is the SNP offering? Small-scale, area-by-area transfers that will take longer to achieve, will deprive tenants of much-needed investment now, and will leave tenants with 90 per cent of the debt. Fiona Hyslop tells us that the SNP would provide an additional £117 million for housing—yes, we are grateful—and would generate private finance, but I question how it would do that. What we are offered is a snappily titled "public service homes and community trust", with no explanation of how it would avoid public sector borrowing requirement rules or lever in private finance—because everybody knows that it would not lever in extra private finance.
While we are on the subject of policy reviews—Fiona Hyslop is charged with reviewing the SNP's policy—I suggest that consistency and coherence in SNP housing policy would be a welcome change. Is the SNP opposed to transfer or not? As is depressingly often the case with the SNP, it seeks to be all things to all people. SNP policy is not opposed to stock transfer, yet SNP members have missed no opportunity to spread fear and misinformation among tenants regarding the Executive's plans. While national activists are prominent in campaigning against transfer, Fiona Hyslop's colleagues in Dumfries and Galloway are supporting wholesale stock transfer. Which is it to be?
Although I regret the SNP's confusion, I condemn the misinformation that is being peddled.
I hope that SNP members are aware that their candidate in Anniesland is saying that the Executive wants all council houses to be transferred to a private company. I have never heard such blatant nonsense in my life. We have made it clear that all transfer landlords will be non-profit making, with tenants in the lead. I hope that the SNP will stop that scaremongering. Stock transfer is not about privatisation; it is about putting people in charge. Is the SNP opposed to that?
I will. Five minutes is not a great deal of time.
Housing stock transfer boils down to a choice. Fortunately, that choice is not up to the SNP or the inherently pessimistic Scottish Socialist Party. The choice is up to the tenants. They can choose between new investment to tackle the legacy of disrepair and allowing the situation stay the same; between tackling debt and lifting the crippling burden of debt and leaving it with the tenant.
Do we have community ownership that puts tenants in the lead now, or do we follow the SNP and wait for decades while homes crumble? Such choices are for the tenants of Glasgow—of Scotland—and I know that they will reject the confusion and distortion of the SNP.
The minister spoke about peddling confusion and would not take any interventions as she did so. However, I have never heard so much confusion from the Labour benches as I have
Our motion says that we are opposed to wholesale stock transfer. I will repeat that: we are opposed to wholesale stock transfer. However, the motion does not say that we are opposed to the idea of stock transfer as such. For example, the facts that were given about what is happening in Dumfries and Galloway were wrong. SNP councillors there have moved for a moratorium on stock transfer until the housing bill has been introduced. Despite the millions of pounds that have been spent, the publication of a framework document in April and the promise of a housing bill for more than a year, Glasgow tenants are no nearer a solution than they were at previous parliamentary debates on the subject.
I was disappointed to hear the deputy minister say that the policy was not under review. I had hoped that the delay might have some positive aspects. For example, could it have been used to investigate the situation and review the policy? It is ridiculous that such an option was not even considered. The deputy minister said that partial transfers are appropriate in certain situations. If so, why is it not appropriate for Glasgow tenants to have the choice of partial transfer? What is wrong with Glasgow? Why can the city not be treated like everywhere else?
We must nail the myth that wholesale stock transfer is the only solution. At a Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee meeting on 2 February, David Comley said:
"If the current debt were removed and the council were able to borrow a sum that rental incomes could sustain, yes, we could achieve investment on a faster time scale."—[Official Report, Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee, 2 February 2000; c 573.]
The Executive trusted that guy to head up its initial proposals, so ministers should not sit there and look as if they think that he does not know what he is talking about.
No. We are getting used to having no information from the Executive.
We must also nail the myth that the SNP has a problem with community-based housing
Although those tried and tested organisations know their stuff, they have not been offered as alternative landlords for their tenants. Is that the great plan B that we have been hearing about? Wonderful. At another Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee meeting, members discussed that great plan in connection with the housing stock transfer report. A proposed recommendation said:
"The Scottish Executive should examine ways for its empowerment objectives to be achieved even where tenants choose not to pursue stock transfer as an option."
It is very disappointing that the deputy minister voted against the inclusion of that recommendation in the report.
Fiona Hyslop mentioned that point in a previous debate. The reason why I voted against that proposal is clear. When we consider community empowerment in the Scottish housing sector, we must do so in the context of an examination of the whole of Scottish housing, not just an examination of housing stock transfer. When it is published, I hope that the housing bill will strongly reflect my commitment to tenant participation. There is more to the housing debate than housing stock transfer.
I did not want a speech.
The fact of the matter is that Margaret Curran voted against the investigation of a plan B for the Glasgow stock transfer. Why is the Executive not considering the tried and tested model being used to offer new small-scale organisation in Glasgow's localities for local residents? Is it because it could be a more expensive option? It could be, but what price social inclusion? Is it because too many tenants would be empowered to make real change in their area and would become highly organised and demanding? I think that it is largely due to a mixture of the desire to keep Glasgow City Council happy and the Executive's patronising and maternal attitude to tenants in Scotland. Glasgow's tenants—and tenant activists across the country—are no numpties. They know what is going on and what the Executive is doing.
Tenants are smart folk, who are perfectly capable of taking informed decisions when they are offered realistic choices. The choice in the Glasgow stock transfer—wholesale stock transfer—is not realistic.
He is not that nice.
This morning, Charlie McFadden from South Lanarkshire Tenants Confederation nobbled me outside the chamber and we had a quick chat about stock transfer in general and about the role of housing associations and housing co-operatives. I like community-based housing associations and co-operatives. Charlie McFadden does not.
I will get on to that in a minute.
Perhaps Charlie McFadden and I will get together some time to discuss stock transfer further, but the point is that if we agree to differ, that is fine, because it is an informed choice. That is what Glasgow's tenants are not being offered. I know that new Labour has a problem with multi-option referenda, but the choice for Glasgow's tenants should be more than a choice between transferring in a wholesale stock transfer and getting money spent on their house or staying with the council, having their house fall down round about them and not getting central heating installed. Robert Brown tried to say that the Executive's proposal was the only option because of Treasury rules. That is rubbish. So many things could be done if we used imagination and we have heard many of them today.
It is a myth to pretend that wholesale stock transfer is the only solution. I believe that Scottish independence would be the best solution, but even under the limited devolution settlement there are things that the Executive could do to empower tenants, to give them real choice and to allow them to control their future. That is what is important.