Dundee City Council (Public Sector Housing)

Question Time — Scottish Executive – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 27 February 2003.

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Photo of John McAllion John McAllion Labour 2:30, 27 February 2003

To ask the Scottish Executive what discussions it has held with Dundee City Council about proposals for investment in public sector housing. (S1O-6517)

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

There were extensive discussions with Dundee City Council leading to the successful transfer in December 2001 of nearly 1,500 council houses on the Ardler estate. That will result in 1,000 new houses being built. Discussions continue about progress on the comprehensive study that the council is currently undertaking of the condition of, and future options for, the rest of its housing stock.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion Labour

Does the minister accept that the council and the Dundee Federation of Tenants Associations want to keep council housing in Dundee through the mechanism of arm's-length organisations, which are being pioneered by John Prescott in England? Does she also accept that they are unable to do so because the level of residual housing debt and the poor condition of the stock are such that Executive assistance with debt write-off is required—assistance that has been denied them unless they go for whole-stock transfer and they close down council housing? Why will the Executive empower tenants to do what the Executive wants, but not to do what the tenants want?

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

That really is quite wrong and misguided on two points. First, central Government answers the debt issue and clears the debt, not the Scottish Executive. Secondly, why would we propose a ballot of tenants if we were not prepared to hear what tenants have to say? John McAllion and I disagree fundamentally, because I say listen to all the tenants, not just to a small clique of them.

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

Can the minister confirm whether Dundee City Council will be entitled to apply for prudential borrowing—an question that was also asked by Dundee Federation of Tenants Associations? Does she acknowledge that the level of investment that is needed in Dundee, and the high rents, might bar the council from being able to take that route?

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

As I am sure many members are aware, I announced a major development in housing policy on 7 November, with the introduction of the prudential borrowing regime in relation to housing, to allow local authorities to examine strategies that they wish to develop. I have always made it clear—it is abundantly apparent to anyone who gives a cursory glance to housing in Scotland—that given the level of investment that is required, we need to consider other means to lever in investment in order to ensure that we drive up standards in housing. Part of my announcement in November was about housing standards, because we will not tolerate a situation in which standards are poor. We are considering a variety of strategies, including the prudential borrowing regime, but it might still be the case that local authorities will have to lever in extra investment.

However, we have made it clear that we will work in partnership with local authorities and other housing organisations to ensure that we maximise the opportunities that are available, to ensure that we discuss them with tenants, but also—critically—to ensure that we get the required investment in housing.