The Homelessness etc (Scotland) Bill sets the legislative framework for delivering ambitious targets for accommodation for all homeless people by 2012. That is an acceptable, moral and praiseworthy goal towards which we should all set ourselves.
In practical terms, the bill streamlines the current system. It confers additional rights for homeless people, it creates additional obligations for local authorities and it puts homeless people on an equal footing with others, which was not always the case in the past. Above all, the bill provides more effective solutions for those most in need of assistance.
The bill allows a phased approach to full implementation that takes account of the need to proceed on the basis of sound evidence, at a pace that is not only achievable but sustainable.
Following the spending review, the necessary resources have been set aside to implement the first phase over the next three years. The bill comes as a legislative culmination of a long process of improved responses to homelessness, but in many ways it is truly the beginning of the delivery phase of a policy that has been developed carefully in a consultative and inclusive way.
I will not repeat the list of the organisations that Margaret Curran read out, but many organisations and individuals have played significant roles in the development of the bill. I pay particular tribute to the roles of the Social Justice Committee and the Finance Committee, which asked searching questions that helped us to improve various aspects of the bill.
Legislation is an important part of that improved response, but it is only one part. It provides the foundation on which service delivery will be based. Local authorities are currently finalising their homelessness strategies, which will provide the framework for tackling homelessness in the future. Those strategies will respond to the legislative changes in the bill, but they will also look beyond it to focus on what is required locally to prevent homelessness where possible and to find effective solutions where homelessness occurs.
The first step is to carry out a comprehensive assessment of the causes and nature of homelessness in the area. The second is to plan and develop policies and services that will address the problem. The final step is to ensure the delivery of quality services to address
The strategies will incorporate the wider recommendations of the homelessness task force. For example, in developing those strategies, councils should consider concentrated support programmes for people facing eviction. They should review their arrears management and anti-social behaviour policies to ensure that those policies do not contribute to homelessness and should establish crisis-response systems to deal with the immediate aftermath of a household becoming homeless. The strategies will also incorporate health and homelessness action plans, developed jointly with health boards, and will include specific outcome agreements to continue the immense effort that has been made locally to tackle the very serious problems faced by people who sleep rough.
Implementation of the local authority strategies will require the participation and genuine commitment of a wide range of partners—that is a crucial point. Voluntary organisations, health boards, employers, private landlords, the Benefits Agency and homeless people are some of the local partners with whom authorities will need to work co-operatively. The commitment shown by organisations to date demonstrates that the system we propose is workable. We expect councils to act in a co-ordinated and coherent manner and to work in partnership from a sound evidence base. We will monitor the situation closely to make sure that that happens.
It is the Executive's intention to ensure that the bill's implementation will be based on objective evidence of homelessness numbers, resource requirements and availability and local authorities' ability to meet the demands of the bill. Flexibility is important, which is why we have ensured a phased implementation of the requirements. Communities Scotland's regulatory function will also provide an important monitor of our progress.
This Executive and the partnership parties are committed to working in partnership with key stakeholders to ensure that we have real agreement on the way forward and that progress will be sustainable. We will consult on and publish statements on the phasing out of priority need and on the modified operation of local connection.
I believe that this is a landmark bill for the Scottish Parliament. It shows that our parliamentary processes can deliver on the expectations of the Scottish people, that devolution is working and that we are listening and acting on the concerns of people in Scotland.
I look forward to the task that lies ahead for everyone in making sure that the bill does what it says on the tin.