Housing Stock Transfers (Investment)

First Minister's Question Time — Prime Minister (Meetings) – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:11 pm on 13 March 2003.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 3:11, 13 March 2003

To ask the First Minister what initiatives the Scottish Executive proposes to promote further local authority housing stock transfers to allow further investment into the public housing sector following the recent successful transfers in Glasgow and the Borders. (S1F-2593)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

The successful transfers in Glasgow and the Scottish Borders and the forthcoming transfer in Dumfries and Galloway demonstrate the success of the current policy. In her statement to the Parliament last November, the Minister for Social Justice said that she would consider how we could further encourage local authorities to consider transfer. An announcement on that subject will be made shortly.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Does the First Minister accept that whole stock transfer may not be an attractive option for many of the remaining councils—I think that Argyll and Bute Council is the only council that is still in the queue—or for tenants in council areas where the housing stock has generally been well maintained? Does he agree that partial stock transfers could generate much-needed investment for specific estates?

Will the First Minister give a commitment, perhaps in the impending announcement, that it will be possible for Scottish councils to have the Treasury support that I understand is now to be made available to English councils to redeem overhanging debt in relation to partial stock transfers? Is the Scottish Executive willing to pilot arm's-length management projects that might allow existing public sector stock to be upgraded, but off the public sector balance sheet?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I think that Margaret Curran has made it clear that she is keen to look at a range of different options. As she will shortly be publishing a consultation paper on the matter, it would be wrong of me to pre-empt that. I emphasise today that the changes to local authority capital borrowing powers, particularly in relation to housing, will make a difference, as will the range of options that are to be made available to local authorities, which will increase their freedom to invest in their local stock. That is a good thing and I look forward to its happening over the next two years.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

I am sure that the First Minister agrees that the proposals in Argyll and Bute for whole stock transfer into community ownership are welcome, not least because they will provide significant, much- needed investment to improve the quality of people's homes. However, will he take on board the fact that the cost of construction is higher in rural and island communities because of a shortage of skilled labour? Will he take account of that additional cost in arriving at a valuation for transfer?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Discussions are taking place with Argyll and Bute Council on that matter. It would be wrong of me to intervene in public at this time. I hope that the discussions continue to be productive. I am sure that they will reach a satisfactory conclusion. If they do, the benefits for the people of Argyll and Bute will be there to be seen.