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

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Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour 2:30 pm, 27th March 2003

To ask the Scottish Executive what action it will take to ensure decent standards of housing for all. (S1O-6742)

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

The Executive is committed to eradicating poor-quality housing. Last week, I announced the recommendations made by the housing improvement task force to improve quality in the private sector. Today, I am launching a consultation paper that sets out our proposals for a new quality standard for all social housing. I am determined to stamp out poor housing and to give people homes that are fit for the 21st century.

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour

Does the minister agree that initiatives such as the regeneration of housing of Petersburn, in my constituency, and the introduction of improved rights for tenants in all social rented housing are making a significant, positive contribution to people throughout Scotland? Does she agree that we must ensure that those same rights are extended to people who rent in the private sector and that we should offer them the same level of protection and a guaranteed minimum standard of housing?

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

I am not quite sure of the area to which the member referred—it is perhaps a surrounding village in her constituency. [MEMBERS: "No."] Not quite, apparently. I am sure that if it is a surrounding village in Karen Whitefield's constituency, its regeneration is in very good hands.

The member makes an important point about the rights of tenants in the private sector as well as in the social rented sector. The Executive has made great strides in the past four years to oversee the social rented sector. We have now completed the jigsaw by reviewing the situation in the private sector, and the recommendations of the housing improvement task force contain a package of measures to take us forward in that regard. That applies particularly to standards and a review of the tolerable standard will be going out to consultation. The members of the task force worked very hard to produce a robust package of measures.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat

The minister will know that I have pursued the issue of the level of improvement grants before. There have been endless delays over introducing the new, increased improvement grant for private homes. Will she give an assurance that the delays will be stopped forthwith? Although there will be means testing, if the pot of money stays the same, we may end up with longer waiting lists of very needy people. Will an increase in funding be considered by the Scottish Executive?

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

I recognise that there have been delays in implementation. That is because the test of resources has involved a detailed package of work. The matter is being examined at the moment, and the new grant should be ready for implementation as soon as the new parliamentary session begins. However, the member will know that we have changed the funding system for the private sector from borrowing consents to grants, as I announced in November. We estimate that that will lead to an increase in resources from £45 million to £60 million. Therefore we believe that that sector will be considerably boosted.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson Labour

I know that the minister shares my concern about the desperate shortage of decent, affordable rented housing in many parts of Scotland. I am particularly concerned about the 6,000 people who are stuck on the waiting list for council houses in East Lothian. Is she aware that East Lothian Council has already started to work out plans to borrow so that up to 2,000 houses for rent can be built under the proposals that she announced, I think last month? Is she further aware that we are looking forward to welcoming her in East Lothian shortly to discuss those plans further?

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

My visit to East Lothian is outstanding. I recognise that I made a public commitment to making such a visit and I promise that I will do my best to get there in the next few days.

The announcement of the prudential regime is of particular benefit to councils such as East Lothian. Its announcement means that there is a real opportunity to increase investment in housing in Scotland and to deliver the supply of affordable housing. We now have a complete package that will address the fundamental issues of housing in Scotland. I look forward to my visit to East Lothian because I believe that people there are positive about my announcement, so I expect a warm welcome.