Glasgow Housing Association

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:38 pm on 26 September 2007.

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Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 2:38, 26 September 2007

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-539, in the name of Nicola Sturgeon, on the Glasgow Housing Association inspection report.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party 3:21, 26 September 2007

The debate, as members know, will centre on the Communities Scotland inspection report of the Glasgow Housing Association. I bring the report to Parliament in recognition of the substantial financial support that the Government provides to GHA and the breadth of interest in the organisation on all sides of the chamber. I bring the report also because it raises issues of considerable substance that demand attention if real and lasting improvements are to be secured for Glasgow's tenants and communities.

The debate is about getting all the issues out in the open quickly. I hope that it will also be about looking forward. At the outset, we need to recognise the regulator's impartiality and integrity. It exercises powers on ministers' behalf, but retains operational independence from the rest of Government. It is recognised for carrying out robust and professional inspections without fear or favour.

There is, of course, a lot of detail in the report, some of which will take some time to assimilate and consider. However, GHA has eight weeks—now down to seven—to produce a comprehensive improvement plan. That plan will be public so that there is a high degree of public accountability. A copy of the plan will be placed in the Scottish Parliament information centre, and I will scrutinise it carefully to ensure that it provides a strong basis for moving forward.

Clearly, some findings are particularly important. I have no doubt that all members who speak in the debate will pick on something different, although I suspect that one theme will dominate.

There are some important positives in the report—for example, it is undeniably good that tenants are becoming more satisfied and it is clear that investment is securing real improvements for tenants—but there are other important areas where significant improvement is needed. Those are strong words indeed from a regulator.

It is more than worrying, for example, that GHA does not have a strong focus on value for money. It is entirely unacceptable that it does not meet important health and safety standards. It is deeply concerning that there are major weaknesses in its management of investment and repairs contracts and that it is poor at collecting rents. Moreover, the failure to understand owners and their concerns must be addressed. GHA must take the lead in sorting out some of those basics—and they are basics. I have already discussed those issues with GHA. It accepts the criticisms in the report and is focused on moving to put them right. I welcome that.

Before I go into more detail on some of the key issues that are important as we move forward, let me say something about the context in which GHA operates. It is right that GHA should be accountable—to tenants, to stakeholders and, not least, to Government, which is the provider of substantial resources to the organisation.

Lest we fall into the trap of pinning all the responsibility on GHA, let us not forget that GHA is the creation of Government—but not of this Government. This Government did not propose large-scale stock transfer in Glasgow. This Government did not put in place the set of arrangements that have proved to be so massively inadequate. This Government did not press ahead without working out either the financial terms or the operational detail of how to achieve second-stage transfer.

Let me make it clear, to Labour members in particular, that I intend to take no lectures from a party that botched the Glasgow stock transfer, misled tenants and failed to deliver a single second-stage transfer in four years. That party now has the brass neck to lodge an amendment demanding that we sort out the mess that it left. Labour members should follow the example of their leader and apologise for getting it so badly wrong.

The good news for the people and city of Glasgow is that this Government intends to make progress, and the regulator's report provides an opportunity for GHA and all its stakeholders to do that. Let me talk about the future, starting with second-stage transfer, on which the lack of progress is deeply disappointing. Yet that is perhaps not surprising when we consider that the previous Government, in the words of the report,

"did not fully consider the practical implications" of it.

In looking to the future, I and the Government are determined for progress to be made. I welcome the fact that several local housing organisations have submitted SST business cases to GHA, and I want progress to be made on as many of them as possible over the coming months. The Government will continue to do everything that it can to support transfers where they can sensibly be achieved. I hope that the first transfers will take place as soon as practicably possible, with others in the pipeline.

If it turns out that the very large number of small-scale transfers that were promised at the time of transfer are not feasible in the near future—because of the inadequacy of the original transfer, that might be the case—I will not accept that as an excuse for GHA retaining an overcentralised management.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I have two specific questions about the stock transfer. First, does the cabinet secretary have a number for the small-scale transfers that she expects? Secondly, will the business case alone determine which ones she will accept?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

GHA, of course, must make that decision and it will be at the point of doing so at its board meeting in October. I do not want to put a number on it at this stage—it is proper that the due process is gone through. I want transfers to take place and I hope that the number will approach double figures. It will be less than what was offered by the previous Administration; the reason for that is that Administration's failure to think through the details.

In the absence of second-stage transfer in any area, GHA needs, in the meantime, to find other ways of creating the genuine local control and empowerment that tenants want. It needs to lead an open, honest and transparent debate about what its strategic and structural future might be. There are some who might find it difficult to engage in that debate, but I encourage them to do so. As the inspection report makes clear, GHA needs to take responsibility for leading that debate. However, GHA cannot solve the Glasgow challenge on its own. Collaboration will be the key to achieving the transformational change that the city needs.

I want to speak about the existing contractual matrix that underpins GHA. We are almost five years from the original transfer and some of the issues in the inspection report convince me that the time is now right to review the current suite of grant agreements that are in place between the Government and GHA. I have met the chair of GHA and we have agreed to progress this. Indeed it is worth noting, in the face of Opposition calls for the Government to intervene, that one of the key weaknesses in the original transfer was a lack of real levers for Government to ensure that public money is achieving all that it is intended to do.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

We have heard quite a lot of positive words about what the Government wants to happen and what the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing expects will happen in the coming months. However, we need more than that. The amendments set out some specific measures. I had hoped to come to the chamber today and hear some specific actions that the Government could commit to if that progress does not happen in the coming months and if the wider changes to GHA's purpose are not taken on board by GHA. Can we please hear about some specific measures for the long term as well as the short?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

That is a reasonable intervention, but the point that I am about to make about the review of the grant agreements between the Government and GHA is, among other things, about giving Government the levers to ensure that the public money that we are investing can deliver what it is intended to deliver. Clearly, progress on second-stage transfer is one of those objectives.

Let me stress that nothing in the review will in any way compromise GHA's viability. It is about securing better value for taxpayers' money and ensuring greater accountability to Government and a better strategic framework for the delivery of improved services for tenants and the regeneration that is badly needed in Glasgow.

The report found GHA sadly lacking in its relationships with owners and said that it must deliver real improvements. I know that the issue of payment timescales for major repairs and refurbishments has been particularly difficult for some owners. Although I am sympathetic to the argument that tenants' rents should not subsidise owners, I recognise the genuine hardship in which some owners find themselves. I have therefore asked GHA to consider whether there is scope for more flexible arrangements for those in most need.

I have laid out some of the Government's early thinking on the way forward and I recognise absolutely that this Government will be held to account with regard to the progress that it makes in that direction. I look forward to hearing the views of members. However, this debate is only a start. I hope that others here and locally will continue to play their part in supporting GHA to find the right way forward in the interests of the tenants and people of Glasgow.

I move,

That the Parliament notes the recent publication by Communities Scotland of the Inspection Report on Glasgow Housing Association (GHA); recognises the importance of putting the interests of tenants at the centre in moving forward; believes that GHA should accept the inspection report in full and deliver progress on all issues raised in the report including second stage transfer (SST) and especially those SSTs that can move forward quickly; deplores the inadequacy of the original basis for the initial transfer of houses from Glasgow City Council, and calls on all stakeholders to work together to achieve substantial improvements for local communities in Glasgow.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

I call Johann Lamont—I am sorry, I should have stressed the first syllable, not the second. Norman Lamont has a lot to answer for.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour 3:33, 26 September 2007

He certainly has.

I am happy to contribute to the debate. There is no doubt that housing always generates strong feelings and, in certain people, an excessive amount of hyperventilation. It is a genuinely serious issue for the Parliament and I want to address the issues that are highlighted in the Labour amendment.

The amendment attempts to make a genuine contribution to finding a way forward. I make no apology for emphasising the significance of the range of housing issues, sometimes conflicting, that matter to communities across Scotland. Those issues are critical and we expect the Executive to deal with them in a reasonable timescale.

There is a balance to be struck between what we spend on social rented housing and the needs of owner-occupiers. We must consider how we address low-cost home ownership; the balance of need between rural and urban areas; the challenge of homelessness; and the balance between our spending on bricks and mortar and our support for homeless people. What do we do about meeting the needs of those who choose to buy a house inappropriately because the way in which we define need, in terms of social rented housing, means that they cannot apply for those houses? As a consequence of that, too much of our social rented housing has become residual and is not used by mixed communities.

There is something for this Parliament to celebrate in relation to housing, because there has been consensus on a broad range of issues, including the work of the housing improvement task force and the homelessness task force. We welcomed the creation of the housing supply task force, but I am disappointed that the Local Government and Communities Committee was informed this morning that the task force will not be consulted on the forthcoming green paper, will not comment on the future of Communities Scotland, and will have no opportunity to influence or shape the comprehensive spending review, which will be critical to the delivery of policies.

I ask the Minister for Communities and Sport, in summing up, to commit at least to continue with the previous Executive's proportion of spending on housing—a spending commitment in the 2004 comprehensive spending review that was recognised by the housing coalition that now lobbies on affordable housing as representing significant progress.

We need action on housing. Some people might be concerned about the debate's narrow focus on the inspection report on GHA.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

The member should let me make some progress.

I acknowledge that wholesale stock transfer has been a controversial topic. There are serious and legitimate concerns, especially in Glasgow, about the inspection report by Communities Scotland. Indeed, some people have remarked to me that they were surprised that GHA was graded as a C and not as a D. There has been action by Communities Scotland to appoint on to the board. The report is challenging and it highlights serious issues, which concern all of us, about the needs and concerns of the tenants and communities of Glasgow. I do not underestimate the challenge that the report presents.

At the stage of transfer, there were evident tensions and anxieties about the future. On the one hand, there were those in communities such as the one that I represent who knew that the community-based housing association movement and co-operatives had the power to transform their areas and wanted them to do that. On the other hand, there were those who had not seen that happen and were anxious about it. Indeed, one argument for wholesale stock transfer was that it would ensure that nobody was left behind. Partial stock transfer depended on individual communities' capacity to be strong enough to take it forward.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

Does the member still agree with her statement, which she made on 25 May 2006 as the Deputy Minister for Communities, that there is no financial black hole in relation to second-stage transfer?

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I absolutely agree with that. There is a challenge for Government back benchers who believe that there is a financial black hole. The solution is not to say, "There is one, and we're not going to do anything about it." They have to address the matter.

Second-stage transfer was part of the core business of GHA that was identified in the ballot. When Communities Scotland, GHA and the accountable officer of the Scottish Executive signed off the transfer, they understood that funding had been provided for second-stage transfer. I do not doubt that Nicola Sturgeon will now understand the power of the official advice—not ministerial direction, but official recognised sign-off—that the finances were correct in that case. That is a significant safeguard.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Will Johann Lamont respond directly to the comment in Communities Scotland's report that the previous Government

"did not fully consider the practical implications" of second-stage transfer?

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I do not accept that. The point that I am trying to make is that, at the stage of transfer, it was important to go at the pace of tenants, to build confidence, and to move on. No one was in any doubt that the finances were in place to deliver second-stage transfer.

What is critical now is the action that is taken in response to the report. There is a clear message that GHA is failing in its basic responsibilities. Those who say that there is a choice to fund either refurbishment or changes to local structures, as Alex Neil has said, are entirely missing the point. The message that has arisen from Glasgow's housing for a long time, which is reinforced by the report, is that investment on its own is not enough. GHA has huge resources, but it is failing in its core services to tenants and owners.

Indeed, the community-based housing association approach shows that local, rational decision making meets local communities' needs and breaks the cycle of investment in failure that has made Glasgow's tenants suffer for too long. That cycle is characterised by centralised decision making that meets the needs of the body rather than the people whom it serves. It was broken by the community-based housing association movement, which has many friends in the Parliament. That is why second-stage transfer is integral to making investment work throughout Glasgow and is not an added extra. Otherwise, the absence of second-stage transfer from GHA's current programme would have meant that its other services were being delivered. We know that that is not the case.

I must ask the minister to rise to the challenge. In our amendment to the motion, we have given reasonable options for what the minister might want to do. It is not enough to say that it is up to GHA when she is faced by the chief executive of GHA who I understand has said that she is in principle opposed to second-stage transfer; by a report from the Government regulatory body highlighting serious failures in GHA; and by tenants and housing association members across Glasgow who have told me that their needs should not become a cheap political football but should drive the approach in the Parliament.

I understand the temptation of an incoming Administration to blame the outgoing Administration for any problems that it faces. I know that Government back benchers will be under pressure to disregard the critical issues that are highlighted in our amendment on a way forward in order to secure the entirely partisan political benefit of attacking their political opponents. I understand that—perhaps I would have done it myself. However, all members on the Government benches who raised concerns about GHA and who promised tenants, owners and communities that they would do something when they were in power should be mindful of the consequence of supporting the motion.

In effect, the motion lets GHA off the hook, saying that it is not its problem. It would sign away the opportunity for the 39 local housing organisations that have developed credible cases for transfer, which are now with GHA. Those cases would be written away with the new model of shared services, which has been around for a long time. We owe it to those tenants to ensure that the cases are considered.

In particular, I urge those who style themselves friends of the housing association movement—many of whom belong in the Government party, as well as in mine—to reflect on what we have identified as a way forward. As I said to Alex Neil, if they think that there is a black hole, they need to address it as a Government. If they recognise, as we do, that there is not a black hole but a failure of commitment, perhaps they can address that. The amendment is deliberately non-controversial, and I urge the minister first to reconvene the ministerial progress group.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

It is time to stop setting up groups to talk about progress—it is time to start making progress. One reason why I propose reviewing the grant agreement is that the agreement that Johann Lamont's Government put in place does not give the Government adequate levers to hold GHA to account. That is what needs to be addressed with real action.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

The ministerial progress group was not a talking shop. It brought together every bit of expertise and commitment throughout Glasgow to deliver. It brought together a programme of joint action of a staggered series of proposed transfers across Glasgow. Members should read the joint action report, because it gives us a road map. Critically, the group brings together people to make a difference—not just a discussion or warm words from the minister.

Secondly, I urge the minister to consider the role of Audit Scotland in exploring the financial issues of concern in the report. That would include offering Audit Scotland the opportunity to investigate GHA's home improvement programme and its impact on owners. Again, I was disappointed by the minister's lukewarm words on that.

Thirdly, I urge the minister to explore other legislative and creative options to use a mechanism of community right to buy to allow those who currently manage properties to see how they could take control.

We urge the minister to explore all those options: be creative and think positively about how matters can be taken forward. There is a challenge in our amendment for the Government, and there are suggestions for action that it cannot justify refusing to consider.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

The Government motion allows GHA off the hook. I urge members on the Government back benches and others to consider the options in our amendment and to support it at 5 o'clock.

I move amendment S3M-539.1, to leave out from "notes" to end and insert:

"agrees that housing is an important priority and calls on the Scottish Executive to come forward with proposals for implementing its housing policy within this session of the Parliament; further notes the Communities Scotland inspection report on Glasgow Housing Association (GHA) and believes that the Executive should act to ensure that GHA meets its responsibilities to its tenants and to owners in the services it provides; further agrees that the Executive should intervene to drive forward progress of second stage transfer in Glasgow, given the critical role of community engagement and ownership in ensuring that the significant investment available to the GHA secures real and lasting improvements to Glasgow's housing, and believes that progress should be based around the following: (1) re-establishing the ministerial progress group, bringing together the broad spectrum of interests and expertise across Glasgow's communities, along with other key stakeholders, to explore the options available to deliver community ownership, (2) exploring the role of Audit Scotland in tackling the issues identified in the Communities Scotland inspection report and (3) exploring possibilities of community right to buy as a means of delivering community ownership."

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 3:44, 26 September 2007

I welcome a significant part of Nicola Sturgeon's speech. It went a distinct distance beyond what is contained in the Scottish National Party motion, and it seemed to accept the Government's responsibility—whether that is the previous or current Government—for having an interest in and moving forward the stock transfer process to second-stage transfer in Glasgow.

Let me define the key context of the debate. Revitalising and regenerating Glasgow's housing stock was and remains one of the biggest challenges in Scotland. It is complex and difficult. Much of the housing stock is substandard and unattractive. It is the bricks and mortar making up communities across the city, some of which have severe problems of multiple deprivation, environmental decay, social fracture and lack of opportunity.

However, whether houses and neighbourhoods are good, bad or indifferent, they are home to many of Glasgow's citizens and the centre of people's lives. We should make no mistake—the way forward that the previous Scottish Government chose, and which the tenant ballot supported, was bold and visionary. It recognised that the old municipal model of social housing had in significant measure failed, as is largely accepted throughout the Parliament. That approach also recognised that the missing dynamic of change was the talent, interest, involvement and commitment of local residents and the empowering potential of community control. Before us was the outstanding success, particularly in Glasgow, of the housing association movement in reinventing and remotivating communities.

A legitimate part of the debate is to refight battles—to argue about whether former ministers got matters right and whether funding arrangements are appropriate—but to do so is ultimately sterile. Today's debate must focus on where we are now and how we move forward. I supported stock transfer under the previous Administration and I accept that there are lessons to learn from the complex process that has taken place over the years.

In a letter in today's Herald, Shettleston Housing Association LHO's chair says:

"The inspection report into Glasgow Housing Association may make interesting reading for professionals but for tenants it is simply depressing and dispiriting ... we want to be able to shape our own future ... Community ownership isn't the problem, it's the answer to what has been wrong with Glasgow's housing ... We need the government to listen to us and to act."

I, too, found Communities Scotland's report depressing, because of the poor rating that GHA was given and because it swallowed GHA's position on second-stage transfers hook, line and sinker. It is astonishing that the report concluded that all parties would have to

"accept that GHA will have a landlord role in the medium to longer term."

It also said that large-scale transfers to other

"organisations can be an option, but only in the longer term."

Like many members, I do not accept that. Put baldly, Communities Scotland claims that having an organisation of impossible size—one of the largest bodies of its kind in Europe—that rated a C grade for its achievements is preferable to transferring stock to housing association organisations with a proven track record.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Robert Brown is making a good and considered speech. I hope he will take from my comments the point that the Government is committed to community ownership and to second-stage transfer. GHA was established as a transitional organisation and I still see it as a transitional organisation.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I am pleased by the cabinet secretary's comments, because the report said:

"Uncertainty over the central issue of the future ownership of its assets makes it difficult for GHA to develop and appraise options for its direction".

The main uncertainty is that which GHA itself creates. The purpose of establishing it, the terms of the ballot and the agreement that was signed at the beginning—which Johann Lamont was right to touch on—all proceeded on the central importance of second-stage transfer. Liberal Democrats and many others would not have given support otherwise. It is astonishing that people in GHA could imagine at the start, during the development of GHA's various and rather conflicting business plans or now, that they could get away without building into the fabric of GHA's business plan effective and sustainable steps towards achieving the transfer to community-based organisations and GHA's demise. GHA was always intended to be mortal and to have the lifespan of a middle-sized mammal, not the hundreds of years that are allocated to a giant turtle.

GHA and others claim that second-stage transfer is impossible because of the funding gap. I will tell members briefly some of the reasons why I do not accept that. The first reason relates to the original agreement. The second concerns key operating statistics. A typical housing association's management costs are about £900 per unit, whereas GHA's costs are £1,271 per unit. A housing association's regeneration costs are typically £18,000, whereas GHA's costs are typically £28,000. The disastrous record of tension with the owners for whom GHA factors has already been mentioned. Other social landlords are involved in more innovative schemes that take wider action.

The third and last reason relates to GHA's approach to the figures and what has been described as its financial inertia in restructuring the business. GHA has sought to proceed on the basis of financial neutrality, but not one house has transferred on that basis. From long involvement in housing policy and practice, I know that the issue of housing and finance is complex and is ultimately subsidiary to the strategic housing objectives. We can deduce that from the changes that have taken place in the business plan.

The cabinet secretary comes to the matter with a fresh mind. She has the report from Communities Scotland and the views of GHA, and I am sure that she will have the views of the housing associations. The matter should be required to move forward on an agreed basis, but the Government should take the lead. I hope that the cabinet secretary will confirm that she will not accept GHA subverting the original purpose of stock transfer.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

This is a highly political issue that must be determined in the best interests of Glasgow, its communities and its citizens. I hope that the minister can go a little further today and build on the assurances that have been given by the cabinet secretary.

I move, as an amendment to amendment S3M-539.1, amendment S3M-539.1.1, to insert at end:

"and (4) requiring GHA to develop an effective business plan which incorporates the delivery of community ownership through second stage transfers and on the basis of break-up of GHA in due course."

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 3:50, 26 September 2007

In a debate that was always likely to generate more heat than light, I nevertheless find some cause for optimism. The fact that we are having the debate means that the dead hand of municipal socialism, with its insensitivity and uncaring approach to the genuine aspirations of council tenants, has been removed from the shoulders of those tenants. That cannot be anything other than a good thing.

The report, which is very mixed, contains upsides and downsides. More tenants are satisfied with GHA, but it is poor at handling complaints. It has got better at responding to the problems of homelessness, but it has not responded at all adequately to the genuine complaints of home owners who have been sucked into a repair process that, to be frank, seems at times to be governed by a scattergun approach rather than by a more realistic approach that would regard repairs and rehabilitations as being necessary rather than just desirable.

Over recent years, GHA has delivered substantial investment in Glasgow's housing, for which credit must be given to the previous Administration. We are further down that route, but, at the same time, we are no further forward with regard to what was the apex of everybody's housing ambition—housing transfer—as encapsulated in the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001.

When the matter was first debated, I made it clear that the Conservative party regarded the formation of GHA as a transitional approach. I was far from happy about it, but I was persuaded by the then Executive that, in order for the secondary transfer to take place, it was necessary to go through the initial stage of dealing through GHA. In retrospect, I should not have allowed myself to be so easily persuaded. It is now apparent that that Executive did not fully consider the practical implications of GHA's being simultaneously a large landlord and a transitional vehicle.

There is genuine agreement in Parliament that one of the great success stories—if not the greatest success story—of post-war Scottish public sector housing has been the housing association movement. Of course, there has been the odd failure, but the unmistakeable message that comes across, not only in Glasgow but elsewhere in Scotland, is that when people are given responsibility for dealing with their housing problems, they respond positively—in some cases, magnificently. Therefore, it is obvious that we should encourage the housing association movement and ensure that as many as possible of those who are still forced to operate in the public housing sector do so through a housing association that is accountable to local people and responsive to local needs. That is where, sadly, we have gone very wrong.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I am interested in Bill Aitken's view on the suggestion in the Communities Scotland report that GHA will have a long-term existence and that, in some way, we should depart from the objective of early second-stage transfer, which he and I have both supported over the years.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I fully acknowledge that Robert Brown has been entirely consistent in his approach. He will agree that the real success of GHA will be in ensuring that it goes out of existence. That may seem to be somewhat perverse logic, but it would genuinely be the best way forward. We must look for the best way forward.

I do not wish to reiterate what I said six years ago—although looking around me today, I am reminded that we have now been at this for a considerable time and progress has been zilch. That cannot be tolerated any longer. I am encouraged by what the cabinet secretary said today, but I serve notice that unless there is tangible and manifest progress towards secondary transfer, we will seek to revisit the matter, and the cabinet secretary must accept that she will be held to account in the chamber.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

In a moment.

I accept that there are technical difficulties and I refer the cabinet secretary to the proposal that I made the last time we discussed the issue, to the effect that a model of 6,000 to 8,000 houses would be acceptable.

With your consent, Presiding Officer, I will allow Miss Lamont to intervene.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

As long as you finish speaking within a minute.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

Does Bill Aitken accept the concerns of some people, particularly those within the housing association movement, that the message of the Communities Scotland report is that breaking up of GHA into big chunks will defeat the aspirations of many organisations that have put in fundable and credible business plans? Would you ask GHA to take those seriously and not impose a number?

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

That is a valid point, but we have to consider that whatever the division is, there has to be local accountability and, at the same time, a critical mass that will allow a housing association to function, to make purchases and to carry out repair programmes. If the number is too small, that will be difficult.

This is an important debate and members take the issue very seriously. However, unless some progress is made, a lot of credibility will be lost.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party 3:56, 26 September 2007

At the beginning of this week, Wendy Alexander apologised for six years of Jack McConnell. She owes Glasgow tenants a huge apology for the mess that she and her successor communities ministers have made of Glasgow housing. Glasgow Housing Association is the housing association that Wendy built. She should apologise for making wholesale housing transfer a precondition for writing off Glasgow's, or any local council's, housing debt. The money that has been wasted in the exercise could have built hundreds, if not thousands, of new homes, or refurbished thousands more. From day 1, there has been a financial black hole at the heart of GHA's business plan, originally written by the Executive and Wendy, the minister.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Order. The member must refer to other members by their full names.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

Labour promised second-stage transfer but did not cost or fund it.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

I will in a minute. When Wendy Alexander, as the Minister for Communities, and her successors, were told about that black hole, they chose to ignore and deny it.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

In a minute. We have seen report after report. In October 2005, PricewaterhouseCoopers's report, which cost the Executive £100,000, told us that there was a big financial black hole. A month later—

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

I will let Johann Lamont in soon.

In November 2005, Savills reported that there was a big black hole. In March 2006, the Auditor General's report said that there was a big black hole, but on 25 May 2006, Johann Lamont, as the Deputy Minister for Communities, denied that there was any black hole. When I published a research paper a month later, she said that I was scaremongering. Then, a couple of months after that, another £100,000 report commissioned by the Executive—from Deloitte this time—said that there was a £500 million black hole. Then—lo and behold—Malcolm Chisholm admitted that there is a big black hole but, even today, Johann Lamont contradicts Malcolm Chisholm and says that there is no black hole.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

Perhaps Alex Neil, who is now clearly a great supporter of his party, unlike in the past, could define the logic of his position. If there is a black hole, are you calling on the Executive to fill it or have you bought GHA's line that it should continue to exist as it does now? Your minister says that GHA is a transitional body, but you are saying that it is a black hole—I do not agree with that—so will your minister fill that black hole? Otherwise, your position is totally illogical.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

I remind members that they must speak through the chair. I am not going to do anything so do not talk to me.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

I remind Johann Lamont that the ministerial group that was announced in January 2006 as an urgent measure did not meet for three months. Its members talked and talked for months and months after that, but the group did nothing but produce some financial models that were commissioned from another set of consultants, which showed that the minimum cost of second-stage transfer would be £190 million and, under certain scenarios, could be as much as £500 million. I am sure that the reason for the silence among the Labour back benchers is that they know the truth of the matter.

We have to face up to reality. We are in favour, as the cabinet secretary has said, of stock transfer to community owners, but we must acknowledge that we are where we are. I am no apologist for GHA—far from it. However, despite what Robert Brown and Johann Lamont have said, the reality is that it is Labour's big black hole rather than GHA's. We have been left to clean up Labour's mess—but the Scottish National Party Government will do that.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour 4:01, 26 September 2007

No member who has held a surgery is unaware of the heartbreak that lack of access to affordable social rented housing can cause. It is against that background that we need to acknowledge just how crucial decisions about the future of Glasgow Housing Association are. If Alex Neil thinks that his speech is doing a service to tenants in Glasgow, he is very wrong: he has made a good defence for the Glasgow Housing Association rather than what should have been a strident criticism of its actions—or its lack of action—over the past few years.

There has been significant progress in the provision of social rented housing, but the changing natures of our society, and of the demands that are placed upon the housing services, mean that the next government to find enduring solutions to those problems will be the first government to do so. The problems demand much more than investment alone. There are a multitude of issues that must be addressed, and they are perhaps more deep seated than any of us has previously recognised. The problems extend the length and breadth of Scotland—they undoubtedly exist even in the great city of Glasgow, which is showing day after day that it can, and will, be one of the most vibrant and dynamic cities in Europe.

It was right to create the Glasgow Housing Association, as it was right to break up a monolithic housing provider that struggled to inject the diversity that is required to meet the strong desire for influence and involvement that has been expressed by tenants in Glasgow. The stock transfer process afforded hope to people who wanted greater involvement in their homes; it afforded far greater opportunity for investment in those homes and it afforded the opportunity to break up a monolith that was not best placed to estate manage and plan for the future of that stock properly. The tragedy is that the opportunities that those initiatives should have presented to the people of Glasgow are now being missed. It is right and proper that the reasons why those opportunities are being missed should be the focus of this afternoon's debate.

As has been acknowledged by the cabinet secretary, Glasgow Housing Association was set up in a way that minimised political involvement or interference. I believe fundamentally that that was done for the right reasons. Sadly, however, I believe that that has been used against the best interests of Glasgow's tenants.

Glasgow Housing Association is an organisation that was designed to divest itself of its considerable power, in the interests of the tenants who occupy houses in Glasgow. In my view, it all too quickly became fond of itself. That is not an uncommon phenomenon in the public sector, but it is a dangerous phenomenon which, to be quite frank, politicians have found to be difficult to deal with. The people of Glasgow deserve better. They also deserve better than a parliamentary debate that merely seeks to apportion blame.

I am encouraged by the cabinet secretary's statement that the Government continues to regard Glasgow Housing Association as a body of transition; that is exactly how it should be. The people of Glasgow deserve a Government—informed by the report and supported by Parliament—that is prepared to make the necessary changes to ensure that the transfer to greater tenant control begins and is implemented as quickly as possible.

Anyone who walks around the city of Glasgow and sees the transformation that is taking place there knows that the city is inhabited by people who are determined to improve their lot and to compete with the best in Europe. The hard truth is that an organisation that was created for the right reasons and which was granted a unique level of autonomy has failed to achieve its objectives and has failed the tenants of Glasgow. I am convinced that if the minority Government is prepared to tackle that serious and pressing issue, it will receive cross-party support in Parliament.

There is a strong and relevant test, not just of Parliament but, more especially, of the Government. Will there be a willingness to examine the situation in Glasgow Housing Association as it is and to focus not on apportioning blame—blame lies in many quarters—but on the partnership that is required in Parliament to find, in early course, the solutions that will achieve the original intentions of the stock transfer? I am encouraged by the cabinet secretary's remarks, but the people of Glasgow deserve no less than a serious attempt to divest Glasgow Housing Association of its power and position and to place control in the hands of the people who care and know most—the tenants of Glasgow.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party 4:07, 26 September 2007

I start by responding to a couple of points that previous speakers have made. I agree completely with Tom McCabe that the monolithic housing department that was Glasgow City Council needed to be broken up. Before 1999, I referred to Tom McCabe's colleague Frank McAveety, who was then the leader of Glasgow City Council, as the largest slum landlord in western Europe. Tom McCabe did not address the fact that we have replaced the monolithic housing department that was Glasgow City Council with another monolithic housing department—Glasgow Housing Association. That is the reality.

It is a pity that Johann Lamont is not in the chamber, because at one point in her speech I tried to intervene to ask her about part (3) of the Labour amendment, which states that we should explore

"possibilities of community right to buy as a means of delivering community ownership."

I point out to the missing member that Kenny Gibson and Fiona Hyslop lodged just such an amendment, which Labour members defeated, during consideration of the Housing (Scotland) Bill. It is a bit rich now for the member to call for something that the SNP advocated but Labour rejected.

It is important for us to look forward, but it is equally important that we recognise where the problems have come from and who is responsible for them. I understand that Johann Lamont and other Labour members would like us only to look forward and to just accept that they had no part in the matter. Even today, she continues to be in denial about her personal role, as a former housing minister, and about the role of Labour and the Liberal Democrats in this debacle. We must remember that wholesale stock transfer was the flagship policy of the Labour-Liberal Executive. It is right and proper that SNP members and the people of Glasgow should judge Labour and the Liberal Democrats by the failure of that policy.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

I ask the member to give me a minute to make some progress.

The people of Glasgow voted for second-stage transfer of their homes to community associations, but the GHA inspection report makes it quite clear that GHA was never set up financially or structurally to achieve that aim.

There are two possibilities at play: either the previous Executive was so stupid that it did not put in place the mechanisms by which second-stage transfer could proceed, or it knew exactly what it was doing and did not anticipate that second-stage transfer would proceed in the future. The reality of the situation is that, from 2001 onwards, my colleagues and I asked repeatedly about timescales and timetables. In May 2006, Johann Lamont said that second-stage transfer in Glasgow was not a problem to with there being a financial black hole and that progress was being made. In November 2006, another former housing minister, Malcolm Chisholm, said that ministers wanted

"some transfers to move forward in the near future ... Indeed, that will be an absolutely central priority for me over the next few weeks, and I am having on-going meetings with the different players in Glasgow to ensure that that happens."—[Official Report, 30 November 2006; c 29909.]

No wonder the previous Labour Government refused to accept Kenny Gibson's amendment to the Housing (Scotland) Bill, which would have put a five-year limit on second-stage transfer. If the previous Executive had accepted that amendment, second-stage transfer would have by now taken place in Glasgow.

I understand that 39 bids—accounting for nearly a third of the housing stock in Glasgow—to take forward the programme have been made to GHA. The cabinet secretary is committed to second-stage transfer. Along with her SNP colleagues, she has already acknowledged that GHA was never more than a transitional body, so I hope that she will move as quickly as is practicable to ensure that the maximum number of transfers can take place as quickly as possible.

Photo of Jim Tolson Jim Tolson Liberal Democrat 4:12, 26 September 2007

This is a debate in which the SNP claims to be backing the views of Communities Scotland, even though it sought to abolish that organisation in its recent manifesto. Does that mean that the SNP Government is willing to retract its manifesto promise to drastically overhaul or even disband Communities Scotland, or is it damning an organisation that, on the whole, does a very good job for Scotland?

The SNP may not have liked stock transfer, but it should now acknowledge that, where tenants voted for it, their democratic choice should be accepted. There is little doubt in Glasgow or elsewhere that Glasgow Housing Association is, just like the former Glasgow City Council housing department, simply far too big and unwieldy to adequately serve the tenants of Glasgow. The best way forward for Glasgow's tenants is to move towards the break-up of such a monolithic organisation by progressing to second-stage transfer as soon as possible.

The Liberal Democrats remain committed to making progress towards second-stage transfer for Glasgow, and we encourage the use of community management and ownership as the model that is best suited to meet the needs of the people of Glasgow. Members should remember that community ownership is not privatisation by the back door, as some people have claimed. Such models are widely used and work on a not-for-profit basis, ensuring that any profit gain is ploughed back into the organisation to provide direct help in improving the quality and availability of rented housing stock in an area. We also believe that, to ensure delivery of community ownership, it is essential that GHA's business plan include a commitment to delivering second-stage transfer as soon as possible.

GHA is the only housing association in Scotland in which there is a need for a second-stage transfer; all other transfers involve only one change. Communities Scotland has rated the performance of GHA as fair, even though it had £900 million of debt written off as part of the transfer process. Stewart Maxwell said that the fact that GHA insists that owner-occupiers repay money for repairs within a year is a relatively small issue. That may be the case for someone who is on a minister's salary but, lest he forget, it is not as easy for people who are on low salaries and are struggling to make ends meet.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

Will the member take an intervention on that point?

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I wonder whether the Liberal Democrats support the call for Audit Scotland to examine the rights and interests of owners in the programme that GHA developed.

Photo of Jim Tolson Jim Tolson Liberal Democrat

I thank the member for that question.

Johann Lamont's amendment certainly fills in many of the gaps in Nicola Sturgeon's motion—for example, by seeking to make the Government accountable for implementing its housing policy in a defined timescale. I ask Ms Lamont to accept, however, that the amendment in my name is an improvement on her amendment. My amendment calls for Glasgow Housing Association to confirm its commitment to what we all seek, which is community ownership by second-stage transfer, secured through a robust business plan. Only through the move to smaller housing associations will Glasgow tenants obtain the real benefits that are enjoyed by many housing association tenants throughout Scotland.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour 4:15, 26 September 2007

SNP members referred to the failure of the GHA stock transfer. If that is their version of failure, I will speak of the so-called failure in my constituency that has seen £115 million of housing investment. Indeed, Nicola Sturgeon's constituency has seen £64 million of housing investment and Glasgow as a whole has seen over £0.5 billion of such investment. If the minister wants to disassociate herself from that investment, I am happy to support her in that. In fact, if she is happy to disassociate herself from any of the new-build initiatives that we will see in my constituency, I am happy to be there at their launch and confirm that she does not support them.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I am genuinely not aware whether Paul Martin was present during my speech, so I will just read out the relevant part. I said:

"It is clear that investment is securing real improvements for tenants."

When I talked about the failure of the stock transfer, I was talking about the failure of the previous Administration to deliver Does Mr Martin agree that that was indeed a failure?

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

I am afraid that the minister is not being as constructive as previous housing ministers have been. She should give credit where credit is due—some of her fellow SNP members should have done likewise.

The minister did not pay tribute in her speech, though it is important to do so, to the 600 voluntary members on the management committees of local housing organisations. Those organisations would not exist if people did not give up their time day in, day out, to ensure that the investment that is in place is used in the best possible way for local priorities. The minister should give due recognition to those people in her closing remarks because they are local heroes who make a difference in our constituencies throughout Glasgow.

As Tom McCabe said in his speech, we must have a balanced debate about the GHA situation. I would simply say that GHA has, to use a famous Glaswegian saying, overstayed its welcome. As Johann Lamont and many other members have recognised, GHA has taken a lethargic approach to second-stage transfer. However, I do not want second-stage transfers to be pushed out the door just for the sake of it. Whatever second-stage transfers are considered, we must ensure that there is a robust argument for them so that they can deliver for future generations. The issue is not just delivering second-stage transfer but ensuring that we deliver futures for our communities.

Another major disappointment for me is the poor relationship between GHA and community-based housing associations. I recognise that there may be faults on both sides of the argument, but I call for the minister to show leadership. The previous minister established a foundation that ensured that we brought together as many stakeholders as possible in the working group, which was helpful. We should ensure that community-based housing associations share best practice with GHA and that they are involved in the development of second-stage transfer. I am not convinced that good practice and a robust relationship are in place.

The Communities Scotland inspection report refers to the poor handling of complaints by GHA, which is a particular issue that should be addressed.

We have had a good debate. We should consider ways in which we can work together and put in place a timeline to ensure that we deliver second-stage transfer. A robust argument must be made in that respect.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party 4:20, 26 September 2007

The brass neck of the Labour Party is truly amazing. It is suggesting that everyone else is responsible and to blame. I say to the Labour members that they orchestrated what has happened, they put forward the policy and they have left us, the Government, to deal with the mess. They should not give us or the Glasgow people any platitudes. They are responsible and they cannot wriggle out of it.

Given that Wendy Alexander had the courage to apologise to the Labour Party for its election defeat in Scotland, I had hoped that she would have had the courage to apologise here to the people of Glasgow who voted for the stock transfer. They did so in the belief that transferring Glasgow's housing stock to GHA would give them new-build housing—nothing has been built yet—more social rented homes, more good houses for rent and local and accountable community ownership, but they have had none of that and they are bitterly disappointed that the promises have been broken.

We should not forget Glasgow City Council's role in all this. One of its chief people, who played a leading role in the stock transfer, is an MSP. It was not just the Parliament, Wendy Alexander and the Labour Party that were responsible; Glasgow City Council played a role, too. The fiasco that it has presided over has been allowed to continue because of inaction and cowardice by the Labour members, who did not challenge it.

I am not holding my breath, but the people of Glasgow deserve an apology and a commitment from the Labour Party to work with the Government to sort out this mess once and for all. However, the Labour Party amendment makes it clear that it is unwilling to accept responsibility for its past failings and is unable to look to the future.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I make this appeal to the member: please do not underestimate the understanding that exists among those of us who do not have an immediate interest in the problem.

We know that the previous Government did not do everything that it should have done and that lots of mistakes were made. However, before I vote tonight, I want to know the difference between the Government's proposal and the Labour amendment—I think that I can understand the Liberal Democrat position. I want to know the practical difference between what Labour will do and what the Government will do.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

I am sure that the minister will answer that question in his summing up. I am sorry if Margo did not quite catch the cabinet secretary's opening speech in which she laid out those differences. I have only five minutes, but the cabinet secretary had 11 minutes. GHA will not be let off the hook. I am sure that the minister will be able to respond to Margo, who I thank for the intervention.

Back in 2000, Wendy Alexander, commenting on the stock transfer, said:

"Power will cascade down to local level, with tenants playing a pivotal role in managing their own communities".

It certainly looks more like a trickle than a cascade. Those were grand words, but they were only words. I hope that the member or her colleagues can explain why we did not see any cascading in their years of power. I might not be able to put it as grandly as Wendy Alexander did, but I will work to ensure that second-stage transfer takes place and that GHA works itself out of existence and hands over responsibility to the people who should have had it: the LHOs, many of which are waiting in the wings with years of experience and costed plans. They must be given the opportunity to deliver SST.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

Does the member agree that the previous Executive failed not only in relation to stock transfer but in not giving leadership and direction to Glasgow's housing demolition process? Many communities still have no idea whether their houses will be maintained or demolished and face uncertainty and fear in that regard.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

I thank Bob Doris for his intervention, as I thought of intervening on Paul Martin on that point. In areas such as Springburn and Maryhill, people were moved here and there and had to live in limbo because plans were not costed or put forward properly.

I welcome the cabinet secretary's comments on owner-occupiers and her recognition that more needs to be done to address their concerns. No one should be subjected to the horrors to which owner-occupiers have been subjected, particularly by social landlords. All that people asked for was fair and equitable treatment.

Wendy Alexander is fond of delivering fairytales—indeed, she delivered one to John Swinney one day. This is not a fairytale; this is a horror story that has been written by Labour and perpetrated on the people of Glasgow. They deserve better and that is what the Government will give them.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Before I call Claire Baker, I remind members to address each other by the member's full name.

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour 4:25, 26 September 2007

I am pleased to speak to the Labour Party amendment and to take this opportunity to talk about housing issues that affect communities throughout Scotland, including Glasgow. The Government has brought a narrow focus to the debate. In my speech, I will broaden out the discussion in line with Labour's amendment.

There is no doubt that the increased supply of social housing is of crucial concern in Glasgow and throughout Scotland. The issue is not a recent one, although it has become particularly acute as a result of the current high demand for affordable housing solutions in a buoyant housing market. The problems that stock transfer in Glasgow sought to address were long-standing ones. Whatever the criticisms of GHA, there is no doubt that the situation in Glasgow required radical solutions to improve standards of housing for tenants and to address the problem of the huge debt that had accumulated.

Of course, there has been a great deal of debate about how the process has unfolded, but it is unworthy of the priorities of addressing the needs of tenants in Glasgow to focus only on a critique of the current situation and opposition to the policy, without providing specific measures for the long term.

As Tom McCabe and other members outlined, the future of Glasgow housing is of crucial importance to the people of Glasgow and their representatives. In the Labour Party amendment, we have set out clear proposals to progress the situation. In the spirit of consensus, I hope that the cabinet secretary will give due consideration to the content of the amendment.

As I am a Mid-Scotland and Fife MSP, GHA does not directly impact on my constituents, but its reputation is important to the future of the housing association movement and to community ownership. I appreciate that the cabinet secretary recognises the scale of the housing issues that face Glasgow and Scotland. This week, the Prime Minister announced an investment of £8 billion for affordable and social housing, which is a 50 per cent increase in funds for social housing.

In its programme for Scotland, the Government stated that it would set out proposals for the provision of affordable housing. Although I appreciate the importance of today's discussion on GHA, and the support that all members have expressed for second-stage transfer, it is regrettable that the cabinet secretary did not take the opportunity that the debate gave to set out proposals for the whole of Scotland.

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour

I am sorry, but I had to revise my speech twice to reduce it in time.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

Thank you. Does the member accept that one of the reasons why stock transfer went through in Glasgow and other places was debt write-off? Does she agree that the Treasury should write off the debt in Edinburgh, Renfrewshire and other places that voted against stock transfer and in the local authority areas where no transfer ballot has taken place thus far? Would that not be an excellent way of providing local authorities with the resources to enable them to tackle the lack of affordable housing?

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour

There are different solutions to tackling debt. It is up to the Government to take forward proposals in that area.

I take the opportunity of speaking on a housing platform today to raise a few issues that are relevant to Fife. In Fife, we face two major challenges in housing: first, more people are expected to locate to Fife and, secondly, we have a need for good-quality affordable housing, both for sale and for rent, to ensure that people who choose to live in Fife are able to stay in the communities where they have strong links. The issue is one that other members raised in relation to Glasgow.

The average house price in Fife is just over £130,000, while the average salary is just under £20,000. Around 12,000 people are on the housing list, a figure that includes nearly 4,000 people who have applied for a transfer. As in Glasgow and throughout Scotland, there are issues to address in Fife in the rented sector in terms of the availability of affordable and mixed-tenure housing.

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour

I am sorry, but I am short of time. I took an intervention from Kenneth Gibson.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that a reappraisal of the housing land requirement in Fife is out for consultation. If it is approved, 4,270 fewer homes will be built in Fife over the next two decades than were originally planned as part of the structure plan. I remain to be convinced by the arguments supporting that reduction. Restricting house building in Fife will increase house prices further, run the risk of pricing many people out of the market, and stall town centre regeneration and leisure developments.

Another crucial element will be the type of housing to be built. I would have welcomed details from the Government on its manifesto commitment to reserve a minimum of 25 per cent of all new housing developments for affordable housing; and I would have welcomed details on how it plans to ensure that the element of affordable housing includes a mix of properties, so that new developments are inclusive of communities and are not simply commuter villages that sit on the edge of more established towns and villages. I hope that the minister will take those points into consideration when considering the plan's approval.

I look forward to the Government providing firm solutions to meet housing needs in Scotland and to address the situation in Glasgow. At a time when it is clear that we need a great deal of investment in affordable housing and such investment is being committed in England and Wales, it is crucial that the Government come forward urgently with proposals for affordable homes in Scotland. I urge the SNP to match, if not exceed, plans for affordable homes in the rest of the United Kingdom. I am disappointed that it has not taken the opportunity to do so today, but I hope that the SNP will return to Parliament in the near future on this crucial issue. I hope that it will bring forward proposals for implementing its housing policy within this session of Parliament.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat 4:31, 26 September 2007

To use similar words to those used by Bill Aitken about the Communities Scotland report, I think that this debate has had its good bits and its bad bits.

I am sorry that Alex Neil is not in the chamber. I wanted to say to him how warmly we have all welcomed the fact that he is now a close supporter of the Scottish National Party. However, in his transition, he does not yet appear to have resigned his membership of the hyperbolic tendency.

I want to raise a serious point, and I hope that it answers the point that Margo MacDonald raised. Tom McCabe said that GHA was set up in good faith. It was intended by the Government of the day to deliver the will of Parliament on the stock transfer and to deliver on the vote of the good people of Glasgow on the issue. There was no doubt about that. Some people in the debate have said, "Well, yes—it's all the Government's fault." However, there is a puzzle to which they have to give an answer, and it concerns the very curious conclusion of Communities Scotland. Somehow—despite the will of Parliament and despite what the previous Government said—Communities Scotland concluded that GHA can have a longer life. That conclusion is wholly inconsistent with the purpose for which GHA was set up.

That brings us to why Liberal Democrats support the Labour amendment with, we hope, the addendum to it in our amendment. I say to Margo MacDonald that, if we look in the middle of the motion, we see that it says

"that GHA should accept the inspection report in full".

In other words, the Government supports the view that GHA should have a longer life. Liberal Democrats do not accept that, and if the Government does accept it, we fundamentally disagree.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I give Ross Finnie credit for making a very clever debating point. The key point is that GHA should accept the criticisms in the report and should act to put them right. However, as the cabinet secretary responsible, I have said today that I regard GHA as a transitional body. The report makes the important point that, while GHA exists, it must act in a way that not only benefits the tenants in Glasgow but helps in the broader regeneration of Glasgow. That is a reasonable comment, and I hope that we can all agree that GHA is not an organisation that will exist for ever and a day.

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

I am grateful to the cabinet secretary for recognising the merit of my point. I wish that she had made those points before and had not drafted her motion in the terms that would go into the official record if the motion were to be accepted by Parliament. With all due respect to the cabinet secretary, I think that the motion would allow wriggle room. I do not in any way dispute the good faith with which the cabinet secretary has made her statement to the chamber, but I think that the chamber is entitled to be able to pass motions that are clear and unambiguous.

From our point of view, it is a question not of trying to rewrite history but of accepting the fundamental difficulty that is presented by the element of the report that tries to look forward. The way in which the Government has drafted its motion is not helpful. My colleague Robert Brown has pointed out an inherent contradiction in the Government's position. It needs to be more specific about what it is calling GHA to do. In that regard, the amendment in the name of Johann Lamont goes much further than the motion.

The report makes detailed criticisms of the nature and content of GHA's business plan. GHA has repeated ad nauseum, not just to previous ministers but to Communities Scotland, that it believes that it can duck out of second-stage transfer. Its previous business plan may have failed—although goodness knows how it managed that—but the Liberal Democrats' amendment would ensure that any subsequent plan specifically addressed that issue.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

Does Mr Finnie accept that we would find his arguments, eloquently put as they are, somewhat more persuasive if, during the eight years in which he had a large degree of control over these matters, some measures had been taken to bring about the desired result, namely the demise of GHA?

Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat

It depends on what the member takes in good faith. I still find it remarkable that GHA can continue to argue to Communities Scotland that it will ignore the position of previous ministers and the Parliament and the vote of the good people of Glasgow, and put forward a contrary proposition. I am happy to accept that perhaps the previous Administration could have done more, but we are where we are, and it is not good enough simply to say that we were wholly responsible. There are people in GHA who have a wilful view about second-stage transfer—that has to be addressed now. The report is not helpful in the sense that it concludes that second-stage transfer does not need to happen.

I hope that even Bill Aitken, despite the reservations that he may have about what happened previously, will find that both the amendment and the amendment to the amendment are more directed to meeting the very objectives that he is seeking. I hope that members accept that there is a need for specific action and that there are inherent contradictions contained within the report. I hope that they will support both the amendment and the amendment to the amendment.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative 4:37, 26 September 2007

The debate has been good. It is always healthy when there is recognition throughout the chamber of the issues, the problems and the way forward. It is right and proper to debate the Glasgow housing stock transfer. It is right and proper not only to learn from that experience, but to examine the effect of the Glasgow stock transfer on the overarching policy of stock transfer for the rest of Scotland, which gives me an excuse to have a minute on the Highlands.

I do not understand why the SNP can be in favour of the transfer of council housing in Glasgow yet campaign against it so vociferously in the Highlands, as was covered in two columns in last week's Inverness Courier, if the minister wishes to read it.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

As the Opposition is no doubt straining to remind the member, the SNP was not in favour of the stock transfer in Glasgow. We foresaw some of the difficulties that we are now experiencing. Large-scale stock transfer was never the plan. The whole point was that we wanted small-scale, community-based stock transfer.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

So, obviously, the Highlands was GHA mark 2 and the SNP campaigned against that because it could foresee the difficulties. However, we will move on from that.

It is rich for the Labour front bench to criticise the five-month-old nationalist Government for blaming the previous Liberal-Labour Executive, given that Johann Lamont's party, after 10 years in government, is still blaming the Tories.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

The central point is whether, accepting all that, Mary Scanlon supports the SNP's suggestion that the Communities Scotland report should be accepted in full, with the absence of second-stage transfer that that implies.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

I fully accept what the minister and Bill Aitken said on that.

I thank Tom McCabe for a considered, measured and well-informed speech. However—I am sorry, but I must be fair—he and his colleagues had eight years in government and, in setting up the GHA, five years to establish the structures and financing for the second-stage transfer, but they failed.

Robert Brown put it well when he said that the old municipal form of housing has failed. Bill Aitken described it as the dead hand of municipal socialism.

Kenneth Gibson asked about the writing off of debt with no stock transfer. The real question is why local authorities clocked up hundreds of millions of pounds of debt. If the chancellor writes off Highland Council's housing debt and that of other councils without stock transfer, how can we be assured that those councils will manage and invest in their housing stock effectively and not build up millions of pounds of debt in future?

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

No, I have given way twice already.

The debate concerns the issues that the GHA's situation raises, but I will ask about another missed opportunity. There is undoubtedly a housing crisis in the Highlands. Highland Council has a housing debt of £153 million—an average of £11,000 per house—which would have been written off by the housing stock transfer. I think that it is the largest housing debt in Scotland next to the City of Edinburgh Council's. Of every pound of rent collected, 41p goes to service the debt. Nine thousand council-owned houses do not meet the housing standard. Highland Council faces a bill of £137 million to get them up to standard and is applying for exemption from the standard for 4,000 properties. That is what happens with a no vote.

The SNP group leader on Highland Council has called for the council's housing debt to be cancelled. Will the SNP Government accept that its vociferous campaign against the housing stock transfer left Highland Council with a burden of £153 million in housing debt? The SNP actively campaigned against housing stock transfer in full knowledge of the financial consequences that the council and tenants would face. Now that it is in power, will the SNP Government respond to the issues that face Highland Council and its tenants? They expect the Government to come up with an answer to a problem of its own making.

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour 4:43, 26 September 2007

When we started the process of housing stock transfer, prior to the first session of the Parliament, Bill Aitken had a full head of hair and mine was fully dark. Obviously, time has moved on since then.

We can dwell in the past. Labour members recognise that there were many complexities to the most radical and innovative stock transfer in Europe—it was unique. We knew that we had to try to overcome some of those complexities, but others emerged in the process.

I recognise that members in each party had different perspectives. In fact, some of them have changed their views on the matter over the past eight or 10 years. For example, I welcome Sandra White's conversion to second-stage transfer—I do not recollect her supporting the initial transfer.

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour

Along with Alex Neil and others who have a conspiracy theory of politics, Sandra White needs to reconcile that conversion herself.

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour

I welcome Nicola Sturgeon's speech—I never thought I would say that—because it recognises that we are as unanimous as we could possibly be—

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour

I am sorry—I will not take an intervention at the moment. The reality is that—

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I am sorry, Mr McAveety, but I have to take a point of order.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

Is it not the case that, if a member names another member in the chamber, that member is allowed to reply to whatever they have been accused of?

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

No. That is not a point of order. It is for the member who has the floor to decide whether they will take an intervention.

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour

I thought that the member was going to confirm—

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour

I thought that the member was going to confirm that she opposed stock transfer at the first stage. Thank you for that, Presiding Officer.

It is important for us all to acknowledge the agreement around the chamber that we need to proceed with second-stage transfer. Many submissions have been made to members by community-based housing associations, a considerable number of which are in my constituency. They know that the process has been difficult. The people who have been engaging with me on the issue over the past two to three weeks had entered into discussions with Glasgow Housing Association in good faith on what was a complex transfer process.

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour

I am sorry, but I want to make progress.

Those people tried to identify how to reconcile the large-scale transfer model with the commitment to have smaller-scale, community-based housing associations and other local housing organisations emerging over the next six to 10 years. I refer to the regulatory framework, for which Communities Scotland has responsibility.

I remind members that one of the key elements in the GHA's core business plan was to make progress on second-stage transfer. Many theories and reasons have been advanced for why it has not been fulfilled. Some people have apocalyptic views on it; others have malevolent views on it. Fundamentally, that does not matter any more now. The inspection report is very critical of GHA on some of its core responsibilities. I welcome the cabinet secretary's contribution on that aspect of the report.

However, the report engages in a fair amount of sophistry on the financing models relating to the next stage of transfer. Some members are experts on housing finance. They know as well as I do about the changes in assumptions and in the models that we make. Can we engage with those who seek to arrive at a second-stage transfer model while delivering for the tenants we all care about? Even since the inspection report was produced, substantial bids have been tabled for a quarter—if not nearly a third—of the council house stock that is currently under GHA ownership. There was a dispute in the GHA and community-based housing associations about the financially neutral model that was advocated, but those submissions are viable. Therefore, things could now move relatively quickly.

I understand the claim that the cabinet secretary made regarding Labour: that no progress has been made. This is a political chamber, but the joint progress group that the minister set up identified something not dissimilar to what Nicola Sturgeon has said this afternoon. The words have changed slightly, but the direction is exactly the same as that of the former Executive. I remind members of what the proposals were. Pilots should be progressed; we should move to second-stage transfer; small-scale regeneration opportunities should be fulfilled; and we should be creative in our use of finances in relation to the model.

Even if we accept the position that Alex Neil articulated, wrongly in my opinion, about a financial black hole—I would put inverted commas and a question mark there—the reality is that, under the GHA's current resources, which have been built up over eight or 10 years, there is sufficient funding to reach the next stage of the process. If ministers and the Parliament—including my party—are agreed on that, our amendment at least gives a model for achieving progress and a more effective proposal than the cabinet secretary has advanced.

Photo of Frank McAveety Frank McAveety Labour

Alex Neil has had his opportunity.

We have an opportunity to make a real difference. I am passionate about this subject—I am a former council house tenant and I represent an area with a substantial amount of GHA stock, or former council housing, and have seen the transformation that has taken place when community-based and tenant-led models have been made. The Gorbals had two major transformations before, and both failed. The third one is a success because its model, its engagement, its design and its investment make a difference. I want that for the rest of my constituency. We have elements of it, but not to a full scale. We can achieve it, though.

There is unanimity in the chamber about telling GHA that it can do better. I am a former teacher of English. When I gave a C and a recommendation to try harder, that meant that I did not really want to fail the student; I was giving them an opportunity to prove me wrong.

The minister has a responsibility to act. She faces a hard task. Those of us who were behind the scenes previously endeavoured to do what we could. I do not think that there are any saints in this room in relation to what has been achieved, but there is a chance to make a genuine difference.

With regard to the point Robert Brown and Ross Finnie, who spoke on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, made, I agree that the Government's motion is not adequate and leaves the GHA room to renegotiate some of those terms. Our amendment allows for more flexibility.

With regard to consensus, I will quote the words of another person who I did not think I would ever quote:

"Good ideas—well researched and well argued—will be welcomed and considered ... the public interest ... is better served by thoughtful reflection rather than knee-jerk reaction."—[Official Report, 23 May 2007; c 58.]

Those are the words of Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond. I hope that members on the Government benches support the Labour amendment, along with the Liberal Democrats and other members.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party 4:50, 26 September 2007

I have to agree with the many members who have said that this has been a good and thoughtful debate. I have been pleased at its wide-ranging nature and I welcome the comments and suggestions that have been made by members across the chamber, which I will try to address in my closing remarks.

The debate has shown the level of interest in the Parliament in this issue and its commitment to securing real improvements for Glasgow's communities. We all share that aspiration.

Some of us have had to face some hard truths today. The Glasgow package, despite its substantial resources, is not delivering as much as it should. We have rightly made the point that the situation is not of our making, and I make no apology for re-emphasising that. We have been crystal clear about the fact that we have no intention of turning our backs on the people of Glasgow and that we believe that this Government has to be a part of the solution.

The Government is, however, only one part of the solution. We want GHA to lead a debate on where it goes from here in a way that commands the confidence of tenants and other stakeholders. The solution should not be about deals agreed behind closed doors. We want there to be an open and frank discussion that focuses on outcomes for tenants and the city and on issues that really matter rather than on ideological issues of ownership and structure.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Does the minister accept the point, which we have made a number of times in this debate, that we will get off on the wrong foot if GHA is required and encouraged, as it were, to accept the inspection report of Communities Scotland in full, including the kind of get-out-of-jail-free card that it issues in relation to second-stage transfer?

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

The position is clear. The cabinet secretary is on the record as saying that, in our view, GHA is a transitional organisation that will cease at some point in the future. We want there to be as many second-stage transfers as possible as quickly as possible. Our position could not be any clearer and I have just put it on the record again. Frankly, I do not see what else we can do apart from clearly state our views, once again, about GHA and the future of housing in Glasgow.

The regulator operates at arm's length from ministers and the report that has been produced is thorough. Most important, it sets out a series of expectations that GHA will have to fulfil. I hope that many members will agree that there is much merit in the points that are raised in the report, which is hard hitting. I believe that the GHA board is taking it seriously. It must do so. GHA knows that it has to address the performance failures as well as continue to build on what it has already achieved.

On the first point in the Labour amendment, I do not agree that it is essential or even helpful to set up more groups. We need to make real progress, not set up more groups to produce more reports to talk about more recommendations rather than make genuine progress on these issues.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I accept that we do not want talking shops, but why would bringing together the people who do the financial modelling with ministers, the key people in GHA, Communities Scotland, community activists, tenants and the community-based housing associations not drive progress forward? The alternative, which is proposed by the minister, gives the responsibility to GHA, which has been given an opportunity to get off the hook by the Communities Scotland report. I have been involved in an environment such as the one we propose. It is a challenging place to be, but it could be very productive.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

Two simple points: one, the previous Executive already did that and it did not get it anywhere; two, many of those partners are already involved in discussions about making progress in Glasgow.

On the second point in the Labour amendment, I would not rule out the use of Audit Scotland to examine GHA at some point, but GHA must be given a chance to respond to this report before we go down that road.

On the third point, Tricia Marwick made it clear that Labour rejected the very proposal that it makes today when the SNP made it a number of years ago.

On the fourth point, which the Lib Dems' amendment seeks to add, I make it clear that the GHA is a transitional organisation. That is our view, which is on the record.

In an intervention, Margo MacDonald made some serious points about the difference between the motion and the Labour amendment. As I said, I believe that the amendment would set up a group to consider the GHA, commission a report and provide a recommendation. We do not want that; we want action and real progress. As the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing said, reviewing the grant agreements will allow us to secure the levers that will enable us to hold the GHA to account. I thought that that was what we all wanted to do. The original set-up of the organisation did not allow us to hold GHA to account, but that is what we intend to do.

I offer a further commitment on the negotiations. We will report to Parliament on progress on the renegotiation of contracts as soon as possible. That commitment represents progress in ensuring that the Parliament is up to date and up to speed with what is happening between the Government and the GHA.

At the beginning of her speech, Johann Lamont said that the GHA is failing to deliver and that it has an overly centralised decision-making process. I have to say that the previous Labour Administration set up the GHA. That Administration set up an organisation that is overly centralised and which failed to deliver, so it is a bit rich for Johann Lamont to come here and criticise us. It is also a bit rich for her to quote the report selectively and refuse to accept some parts while praising other parts to high heaven. We accept the report and we will move forward on that basis to make real progress in Glasgow.

Robert Brown, Bill Aitken and Tom McCabe made welcome, thoughtful and constructive speeches. Tricia Marwick was right to say that there is no point in replacing one monolithic body with another. Frankly, this was a flagship policy of the previous Labour Administration. We recognise the benefits of the investments that have been made in Glasgow—in Paul Martin's constituency and in others. It is right that those investments have been made and we support the work that has been done thus far.

As usual, Ross Finnie made an interesting and amusing speech. On his technical point about the use of the words "in full" in the motion, we have clarified exactly they mean. There is no doubt that we regard the body as a transitional body.

I say to Mary Scanlon that it was not the SNP, the Tory party or any individual group or campaign group who voted no in the Highlands, it was the tenants.

Photo of Stewart Maxwell Stewart Maxwell Scottish National Party

No. I have already given way.

We said that we wanted the debate to be about looking to the future. It is right to point out the failures of the past, but our priority is to make sure that tenants' interests are protected and promoted. That is why we welcome the GHA's agreement to commission independent research involving stakeholders to help us all get a better understanding of tenants' priorities and interests.

Looking to the future, we welcome GHA's agreement to a review of the suite of agreements that was put in place at transfer. The review will enable better outcomes for taxpayers, current tenants and future tenants. We also welcome GHA's ready acceptance that it needs to do more to understand and address the concerns of owners who are affected by its programme of investment in improvements.

Owner occupation is the majority tenure in Scotland. I acknowledge that, when the original package was put in place, support for owners formed part of it. I also acknowledge that legislation that was agreed in the Parliament sought to support owners in taking on their responsibilities to maintain their homes.

The report is seriously critical of the way in which the GHA has handled owners, and I welcome its acceptance of that criticism. I now want real progress for owners. I want owners to be encouraged to participate in the crucial work of improving housing in Glasgow and I want to see that they have the best possible opportunity to pay. I am sympathetic to the argument that tenants' rents should not fund owners but, by the same token, genuine hardship should not be the outcome for those who try their best to pay. The GHA assured us that it is actively considering how to improve its service to owners, and the board will consider its proposals. I look forward to the outcome of those deliberations.

We have acknowledged the ambitions for regeneration and improved services that the city rightly has, and we recognise the rich experience in Glasgow to deliver good-quality sustainable communities. However, the city has to share that experience and expertise with the GHA if the transformation of some of the most deprived parts of Scotland is to happen. We are determined to see progress, and I ask members to support the motion.