Community-based Housing Associations

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 6 June 2013.

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Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-05957, in the name of Paul Martin, on community-based housing associations, building the community. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament commends the work of community-based housing associations and the role that they play in their communities; considers that in the Glasgow Provan constituency and throughout Scotland registered social landlords and housing providers provide high quality housing with affordable rents, while at the same time helping to build the communities in which they serve, and understands that, because of a Scottish Government reduction in funding, the development funding budget in Glasgow is to be reduced from £78.5 million in 2011-12 to £50.9 million by 2013-14, resulting in higher rents and higher borrowing costs for community-based housing associations.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

I thank colleagues for their support in allowing the debate to be brought to the chamber. It should be noted that, apart from the Scottish National Party, four of the political groupings in the Parliament supported the motion.

I welcome to the public gallery representatives from the various community-based housing associations throughout Scotland, including committee members and staff. They are here because they believe in the future of their communities. They will expect from the minister not warm words of encouragement or a carefully crafted speech written by civil servants, nor lame excuses, but a commitment to reverse the cuts that affect the future of their housing associations and make it impossible for those associations to continue the regeneration of our communities that has gone on for decades.

The motion was written on behalf of those housing associations, to amplify some of their concerns and frustrations. They want to know why they no longer receive the funding that would allow them to continue the regeneration of their communities.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

If the member wants cuts reversed, will he tell us where he wants the money to come from? Is it to come out of the health service?

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

Like me, John Mason will receive every single day many requests from constituents who want to be rehoused by many of the community-based housing associations that are represented in the public gallery. I do not want to hear excuses; I want to hear commitments to ensure that the housing associations’ work can continue.

Since the 1970s, CBHAs have played a crucial role in regenerating our communities, particularly in Glasgow. There are many communities that would not exist today were it not for the vision, tenacity and determination of CBHAs. I can name many such communities, and the long list would include the Gorbals area, the Springburn area where I was brought up, south Dennistoun and the tenement properties in the area that John Mason represents. Those communities would not exist if it were not for the CBHAs’ determination.

Not only did the CBHAs build houses; they brought forward projects to support the people in them. They built community facilities and used their expertise in development and attracting funding from various sources, including the lottery. They have been a boon for local employment, have strengthened local economies and have allowed social enterprises to flourish. All those social and economic achievements were led by community-based housing association tenants and owners who were members of management committees. That model has a proven track record of success.

What is clear from every piece of evidence that has been presented to the Parliament and from what we can see on the ground is that the community-based housing association model works. Yes, it requires public subsidy and support from the Government, and it might not be the cheapest option, but we get what we pay for. We got the cheapest option when we built housing estates such as the Red Road and Sighthill ones. They were described in their day as being cost-effective solutions to providing housing, but a lack of infrastructure and proper management has meant that those houses are being torn down as we speak. Had there been the community control there that we have had in the areas that I referred to, I am sure that those estates would have stood the test of time.

My motion refers to what is happening in the real world. Although demand for social housing is increasing rapidly, the Scottish Government is cutting the grant levels that are available to local housing associations for their development work to continue. The graphs on the piece of paper that I am holding up, which was provided to every member in the chamber, illustrate clearly the challenges that housing associations face. One graph shows that, when Labour left office in April 2007, the grant per new build unit was just over £76,000. The SNP Government has cut that to the present rate, which is just over £44,000 per unit, resulting in CBHAs across Scotland withdrawing from development. They are doing so because they need Government financial support that will allow them to ensure that schemes stack up.

Those cuts are putting at risk the very existence of our community-based housing association movement. The current funding environment has led to the growth of housing organisations masquerading as housing associations when, in fact, they are big businesses that operate from outside Scotland. I am afraid that their interests are not the interests of our communities as seen in the community-based housing association movement; their interests are to ensure that they make a fast buck out of their investment. They might be able to come in to build the houses and meet the targets that the Government has set—they can do that as cheap as chips. However, they will not be able to do it in the effective manner in which our CBHA movement has done it for many years.

My call to the Scottish Government is clear: reverse the cuts that have been placed on our local housing associations and let them get on with the job of regenerating our communities and protecting the investment that has been in place for nearly four decades. That will ensure that many of our communities are able to provide good and ample social housing for people to live in.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I congratulate Paul Martin on securing the debate.

The role of community-based housing associations is integral to the delivery and management of high-quality housing stock in Scotland. The Scottish Government has worked closely with housing associations and local authorities to increase the availability of socially rented and affordable housing across the country. Of course, the collapse in the housing market, and the United Kingdom Government’s frankly misguided decision to cut public spending—both capital and resource—has had a profound impact and set particularly difficult challenges and problems that the Scottish Government has had to react to and mitigate.

The challenges in delivering a housing programme are many and varied. Changing demographics, energy efficiency, different housing types, changing household sizes and changes to the welfare system, financing and the blend between social renting and homes for ownership must all be taken into account.

Unlike Westminster, the Scottish Government has prioritised the delivery of social and affordable housing. It has achieved a great deal, despite a 26 per cent cut in available capital. In spite of unprecedented budgetary constraints, we are two years into our five-year target of delivering 30,000 additional affordable homes. The Government is on course to meet that commitment, having worked with local authorities and housing associations to deliver almost 12,900 affordable homes so far, almost 10,000 of which are for social rent.

To encourage an increase in house building, the Government reduced the level of subsidy per unit delivered through the innovation and investment fund. That reflects the fact that building costs are significantly lower than in previous years, and it encourages providers to make full use of other resources available to them. That is a sensible approach during such straitened times and ensures a maximum return for taxpayers’ money.

It should also be remembered that the Scottish Government recently launched a £10 million house-building infrastructure loan fund to unlock stalled sites. The fund has awarded loan support to nine projects across Scotland, with scope to deliver more than 1,100 new homes and the potential to provide a further 800 in subsequent phases. That will ensure increased provision of stock, which will help to satisfy demand and prevent increased rents.

In response to demand from councils and developers, a further procurement round of the groundbreaking national housing trust has been launched. The scheme allows developers and councils to jointly fund the purchase of new homes, with local authority loans under the initiative underwritten by the Scottish Government. Approvals have been secured for more than 1,300 homes, with 300 completed and hundreds more on site.

Although increasing the housing stock remains a priority, the Scottish Government has introduced many more measures to stimulate the housing market and improve existing stock. For example, it recently committed £120 million over two years to support a new shared equity scheme to help first-time buyers and those looking to buy a new home.

Additional funding in the previous budget was allocated to programmes such as those for adaptations, whose budget increased by 25 per cent on the previous year’s figure, and for retrofitting properties with energy efficiency measures to reduce fuel poverty and improve tenants’ lives. The Scottish Government is also providing £2.5 million to social landlords to help tenants to access the advice and assistance that they need following the implementation of the regressive bedroom tax.

As we know, the Labour Party has called continually for more investment in housing—as it has in every sphere of public spending. Indeed, Ken Macintosh called for all additional resources received in Barnett consequentials to be spent on housing, at the expense of education, healthcare, justice and infrastructure, while Margaret McDougall called for tens of thousands of one-bedroom flats to be miraculously built in the six-month period running up to the bedroom tax’s imposition.

The Scottish Government is pioneering new initiatives and innovative funding methods. It is evident that the Government is committed to improving and expanding Scotland’s affordable housing stock. It will work with community housing associations, local authorities and others to ensure that its achievements thus far are built on.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

I, too, congratulate Paul Martin on bringing this important subject to the chamber.

Community-controlled housing associations were first set up in Glasgow in the 1970s and 80s. They were characterised by the prevalence of tenants and residents on their boards and they specialised in the renovation of older housing stock and the regeneration of neighbourhoods, through accessing private sector funding that was not otherwise available to the public sector.

The model subsequently became a feature of the social housing sector in Scotland, but it remains particularly strong in Glasgow and the west of Scotland. When council housing stock was transferred to Glasgow Housing Association in 2003, the intention was to have a two-tier stock transfer process, with a smaller second-stage stock transfer to local housing associations, which would own and manage their own stock. That has happened to some extent, although perhaps not as quickly as was expected.

The community housing movement has delivered many benefits to neighbourhoods in Scotland. In addition to its central purpose of providing good-quality affordable housing through renovation and new build, community housing has delivered investment and employment, community empowerment and local accountability. The sector has also supported community enterprises, education and training, childcare and community cultural events.

Our smaller housing associations are particularly vulnerable to financial pressures. Paul Martin’s motion highlights the cut in the development funding budget in Glasgow and the consequences for rents and borrowing costs.

Labour MSPs have on a number of occasions raised concerns expressed by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and others about the reduction in the housing association grant from an average of £70,000 across Scotland to an average of £40,000. Coupled with the difficulties in accessing borrowing, that is making the building of new homes for social rent more and more difficult.

Payment after building instead of in stages adds more pressures. The SFHA estimates that the rent from a social rented property raises enough funds to cover only a third of the cost of borrowing. The HAG covers another third of the cost. In the past, the other third might have come from reserves and other sources, but they are running out, so that is not an option for small community-controlled housing associations.

That is one reason why last week I asked the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth whether the consequentials arising from the financial transactions announced in the UK budget, which have to be used for equity or loans and must be repaid to the Treasury, could be used to provide loans to housing associations at a lower cost than they can access through banks and other private sources, for the purpose of building homes for social rent. I hope that the Government is prepared to look into that possibility.

The current situation is likely to have one of two possible consequences. Community-controlled housing associations will be forced out of building and regeneration projects or, as Paul Martin said, they will be taken over by large housing associations from other parts of the United Kingdom, with the loss of the character of the Scottish housing association sector.

For example, 384 homes were transferred from Dumfries and Galloway Council to Irvine Housing Association back in 1999 after a vote by tenants—it was a very successful stock transfer. That took the housing association’s stock to about 1,900 properties, and it invested something like £12 million in regenerating the area and modernising the properties. IHA took over a number of other properties and had about 2,000 tenants. Now, it has become part of Riverside, which is based in Liverpool and which has more than 85,000 tenants and residents. I do not know that housing association, which might be perfectly fine, but I am very concerned that smaller community-based housing associations will be taken over because they cannot survive in the current financial situation and that their essential character in their communities will be lost.

Scotland should be proud of our tradition of community-controlled housing associations but, unfortunately, the current funding regime threatens associations’ ability to build new homes for affordable social rent and might threaten their continued existence.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

I thank Paul Martin for bringing this important subject to the chamber. I would have signed his motion, most of which I agreed with, but for the fact that he blamed the Scottish Government for the cuts, when it is clearly not to blame.

I worked for housing associations for a number of years and I really believe that they are a key player in our society and perhaps the key player in poorer areas and constituencies such as Paul Martin’s and mine. I welcome a number of housing association representatives to the chamber. I know that West of Scotland Housing Association is here, as are Queens Cross Housing Association, Milnbank Housing Association and a number of others.

I know of no other type of organisation in the third sector in my constituency that combines such a high level of voluntary involvement with the level of professional resources that housing associations have. Having worked for and known housing associations of various sizes, I favour associations with a stock of less than 3,000, which provides a good balance between professionalism and tenant control. I was never in favour of Glasgow Housing Association at all, which was always going to be too big. I am disappointed when I hear of small local housing associations, including one recent example from my constituency, being swallowed up by giants from elsewhere.

Housing is the number 1 issue that constituents come to see me about and it remains the top priority for me in capital spending priorities. I especially welcome the fact that the Commonwealth games village in the east end of Glasgow will be turned partly into a care home and partly into social housing.

Another concern is the private rented sector. It can be very good at times, but some of our most vulnerable citizens suffer at the hands of dubious private landlords or agents in a way that I know would not happen if they were tenants of a community-based housing association.

The debate appears to be about yet another list of Labour wishes. Two weeks ago, Labour members told us that they wanted more money to be spent on expensive cancer drugs, even though that would presumably mean cuts in housing and transport budgets. Last week, they told us that they wanted more money for transport, even though that would presumably mean cuts in medicines and housing budgets. This week, they tell us that they want more money for housing, even though that would presumably mean cuts in drugs and transport budgets. When will Labour politicians join us in the real world?

The reality is that we have a pretty much fixed amount of money. All parties are welcome to tell us that they would spend more on housing and less elsewhere, but they should tell us where the savings would come from. On the other hand, they could spend the housing money differently. For example, we could have a higher percentage of HAG but fewer houses, or a lower percentage of HAG and more houses. Alternatively, we could have more specialist houses, which tend to be more expensive, but build fewer houses in total. That was suggested at the Finance Committee during our recent inquiry into demographic change. Those are all valid choices, but we expect politicians who disagree with our choices to give us their alternatives.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

I am sorry; I have only four minutes and I am now in my last minute.

The reality is that some housing associations have free reserves on top of their cyclical and designated reserves. Of course such reserves can be used only once, but that is not to say that they should not be used at all. For example, a housing association in my constituency fairly recently bought flats off the shelf from a private developer. Those flats might not be up to the high spec that we normally get from housing associations, but that has meant more social rented housing in the area and I very much welcome that. If we can get more houses for less public money, even if only for a few years, that is a good route when money is tight. Having savings and reserves is a good idea—we need that throughout society—especially for housing associations. Of course there must be ring-fenced reserves but, if there are free reserves, let us see them used.

We should support community-based housing associations and make housing our number 1 priority, but we should also be realistic. Scotland’s budget has been cut, and that is a sign that the UK system has failed.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate, which I congratulate Paul Martin on securing. I apologise for not having signed the motion, which I might have overlooked on the basis that, at first glance, it appeared to be Glasgow Provan orientated. Having reread it before the debate, I can say that I would have been content to have added my name to it.

Community-based housing associations have played a major role in providing high-quality affordable housing for many years. Their sophisticated knowledge of local housing need means that their contribution to building sustainable communities cannot be overestimated. With high levels of build quality, community-based housing associations also do fantastic work in helping to keep people above the fuel poverty line.

Housing associations do more than provide just bricks and mortar. As I have said in the chamber many times, awarding a tenancy to a household is not and never will be the only solution to the issues that tenants face. Housing associations really come into their own in the levels of support that they provide, which can help vulnerable households to maintain a tenancy for the longer term.

Although tenant participation is not the sole preserve of housing associations, it is an important area in which the sector excels. That gives people not only a real voice in their neighbourhood but an undoubted sense of empowerment, which can have a powerful impact in other areas of their lives.

Against the backdrop of that exceptional work by housing associations, the latest housing statistics that the Scottish Government released yesterday make for grim reading. Housing association starts show an astonishing 38 per cent decrease from the previous year. Completions by housing associations also make for grim reading, as they are down by 32 per cent.

That is not housing associations’ fault. They find themselves in the position that Scottish Government subsidies have been slashed beyond reason. [Interruption.] That leaves them with stark choices for the future; many are choosing to mothball sites and cancel developments.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Many people pay the price for those Scottish Government spending choices. People who are languishing on waiting lists, people who are employed directly by the construction industry and people who supply tradesmen with everything from sandwiches to cement are all paying the price.

Of course, the Scottish Government can point to an increase in local authority housing starts, which are up 45 per cent, but the sting in the tail is that completions are down by 13 per cent. I welcome the few positive figures, but let us look at the reality. Such is the funding landscape created by the Scottish Government that it is really only local authorities that can afford to undertake prudential borrowing to build. There comes a point, however, when it is no longer prudent to borrow. When that point is reached, neither local authorities nor housing associations will be building. That will leave us with the unedifying but increasingly common sight of the Scottish Government looking like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a rapidly approaching juggernaut.

I have heard during my speech the continuous complaints of SNP members about the fact that somebody else has dictated their budget to them—

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Yet anyone in the chamber who has taken the trouble to look at successive budgets in recent years will know that housing has been targeted for disproportionate cuts. The Scottish Government’s decision that housing could do with greater cuts than other areas of expenditure takes the blame from any previous Scottish Government and from the current UK Government and brings it right back to the doorstep of the Scottish Government and the Minister for Housing and Welfare.

Photo of Jim Eadie Jim Eadie Scottish National Party

I congratulate Paul Martin on securing this afternoon’s debate. It is right that we recognise the vital work of community-based housing associations. I know that my constituency is far from unique in having dedicated housing associations that work to improve the communities in which they are based and which make a lasting contribution to people’s lives.

The Scottish Government recognises the vital role that social housing plays. As Alex Johnstone said at the start of his speech—it went downhill from there—it is about more than bricks and mortar. It is about giving children a safe place to grow up, allowing young people the chance to get on to the property ladder, and providing older people with a comfortable and warm place to live.

The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that that becomes a reality for all and, as John Mason reminded us, in a context of squeezed public resources we have seen the completion of almost 12,900 additional homes, and we are now two years into a five-year target to deliver 30,000 new social and affordable homes in Scotland. Almost 10,000 of the homes completed in the past two years are for social rent. By the end of April 2013, the Scottish Government had allocated £200 million in additional funding for housing supply, bringing the total investment to almost £860 million in the three years to March 2015. It is important to have those facts on the record.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

Does it concern Jim Eadie that community-based housing associations are withdrawing from development because of the lack of grant subsidy?

Photo of Jim Eadie Jim Eadie Scottish National Party

Paul Martin must recognise the financial realities in which the Scottish Government is operating, because of the difficult circumstances that we find ourselves in: the swingeing cuts in the budget for housing supply imposed by Westminster; the challenges facing the housing construction industry, as Kenneth Gibson reminded us; the refusal of banks to release finance to housing associations, exacerbating the financial pressures on the smaller housing associations to which Dr Elaine Murray referred; and the welfare reforms that are set to penalise the most vulnerable people in our society. Those are the realities that we all face.

I cannot see how much time I have left, Presiding Officer.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You have 90 seconds.

Photo of Jim Eadie Jim Eadie Scottish National Party

My constituency, Edinburgh Southern, is served by a number of housing associations, including Cairn Housing Association, Dunedin Canmore, Trust Housing Association, Viewpoint Housing Association, Castle Rock Edinvar Housing Association, and Bield Housing & Care, all of which make a contribution to providing tenants with affordable homes and a decent place to live, as well as providing the opportunity and support that people need to thrive in their communities. The Scottish Government continues to provide the necessary support and investment, despite the difficult pressures and the obstacles that are placed in its path.

One organisation that is making use of that support is Dunedin Canmore, which is headquartered in my constituency. I was glad to learn that it seeks to protect and empower communities that are affected by digital exclusion by launching the positive pathways initiative to provide computer access and intensive one-to-one support to help people who risk losing benefits because they do not have access to the internet or the skills to use it. That was made possible by a grant of £200,000 from the Scottish Government, representing only some of the £2.5 million that has been made available to help social landlords to help tenants to access such advice.

Likewise, Trust Housing Association, which is also headquartered in my constituency, provides 2,500 people in Scotland with a range of housing options. It has been actively contributing to the local community by accessing funds through the change fund to develop a meals service for the benefit of the whole community so that residents and local people alike can get a decent meal no matter what their personal circumstances are.

Castle Rock Edinvar has accessed part of the £1.5 million community jobs Scotland fund to give opportunities to young people in my constituency to gain valuable work experience. The chief executive of Castle Rock Edinvar, Alister Steele, stated that he found

“working with the Scottish Government to be a hugely positive experience” and that he found the Government to be very supportive in the development of new funding models.

The Deputy First Minister said in evidence at the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee in November 2012:

“resources have been efficiently used and we have ensured that we get bangs for our bucks … For every £3 that we invest, we are levering in £7.”—[Official Report, Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee, 7 November 2012; c 1057.]

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I thank my colleague Paul Martin for bringing this important debate to Parliament. I know of his long and strong commitment to the community housing association movement, and it is fitting that he leads our debate.

I offer a warm welcome to all the members of housing association management committees and staff who have come to listen to our debate. Housing association and housing co-operative members are volunteers who work hard to make improvements in their communities with support from staff members. For that, they deserve our sincere thanks.

The Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn constituency is blessed with a large number of excellent housing associations. Some are big and some are small, but they all make a substantial contribution to the life of our communities. I may not be able to mention them all in my speech, but I will provide some examples of the important work that they do that typify the contribution that they all make.

Housing associations are struggling to cope with the effect of the changes to the benefits system on their tenants. They are trying to mitigate the worst effects of those atrocious and ill-advised reforms by providing good advice to their tenants and taking practical steps, such as linking up with credit unions to help those who do not have a bank account. At the same time, they must try to ensure that their own income levels are not depleted as a consequence so that they can continue to provide the high level of service that is the hallmark of the housing association movement.

Over the years, I have witnessed some excellent innovation from the housing associations in my constituency, such as the self-build project operated by Maryhill Housing Association, in which local people built their own homes from scratch and worked hard to help their neighbours to build theirs too.

Other examples include the commitment to excellent design that has been the signature of Queens Cross Housing Association’s developments over the years and the efforts that NG Homes has made to incorporate community facilities and retail units into its new-build properties, helping to build communities, not just homes.

I also highlight the confidence that led Blochairn Housing Association to invest in its biggest-ever development on a difficult site in a community where new houses of mixed tenure were needed. The way in which housing associations in my constituency have renovated older properties, bringing them up to standard and saving important landmark buildings in the process, is also welcome.

However, in recent years, the picture has begun to change. No longer do we see new-build housing springing up all over the constituency from Spire View Housing Association, Copperworks Housing Co-operative Ltd and West of Scotland Housing Association. Housing associations are no longer building new homes, because HAG funding cuts make it practically impossible for them to do the job that they were created to do.

Yesterday, one housing association told me that it has identified a funding gap of £26,000 per unit, based on HAG levels and its existing rent levels. Without a proper level of development grant, it will have to expose itself to extremely high risk on the financial markets or make the decision not to build. Frankly, that is the decision that most of the housing associations that I know have already made. Unless they are given specific one-off grants for reprovisioning, they will no longer build new houses.

It is no wonder that headlines this week tell us that fewer houses are being built in Scotland now than was the case during the great depression. Compared with last year, there were 40 per cent fewer new starts in the first three months of this year. The irony is that the need for more houses to stimulate the economy and to provide local jobs has rarely been greater. The changes that have been brought about by the introduction of the bedroom tax mean that there is a pressing need for more smaller properties.

I hope that the minister will think again and restore the HAG to a level that allows our housing associations to grow and to thrive, and to build warm, affordable houses and good and stable communities.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Because of the number of members who still wish to speak in the debate, I am minded to accept a motion without notice to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Paul Martin.]

Motion agreed to.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

Even though I do not agree with the terms of Paul Martin’s motion, I thank him for bringing an important issue to the Parliament. I could not sign the motion, because I believe that it is incomplete. It is in complete denial about the 26 per cent capital cuts that the UK Government has imposed. Under those circumstances, I simply could not support it.

I put it on record that the UK Government’s welfare reforms are probably the greatest challenge that the housing association movement faces. I am referring not just to the bedroom tax, which has received much publicity, but to the reform of disability living allowance and the introduction of personal independence payments, which will deprive a lot more constituents of money that they need to pay their rent than will the bedroom tax, horrible though that is.

I also put on record my apologies for not being able to meet the representatives of Glasgow’s community-based housing association movement earlier today. I was at a meeting about developing a fairer system for accessing new medicines, including end-of-life cancer drugs. I hope that members will appreciate that that was an important meeting for me to attend. That is why I could not meet the movement’s representatives outside Parliament. I know that a number of people from community-based housing associations are in the gallery, and I hope to mention some of the work that they have done, if time allows.

I say gently to Paul Martin that I cannot take any lessons from the Labour Party on supporting community-based housing associations. There are larger, stronger community-based housing associations in north Glasgow because the SNP Government got the second-stage transfer from the GHA moving. We now have a larger Maryhill Housing Association, a larger Queens Cross Housing Association and a larger NG Homes because our Government got community-based housing associations motoring and delivered on second-stage transfer.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

Does the member accept that the graph that I provided—the graph that he has received a copy of—clarifies that the grant level that is provided to the community housing associations to which he referred has reduced from £74,000 to £34,000 during the tenure of the Scottish Government since 2007? Does he accept that figure?

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

I will come on to speak specifically about those figures, but I think that Mr Martin made a Freudian slip—he began by saying “the gaffe”. In denying the reality that we are building social houses in Glasgow and Scotland more widely, part of his speech was an absolute gaffe, so I will take no lessons from him on community-based housing associations.

Let us talk about some of the HAG realities. Mr Martin made a reasonable point when he said that either more capital expenditure has to be put into building new social houses, in which case other parties must say where that would come from—they have failed to do that—or the HAG level has to be lowered to allow more houses to be built. The alternative, as Mr Mason suggested, would be not to lower the HAG level unless houses are built. The SNP Government has made a political decision—incidentally, that is something that it would like to do more of—but no other party is prepared to do the same. That is a cop-out and it shows an Opposition party that is not fit to be in charge of housing policy.

Another thing that I wish to say to Mr Martin is that Labour Opposition members mention capital expenditure cuts when it suits them, but not when it does not. The real-terms increase to our national health service budget, for example, is a dramatic investment in the NHS, but the capital budget has gone down because of UK cuts. That is something that Ms Baillie, Labour’s health spokesperson, fails to take into account when she is discussing the health budget. That is an inconsistent, incoherent message.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

I think that I am running short of time. I apologise to Mr Johnstone.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You are in your last minute.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

I have one or two more things that I want to say. I want to consider some positive aspects.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

In fact, you should be drawing to a close, please.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

In the three years up to 2015, Glasgow will have received £181 million in housing association grant money and, on top of that, nearly £29 million of reprovisioning money through the Glasgow Housing Association for demolitions.

I would like to say that Glasgow City Council

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

I am in my final minute, Mr Scott—I realise that.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You are in your final seconds, Mr Doris.

Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

Let me just put this in.

We need more flexibility on the grant arrangements under reprovisioning to allow greater access to local housing, whether it be in transformational regeneration areas in Maryhill or in Sighthill, where the youth Olympics is hopefully coming to town and an additional 400 social units will be built as a result of that.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Excellent. Thank you very much.

Photo of John Pentland John Pentland Labour

I thank Paul Martin for bringing the motion to the chamber and for highlighting the important role of community-based housing associations. In my constituency, there are several organisations with properties, such as the Garrion People’s Housing Co-operative, the Forgewood Housing Co-operative and Wishaw and District Housing Association, all covering specific local areas. Others, such as Lanarkshire Housing Association and Clyde Valley Housing Association, cover bigger areas and are extending the geographical areas that they cover, while retaining strong community links.

Garrion and Forgewood are both community-based housing co-operatives, which were set up by stock transfer in 1990 and 1994 respectively. Garrion operates in the Gowkthrapple area of Wishaw; the other operates in the Forgewood area of Motherwell. They work closely with each other, sharing management and other resources. Both housing co-operatives offer a wide range of housing opportunities,

“consulting with and involving the community in key policy and other decisions.”

Gowkthrapple in particular has benefited from Garrion’s creation of a community hub. Like all good housekeepers, the co-operative watches its pennies carefully to ensure that it can provide a value-for-money service. After all, its customers are its shareholders.

Wishaw and District Housing Association was established in the first wave of community-based housing associations in 1978. Its initial aim was to improve and rehabilitate local housing provision, starting with the turn-of-the-century tenement flats that lacked amenities and were often structurally problematic. Since 1990, the association has turned its attention to building new housing.

Wishaw and District Housing Association and the two co-ops aim to provide high-quality, affordable homes for rent. They also help people to own their own homes via schemes such as those involving shared ownership.

In more recent times, the organisations have been severely hampered by tight funding and reduced allocations per property. Grants per unit have fallen from 60 per cent of the cost of construction to below 40 per cent, and they have almost halved in cash terms. That has made new build more difficult, and it restricts housing associations’ capacity to buy and develop new sites. Looking to properties with higher rents to offset that has been made more difficult by welfare reform, which is undermining income from existing tenants.

Photo of John Pentland John Pentland Labour

I want to move on.

All organisations are being encouraged to use up their reserves, but those can be used only once, and they are then left without anything to fall back on in adversity. That runs counter to the prudential approach that was recommended by the Scottish Housing Regulator to meet the risks of the current economic climate. All organisations need to set aside contingency resources. To operate with fingers crossed and an assumption that nothing will go wrong is simply irresponsible.

Financial capacity has also been affected by the wider financial situation. Borrowing is more difficult, and some lenders are using more borrowing as a reason for seeking to reprice existing loans. Pressure is increasing on the existing stock and the ability of housing associations to undertake major repairs and renewals, including meeting higher energy efficiency obligations.

There is great strength in being community based in respect of accountability and responsiveness to local needs. The Scottish Government should not jeopardise that by stretching community-based housing association resources to the point at which it affects their ability to do the job that they have done so well for the past 40 years.

Photo of Margaret Burgess Margaret Burgess Scottish National Party

I, too, thank Paul Martin for bringing the subject to the chamber. I do not want to shy away from the issue, which is important.

This morning, I returned from the SFHA’s annual conference, where I paid tribute to housing associations for the positive differences that they make to people’s lives and communities. I know that that would not be possible without the dedication and commitment of the voluntary board members and the professionalism and hard work of their staff. I am pleased to reiterate that for the community housing association members who are here.

As we have heard, vibrant communities are about more than the houses that people live in. The Scottish Government recognises the huge contribution that community-controlled housing associations make to the wellbeing of their tenants and their neighbourhoods. For example, in north-east Glasgow, Wellhouse Community Trust’s peoples gateway project, which is supported by Wellhouse Housing Association and Provanhall Housing Association, is helping to tackle antisocial behaviour and to provide positive outcomes for young people. Our £7.9 million people and communities fund will contribute to the total project cost and support that important work.

I think that Bob Doris said that Glasgow receives a significant share of Scottish housing resources. It has a three-year housing supply budget of £181 million. That is not all that we are spending in Glasgow. There is separate funding of over £28 million for Glasgow Housing Association, and there is the recent greener homes innovation scheme, under which housing associations got funding of over £5 million. We have shared-equity programmes that help first-time buyers. Over the past six years, the funding to Glasgow City Council has been in excess of £800 million.

To meet national targets, Glasgow needs to deliver strongly on housing, and the role of community-controlled organisations is vital in that. Housing associations face significant pressures. There is the impact of the cuts from the Westminster Government, which we have heard about, and there are the impacts of welfare reform. Alex Johnstone’s party in Westminster has imposed those things on Scotland, and he had a bit of a neck to suggest that, in some way, it is the Scottish Government’s fault and my fault in particular. We are taking no lessons from the Tories and what they are doing.

Housing associations have responded magnificently. They understand the pressures that we are under. We will continue to encourage those strong community anchor organisations to explore further financial and service innovations.

Photo of Paul Martin Paul Martin Labour

The minister refers to housing associations. I will pose a question that they posed to me. Will you reverse the cut in the housing association grant from £74,000 to £34,000?

Photo of Margaret Burgess Margaret Burgess Scottish National Party

If Paul Martin can come up with a strategy and show me where that money is in our settlement from the Westminster Government, which is the same settlement that your Government is going to carry on with, I will talk to you more strongly.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

As the debate becomes more heated, I invite members to speak through the chair, please.

Photo of Margaret Burgess Margaret Burgess Scottish National Party

Despite swingeing UK Government cuts to our capital budgets, more than 6,000 affordable homes were completed in the last financial year. That brought the total additional affordable homes delivered in six years of SNP government to more than 40,000, which compares with the fewer than 32,000 that were delivered in the previous six years by previous Administrations. Some 8,000 more families have been helped into affordable homes by the SNP Government. The figures back that up.

Members may be aware of the lobby outside Parliament today by the Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations—indeed, some members may have attended it. Its paper from last autumn called for rolling three-year housing programmes, which we announced in March. It asked us to look again at subsidy rates, funding for acquisitions, payment on completion and management of risk, and we are discussing all those issues with the sector, including the GWSF, right now. I am clear that we need to address those challenges and to do so together. I recently set up a short-life working group to advise on issues such as affordable rents and financial capacity, and housing associations and councils are represented on the group. We look forward to receiving the group’s advice. Its first two meetings were positive and took full account of the evidence on current issues from all involved.

I emphasise that, every time that the Scottish Government has had an opportunity to increase housing investment in Scotland, we have done so. By the end of April, we had allocated £200 million of additional funding for new affordable homes, bringing the total investment to almost £860 million in the three years to March 2015.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

In his introductory speech, Paul Martin mentioned Labour’s abysmal record in Glasgow of building poor-quality houses that had to be dynamited in their tens of thousands in subsequent years. Can the minister confirm that social rented houses are now being built to the highest possible standards?

Photo of Margaret Burgess Margaret Burgess Scottish National Party

Absolutely. The houses are being built to very high standards. When I visit housing associations and new developments, I take great pleasure in seeing that we have those standards and that people have homes.

Photo of Margaret Burgess Margaret Burgess Scottish National Party

Sorry. I would have taken an intervention, but I am running out of time, and I have a few things to say. The Scottish Government has been criticised, but we are working with the sector to try to deal with the challenges together. We have not said that there are no challenges.

Specifically on welfare reform, I have written to Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee with evidence of the problems that the reform will create for social tenants and landlords in Scotland. I will continue to press the UK Government as hard as I can on that, and particularly on the bedroom tax. As political issues have been raised in the debate, I have to say that the SNP is the only party that has said that it will scrap the bedroom tax. No one else has said that. That should get out there. The Labour Party has not said it. The other day, we heard Ed Balls making it clear that Labour would continue with the bedroom tax, as will the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Members say that they want some truth and facts, and that is a fact.

We are doing all that we can to lessen the impacts of welfare reform, but there are no easy answers. We still need strong programmes to meet growing housing needs, and we must continue to use public money effectively. We might be five years on from the credit crunch, but we are still dealing with the problems from its fallout, not least of which are the problems that housing associations face with bank lending conditions. I will raise that matter next week with lenders, because they have to be told about the issues that the situation is causing for jobs and for housing associations and financing.

At this time of financial constraint, the focus should be on what we can achieve together and not just on providing the same amount of money as in the past. It is about how we deliver efficiency and value in the housing programme while continuing to meet housing needs across Scotland to ensure that people live in high-quality affordable homes in sustainable communities.

13:28 Meeting suspended.

14:30 On resuming—