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As convener of the cross-party group on housing, I looked forward to taking part in this debate on housing—a debate that the Labour Party had to bring to the chamber because the housing minister, Margaret Burgess, has failed to lead a single parliamentary debate on the subject, which shows that housing is not a priority for the SNP.
We have heard that Scotland is facing its biggest housing crisis since the second world war. Under this Government, the capital housing budget has fallen by a massive 29 per cent from £534 million to £378 million, and according to Audit Scotland it is set to fall even further to just £250 million. New housing completions and new starts have fallen across Scotland, house building in the private sector has halved in recent years, and since 2005 councils and registered social landlords have built 14,000 fewer homes than have been needed.
It is time for the Government to come forward with a plan for investment that encourages growth in the housing sector and ensures that housing is built that is affordable and adequate to meet the needs of Scotland’s population. The Government promised that we would build our way out of the recession, but Scotland is still waiting.
Also, any new housing must be energy efficient. The Government has set the statutory target to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016, but the budget is underspent.
I recently attended the Scottish rural and islands housing conference 2013. It is clear that many of the challenges that affect urban areas are magnified in rural areas. It is much more expensive to build houses the further north one goes, and on our islands. Rural and remote areas also have a much higher proportion of homes that have no access to mains gas and which can be deemed to be hard to heat, not to mention that there are cooler temperatures in those areas in the winter. Those areas suffer disproportionately because of the higher costs of building new homes and by having less energy efficient housing and heating methods.
The report “A Minimum Income Standard for Remote Rural Scotland” shows that a pensioner who lives in a rural area must spend two to three times as much as their urban counterpart to heat their home. I also recently discovered that the big six energy companies are not providing boiler replacements to oil fuelled homes or to liquid petroleum gas fuelled homes. That means that many residents in the hardest to heat homes are missing out on a 30 per cent increase in boiler efficiency, not to mention savings in fuel costs. What is the Scottish Government doing to support people in that situation in order to ensure that they do not miss out on energy efficiency schemes, as they appear to be doing currently?
It is concerning that the budget for energy efficiency schemes and retrofitting has had a £10 million underspend. How do we expect to meet the targets if we are not using the budget to its full potential? The money could and should be used to reduce fuel costs for the hardest to heat homes. Why has it not been used in that way, and how did the underspend occur? How does the Government intend to meet its statutory requirement to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016?
When it comes to building energy efficient, affordable homes and when it comes to fuel poverty, the Government needs to up its game to meet its own targets for building new homes and eradicating fuel poverty by 2016. Now, more than ever, we need to get Scotland off pause and restarted. We need action now, not the promise of action after September 2014. I support Labour’s motion, which calls on the Government to produce a comprehensive, ambitious and inclusive national housing action plan.