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Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 4th December 2013.

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Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

Chic Brodie said that he wanted to speak about facts. He set out the case for the promises that were made and asked that things be measured against them. He then said that the SNP had claimed that it would build 30,000 houses, but if he had been completely open and transparent with the Parliament, he would have included the phrase that Alex Johnstone reminded us of—“social rented”. Regardless of what the figure was, that is key. That promise was abandoned without any explanation. It would have been helpful if, at some point, the minister had come to the Parliament to explain why that promise was abandoned.

John Mason said that we should attack the policies and the Administration, not the person. That is fair enough, but earlier the minister told the Parliament that the reason why she had not come here in the 15 months since she was appointed was that she had been too busy going out to meet people who really mattered. She said that that had prevented her from coming to the Parliament to discuss the key issue of housing.

Apart from showing a fundamental contempt for the Parliament—to be honest, she is not alone in the SNP Administration in that—the minister’s explanation represents a profound statement of what the SNP’s priorities are. While she has been too busy meeting important people to come to the Parliament to talk about housing, we have had to debate—yesterday—Scotland’s census, which hardly ranks higher than a housing crisis. Rather than debate the housing crisis, we had to debate—for two and a half hours—the fact that it was a year till the Ryder cup. We had to discuss something that we had no control over: the noble aspiration of Dundee to be a city of culture. We had to debate the fact that we wanted to celebrate Scotland’s public science engagement, instead of talking about how science and money might help to improve the lives of ordinary Scots by being used to build good-quality, affordable social rented houses. We had to debate St Andrew’s day: a celebration of Scotland while the minister was too busy to come here to talk to the Parliament. It is about time that the SNP Administration put on the Parliament’s agenda an issue such as housing, which is fundamental to the lives of people the length and breadth of Scotland.

John Baillie, who is the chair of the Accounts Commission, made a highly pertinent comment when he said:

“Good housing is important for individuals and families but also for wider society. It can support economic growth, promote strong, resilient communities and improve health.”

The problem is that the housing minister cannot be bothered to come to the chamber to discuss the things that John Baillie talked about.

There are things that can be done. John Mason and others are right to say that there are problems with the financial situation not just of the Scottish Government, but of the wider public sector. Despite that, there are measures that could be taken, decisions that could be made and priorities that could be set out. We have heard a lot about the distinction between housing association housing and council housing, but housing associations and councils are telling us that they need capital funding for new social housing developments to be restored because, without that, they will struggle to provide the houses that are needed.

There are a number of things that could be done immediately—Jackie Baillie listed many of them.

There is also the problem of mixed-tenure estates, which people have brought to the Parliament to discuss with us and work on with us—yes, let us work together—to see what we can do to enhance the power of councils to intervene and deliver improvement work that would assist the allocation of funding to help owners to deal with on-going maintenance problems. I realise that affordability tests need to be built into that, but there are still things that can be done. Unfortunately, we have heard nothing from the minister and we have not had the opportunity to discuss that with her. There has been 15 months of silence and inaction as far as the Parliament is concerned, and that is not good enough.

I genuinely accept that we should work across the political spectrum to see what improvements can be made. If the minister wants to do that through parliamentary committees as a starting point, and then produce something that can come back to the chamber, that is fine. That would be something that we could look at together when it comes to the budget. We did make suggestions during the budget process about the use of consequentials to improve housing, but if those are not acceptable to the minister and the Administration, that is fair enough. Let us work together on it.

However, the prerequisite for working together is talking with each other, and 15 months of silence is unacceptable. We cannot afford another 15 months of this.