Housing Co-operatives

– in the Scottish Parliament on 12th June 2019.

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Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-16487, in the name of Johann Lamont, on a new report calling for more housing co-operatives in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the publication of the Co-operatives UK report,

Shared space—how Scottish housing co-ops build communities

; notes that the report identifies significant benefits delivered by co-ops through the key themes of affordability, empowerment, community and stronger social housing; recognises that the report states that Scotland has just 11 registered housing co-ops, compared to 685 across the UK, at a time when 150,000 people are on council house waiting lists; agrees with the report’s findings that the decline of social housing stock in Scotland and parallel rise of the private rented sector has created a major challenge for those looking for affordable homes in the social rented sector; understands that the report highlights the excellent work of West Whitlawburn Housing Co-op, based in the Glasgow region, as an example of a housing co-op creating “a safer estate with warmer, more attractive homes”; notes that the report has recommended an eight-point policy plan to help deliver more housing co-ops, and notes calls for the Scottish Government to encourage more housing co-ops in Scotland in order to create safer and stronger communities that offer affordable rents and more power to tenants.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I am privileged to open this debate on the role of housing co-operatives and their potential to address some of the many housing challenges that we face in Scotland.

I thank all those who have supported the motion. I also thank the cross-party group on co-operatives for producing the report, “Shared space—How Scottish housing co-ops build communities”, Co-operatives UK for publishing it and those, including West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative, that shaped its findings. I welcome representatives from those organisations who are in the public gallery.

I declare an interest as a Co-operative Party member and Co-operative MSP. The Scottish Co-operative Party fully supports Labour’s ambition to double the size of the co-operative economy.

The co-operative movement is, of course, a global movement, with values shared across continents. It is an international movement, but one that delivers change at the most local of levels, making a real and measurable difference to the lives of families and communities. It is a movement of high ideals, but based on practical action, empowerment, and democratic accountability and control. Its greatest aspirations are judged and tested by the real results that it achieves. Historically, of course, Scotland was at the heart of the development of co-operatives—indeed, some might argue that we were there at the very start of that development—but the movement is as relevant and central to Scotland’s present and future as it was to its past.

As the report so emphatically reveals, those values are absolutely at the heart of the success of housing co-ops in Scotland. The report recognises the flexibility and variety of housing co-ops, which meet the needs of students, people in retirement and young people in work, and which restore communities that were poorly served, ill designed and seen as places where people did not want to live. One small example of that variety is the Edinburgh Student Housing Co-operative, which has the potential to provide housing that is better quality and more affordable than the other options that students might have. It is a model from which many other students across Scotland could benefit.

I am immensely proud of the work of housing co-ops in Scotland, and I have seen at first hand the transformation that has been brought about by the tenant-led Rosehill Housing Co-operative in the Glasgow Pollok constituency and the West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative in Cambuslang. Those co-ops have shown how to create change not just in the kind of housing that is available, but in how it is planned and maintained, and in how the communities are then sustained. They understand that housing is about not just bricks and mortar, but the actions that are needed to help local communities to thrive. It is about not just the building but the broader environment. It is about providing services—as West Whitlawburn does—including access to affordable energy, digital services, employment and training opportunities, and welfare and money advice. The range of wider actions that co-ops undertake is as remarkable as it is creative.

From time to time, in our debates on housing, here and elsewhere, we are all drawn into playing a numbers game—focusing, for example, on the number of council houses that have been built. However, in truth, that ignores the reality and diversity of social housing. Some of our most effective housing co-ops emerged out of local campaigns by residents who were determined to take control from their local councils of the decisions that affected them so directly, and who were resolute in their belief that, as local people, they were best placed to determine and act upon the needs and priorities of their community—and their track record proves their case.

However, the motion does not just celebrate the reality of the success of housing co-ops; it also asks why there is so much unrealised potential and unmet need. Why are there only 11 registered housing co-ops in Scotland, compared to 685 across the United Kingdom? Surely, that is a lost opportunity while too many people are being forced into a private sector option that has less certainty and fewer rights, and that comes at a higher cost. What is the role of the housing regulator? Is the approach to regulation such that it—whether unconsciously or deliberately—inhibits the establishment of housing co-ops? Will the minister reflect on that conundrum? Will the minister agree to meet representatives of the cross-party group on co-operatives to explore how any perceived barriers might be removed? Is the minister willing to consider, with the group, how the recommendations of the report might be progressed? How can we promote and advocate for the housing co-op model more effectively and see, as a consequence, an increase in the number of co-ops across Scotland?

I am proud that, very early in the life of this Parliament, the Labour-led Administration established Co-operative Development Scotland to promote co-operative models in the economy and in our communities. At that time, we deliberately chose to exclude housing from its remit, because housing was located in Communities Scotland. That agency focused on community and economic regeneration but had housing expertise at its centre, and it did immense work to improve Scottish housing. Communities Scotland is long gone, but the need for an advocate for co-op housing remains. I urge the minister to confirm her willingness to open up the remit of Co-operative Development Scotland to include housing and give it responsibility for willing the means to increase the number of housing co-ops—with all the benefits that that would surely bring. The evidence is there as proof.

I again underline my admiration for all those who are involved with housing co-ops, and who have transformed communities with focus, vision and determination. We have in our hands a means of enriching our housing provision and our communities, and of unleashing that potential further. I look forward to being part of future action to remove the barriers that are placed in front of housing co-ops, which will allow them to flourish. I again thank those who produced the report and all those co-op tenants who have inspired—and who continue to inspire—through their work in the creation of co-ops. I trust that the Government will recognise the key role of housing co-operatives, consider the report and act with all those who have an interest to ensure that housing co-operatives continue to serve our local communities. [

Applause

.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I say gently to members of the public in the gallery that I understand why you want to applaud, but we do not permit applause from the gallery.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

I congratulate Johann Lamont on securing the debate. Unusually—because these are not words that I often say—I also congratulate James Kelly, who I see is the author of the foreword to the report. The report is excellent, and it is a considerable credit to Parliament that a cross-party group can produce such a substantial contribution to a very important debate.

Johann Lamont referred to the imbalance between the number of housing co-ops in Scotland and the number south of the border. I am never afraid to pick up good ideas from wherever they come, including from south of the border, so I immediately turned to section 08 of the report to look at what it says. In my brief speech, I will not explore it in any great detail, but there are a considerable number of things to say.

The co-operative movement in housing is an important part of creating housing for people across Scotland. It can contribute a great deal to filling the gap that Scotland has suffered from—as the rest of the UK has—since the right to buy was introduced in 1980, which resulted in 2.6 million houses across the UK being sold out of public housing stock. Co-operative housing associations can play their substantial part in creating housing for people who otherwise find it difficult to get housing outside the private sector, in which housing is often very expensive and is not always of good quality, and in providing the living space that is essential for people who want a good standard of life.

Rent prices are going up, and people are being encouraged to invest in buy-to-let properties. The primary focus with such properties is the landlord’s interest in making a profit. In co-operative housing, the people who live in it are at the centre of decision making. That is right and proper, and it unlocks the potential of many people who have, in too much of their lives, little opportunity for their voices to influence the important things in their lives. Co-operatives in general, and housing co-operatives specifically, can make a particular difference to people’s quality of life. It is a neighbourly and collaborative way of making decisions that can encourage social bonds and collective responsibility, which strengthens society as a whole. When people in co-operative housing collectively decide what their priorities are for their area, the whole area gets something that is an example right across communities.

I was particularly interested in the example of West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative, which has been mentioned. Its work extends far beyond provision of housing. Johann Lamont referred to power bills being frozen, which comes from addressing fuel poverty—which has, of course, been before us in Parliament this week.

There is a challenge for young people, in particular. The number of young people who live in rented accommodation has risen and is higher than it was in my generation and in others that followed. It is important that we strike the appropriate balance between privately owned and social housing. Co-operatives can play a very important part in that strategy.

I think that Johann Lamont and I were both members of the Communities Committee—she was the convener and I was a humble back-bench member. I remember that time occasionally, with fondness. I remember her robust engagement on issues that came before the committee: she has always done that. I congratulate her again on bringing an important topic to Parliament and giving us the opportunity to discuss it. I also congratulate all the co-operatives and their members.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

I, too, congratulate Johann Lamont on securing this debate on an extremely important issue. I am a huge fan of housing co-ops. In Scotland, we have only 11, which is nowhere near enough.

That issue does not come up only at the cross-party group on co-operatives; it has also been discussed at a meeting of one of the several cross-party groups that deal with housing. Therefore, the matter is on the agenda across Parliament.

I read the very good and illuminating “Shared space” report with interest. I focused on the case study of West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative in Cambuslang, mainly because it is running a very good project and is just down the road from where I live, so I know where it is. If the people in the gallery want to invite me along to their co-operative, I will be happy to come down the road from East Kilbride to see it.

The chief executive made a comment in the report that I thought was very telling. He said:

“The attitude of local authorities is another barrier. We are in South Lanarkshire and there is no history of, or appetite, to transfer council housing stock to community level; no appetite to give up control. Glasgow is supportive of the idea of housing co-ops but doesn’t have the stock. South Lanarkshire and others have the stock, but want to continue as a social municipal landlord. West Whitlawburn is sandwiched between two local authority estates which are failing abjectly. They are dreadfully managed and maintained. There is no tenant input or participation, no transparency.”

That sums up the problem that we have—it is a problem of culture. Some councils—he named South Lanarkshire Council—do not want to give up control; they want to keep the power and they have a “We know best” attitude. The tenants at West Whitlawburn have shown that councils such as South Lanarkshire Council need to give up control and accept that they should be more flexible. Housing co-ops have a great number of benefits. They can deliver affordable housing, help to build powerful communities and offer tenants far greater control over the things that matter to them.

As Johann Lamont said, England and Wales seem to be doing far better on the matter. We have only 11 housing co-ops, but there are 685 across the UK, so we have to ask why that is the case. What is holding us back here in Scotland? As I said, the culture is part of the problem. However, England has a community housing fund, which is a national programme that supports the development of a range of community-led housing and will run until 2021-22. The Wales Co-operative Centre is providing £50,000 a year for three years to promote, support and increase the number of housing co-ops in Wales.

Things are progressing better in the rest of the UK, so the Scottish Government and the cabinet secretary might want to say something about that situation. Perhaps the Scottish Government should be looking elsewhere, taking on board what is happening in the rest of these isles and doing it here in Scotland.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

I join other members in congratulating Johann Lamont on securing this important debate on housing co-ops. I thank the members of the cross-party group on co-operatives for the work that they have put into producing the “Shared space” report. I welcome the members of a number of housing co-ops, including West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative, who are in the public gallery.

This is an important debate on an important issue. I first spoke about housing co-ops shortly after being elected as an MSP in 2007, and I mentioned West Whitlawburn then. However, when we look at the statistics in the motion, we see that there are still only 11 registered housing co-ops in Scotland. That is a matter of deep regret. When I reflect back on that speech, I realise that very few new housing co-ops have been registered in Scotland in the 12 years since then. We have been left behind in relation to this model. The question that we have to pose is whether that is a good thing or a bad thing. I would certainly submit that it is a bad thing.

I will discuss the example of West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative, which is mentioned in the report. I have observed it closely, not just because it is in the area that I represent but because it is close to where I stay. It was set up in the 1980s, and it took over the housing stock from Glasgow City Council. The reality is that the housing stock was in a very poor condition and there was a lot of antisocial behaviour. West Whitlawburn was a very challenging area at that time.

If members go to West Whitlawburn now, they will see that the area has been transformed. The original housing stock is still there, but it has been modernised to such an extent that there is great demand for places from people on the housing waiting list. However, it was not just a question of renovating the existing stock. There have been new builds, a community centre has been taken on and there is a communications co-op as well as an initiative to secure low energy prices. In addition to all that, rents run at a very competitive level compared with those of other housing providers in the area.

That is a fantastic example of how a local area can be transformed by a housing co-op. The secret of it comes down to the community involvement. In the main, it is due to the committee—many of its members go back to the early days, such as Anne Anderson, who is in the gallery tonight—and the strong leadership, working in co-operation with Paul Farrell, the director.

The challenge is that we have 150,000 people on social housing waiting lists in Scotland. Are housing co-ops something that can contribute to tackling the housing issues that we face? Of course they are. We can see the difference that has been made in West Whitlawburn. The fact that there are only 11 housing co-ops in Scotland compared with 685 across the UK shows that we really have been left behind.

The direct challenge to the cabinet secretary and the Government is that this debate should not just be a talking shop. I urge the cabinet secretary to engage with the cross-party group and with the experts on housing co-operatives, because they present an opportunity and a solution to some of the challenges that we face in housing. I hope that the cabinet secretary will respond positively in her closing speech and that she will take some practical steps to place housing co-ops at the centre of solutions to the housing issues in Scotland.

Photo of Jeremy Balfour Jeremy Balfour Conservative

The context for the debate is that Scotland’s housing is far from good and many people are struggling as a result. There are 150,000 people on council house waiting lists, rents are continually rising and people are finding it increasingly difficult to find not just affordable housing but appropriate housing. Given that context, housing co-operatives can play an incredibly valuable role in alleviating some of the issues that the thousands of people who are looking for a home are facing.

I confess that I knew little about housing co-operatives before the motion was lodged. Researching them has been a very interesting learning experience. As others have said, there are only 11 registered housing co-operatives in Scotland, compared with more than 600 across the United Kingdom.

What interests me most is the community aspect of housing co-operatives, which is a huge strength of this type of housing. Community is essentially built into the design of a housing co-operative, given its nature of group living and decision making. Just a few miles from here in Bruntsfield, there is a co-operative that consists of eight people of all ages and at different stages living together in a large terraced house. In Co-operatives UK’s “Shared space” report, tenants from that co-op detailed the huge benefits that they have gained from living in that genuine community.

A housing co-operative can be an alternative living option for older people, who may be retired, live alone or have gone through life-changing circumstances. According to Age Scotland, 100,000 older people in Scotland feel lonely all or most of the time, and communal living could be a remedy for some of those individuals. Therefore, pursuing the establishment of more housing co-operatives could help not only to meet the demands of housing shortages but to reduce levels of loneliness in Scotland.

People who have a disability are further disadvantaged when it comes to finding housing, particularly suitable housing. Housing co-operatives could be more of an option for those who need specific adjustments to their home but who have not had those supplied by the council. For example, Andy Duffin of West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative was able to move into a flat there that catered for the specific needs of his daughter, who is in a wheelchair. Given the communal ownership structure of a housing co-operative and the way in which decisions are made, it may be much easier for suitable adjustments to be made and people will not have to join the long queues that they often face in councils.

Housing co-operatives also have an economic benefit. Collectively in the UK, housing co-operatives have a turnover of £642 million. The housing is more accessible to those who cannot afford rising rents and house prices and it provides an alternative to temporary accommodation and seemingly never-ending waiting lists. Ultimately, pursuing the creation of more housing co-operatives should be part of the Scottish Government’s way of addressing housing needs, so I welcome the further inquiry into how that can happen. I congratulate Johann Lamont on bringing the motion to Parliament for debate.

Photo of Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party

Like other members, I welcome the debate, which has been constructive and informative, and I sincerely value the contributions from all the members who have taken part. In particular, I thank Johann Lamont for highlighting the publication of the “Shared space” report and for acknowledging the valuable contribution of housing co-operatives in delivering affordable community-controlled housing in Scotland.

Johann Lamont also highlighted the importance of the co-operative movement to public life more generally. To paraphrase what she said, it is a movement with high ideals but one that is rooted in empowerment and fairness. As the member who represents Clydesdale, which is the home of New Lanark, in which Robert Owen, who is considered to be the father of the co-operative movement, played a pivotal part, I certainly recognise the value that Johann Lamont attaches to co-operatives in many other areas of life, not just housing.

I also congratulate West Whitlawburn Housing Co-Operative in Cambuslang, as it celebrates its 30th anniversary, on all its achievements in creating safe, warm and more attractive homes for its tenants. That is 30 years of positively impacting on the lives of people from many generations. The co-operative deserves our thanks for its dedication and commitment, and I am pleased that many of its members are in the public gallery this evening.

Coincidentally, this morning, I attended the annual conference of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations in Glasgow. As the national membership body for housing associations and co-operatives in Scotland, its ambition is that everyone has a good home in a successful community with a range of high-quality, affordable and accessible homes that meet people’s changing needs and aspirations throughout their lives. That ambition reflects our view that housing is essential to our shared endeavour to build a fairer Scotland—it is certainly more than just bricks and mortar.

Housing supports our ambitions to embed the place principle at the core of how we work. The approach seeks to ensure that we make better decisions that have people and communities at their heart, so as to deliver positive outcomes. Crucially, the place principle recognises that local decision making and delivery, informed by the people who live and work in a community—the experts on their community—are key to the social, economic and physical success of places. I know that that inclusive and co-operative approach is embedded throughout the social housing sector in Scotland. Johann Lamont and others made that point.

Housing is a diverse sector, where housing co-operatives are one of several social landlord constitutional models that are delivering good-quality houses and services to their local communities. The housing co-operative model has remained relatively small in Scotland because, unlike other parts of the UK, we have a strong tradition of community-controlled housing associations. Co-operatives, along with the associations, play a really important role in delivering affordable housing and democratically accountable services to local communities. Given the significant tenant involvement in housing associations in Scotland, there has not been the demand by tenants to grow the co-operative housing model here, but I am happy to further engage with Johann Lamont to understand the barriers that she feels may be there unintentionally and that stymie that demand.

The Government is committed to delivering affordable housing. We have committed to delivering at least 50,000 affordable homes over the course of the parliamentary session, with 35,000 of them for social rent. To achieve that, we are investing more than £3.3 billion in our affordable housing programme, which is the single biggest investment in affordable housing since devolution.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I very much appreciate the cabinet secretary’s willingness to meet the cross-party group on co-operatives, as there is a range of issues of which we are aware. Could the cabinet secretary outline the funding around the wider action work that is done by housing co-operatives? The lesson in Glasgow and elsewhere is that it is not enough just to build houses, as we end up knocking them down later because we have not built in the thing that sustained the communities in which the houses were built.

Photo of Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party

Absolutely—that is why I mentioned the place approach, which ensures that we do not just build houses, but include the spaces in-between that enable children to play, while ensuring that the houses are warm and safe places where children can comfortably do their homework and people can live independently into their old age. The approach also provides spaces that enable communities to engage with each other.

I absolutely take on board what Johann Lamont says. This is not just about bricks and mortar; it is much more important than that. We need not just to build houses but to have sustainable communities, too. All those aspirations are rooted in the national performance framework.

On the commitment to the delivery of affordable housing, I point out that the official statistics that were published yesterday show that we have delivered more than 86,000 affordable homes since 2007, including 59,000 for social rent. That is a significant achievement to ensure that folk have the homes that they deserve. Since 2007, the Government has taken a range of actions to improve housing outcomes for the people of Scotland beyond those ambitious targets. We are certainly proud of that record. We ended the right to buy; we introduced the Scottish social housing charter and the independent Scottish Housing Regulator; we strengthened tenants’ rights in the private sector by introducing the private residential tenancy; we fully mitigated the bedroom tax through discretionary housing payments; we introduced universal credit Scottish choices; and we have worked to cut household bills by improving energy efficiency and tackling fuel poverty. We have a strong tradition of involving tenants in decisions about their homes and communities, and we are the only country in the UK where there is a statutory basis for tenant participation—an important point to make in the debate.

The Scottish Housing Regulator’s reports on the Scottish social housing charter show that nine out of 10 social housing tenants are satisfied with the homes and services that their landlord provides and with their opportunities to participate. The charter continues to deliver good outcomes for tenants and service users, and I am really pleased that the regulator’s report confirms that it is working and is delivering better services and standards year on year. Although that shows that lots of progress has been made, we are certainly not complacent, and we certainly understand that there is still much more to be done.

Turning to the future, when the First Minister launched our programme for government last September, we made a commitment to plan together with stakeholders for how our homes and communities should look and feel in 2040 and for the options and choices to get there. Since then, we have been engaging extensively with a variety of stakeholders, including housing associations, co-operatives and tenants, to help shape a draft vision and principles for 2040.

We will undertake further consultation with stakeholders on a draft vision, themes and outline options in the autumn. Output from that next round of consultation will help us to inform the vision and route map to 2040, which we will publish.

I reiterate our desire for that to be a shared vision with widespread support from all housing sectors and from across the political spectrum. I will happily meet Johann Lamont, James Kelly, Graham Simpson or anyone who wants to further the point that co-operatives need to play a full role in shaping the future housing system in this country. I hope that the offer is received in the spirit that it was intended, so that we can work through our collective vision for housing in Scotland and how co-operatives can play their part in that.

It is an opportunity, and a time to re-imagine a housing system and create a vision for housing between now and 2040. To do that, we need to build on the collective wisdom of our wide and varied housing sector. I certainly invite the CPG to send in its views.

Housing co-operatives, along with housing associations and local authorities, play an important role in meeting our housing aspirations and ambitions. We really welcome the “Shared space” report from Co-operatives UK, which provides a valuable contribution to the debate on creating a vision for housing between now and 2040.

I congratulate Johann Lamont on bringing the debate to Parliament, and, importantly, thank the co-operative members who have attended. I hope that we can ensure that their views and expertise are also captured as we shape our new housing system for Scotland’s future. I sincerely thank everyone who has taken part.

Meeting closed at 17:36.