– in the Scottish Parliament at on 22 November 2023.

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Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-11351, in the name of Mark Griffin, on Scotland’s housing emergency. I invite members who wish to participate in the debate to press their request-to-speak button. I advise members that we have absolutely no time in hand, so I will have to enforce the time limits on speeches pretty robustly.

Photo of Mark Griffin Mark Griffin Labour

Before we begin, I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, which shows that I ceased to be a landlord over the summer.

I am pleased to open the debate for Labour. We are using our business time to call on the Parliament and the Government to face up to the reality that thousands of families across the country face and declare a national housing emergency. I thank the housing sector for its support for the debate and the briefings it has provided. Scottish Land & Estates, Crisis, Homeless Network Scotland and others all recognise the urgency of the housing emergency and desperately want to see—[


.]—the minister and the Government act today. Particular thanks are due to Shelter for working across parties to support the debate.

Today was meant to be about challenging the Government to take responsibility and deliver action to deal with the national emergency. As much as the minister might spend all afternoon trying to pin all the responsibility on the economic illiteracy of the Tory Government at Westminster, this emergency has been made in Scotland by his Government, and it is his responsibility to fix it. Sadly, the minister is not prepared to face up to what his Scottish National Party councillor colleagues in Edinburgh and in Argyll and Bute have faced up to.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The member rather glided past the question of economic illiteracy in the United Kingdom Government. I do not think that it helps the debate for Mr Griffin to obscure the fact that we are all living with the consequences of some absolutely devastating macroeconomic decisions that were made by the UK Government over many years, but principally in the mini-budget last September. Would Mr Griffin perhaps shine a light for a little bit longer on the economic illiteracy of the UK Government?

Photo of Mark Griffin Mark Griffin Labour

My colleagues at Westminster have been highlighting that economic illiteracy and will sweep that Government out of office and make changes for the better for this country.

I want to talk about the Scottish Government’s responsibility and the action—or inaction—that has led to the housing emergency that it seems the entire country, apart from the Scottish Government, accepts we are in the grip of.

We cannot accept an amendment that denies the emergency, and we cannot accept an amendment that deflects and offers nothing new, because the facts set out that we are in the grip of a housing crisis on a national scale. There are 9,500 children in temporary accommodation—many of them for up to one year—and the number of people who are homeless is the highest on record, with another household made homeless every 16 minutes. By the time that I and the minister have spoken, two more households in this country will have been made homeless. There are 60,000 households at risk of repossession and 200,000 households languishing on waiting lists, and, despite an emergency rent freeze, rents have rocketed by 12 per cent in the past year and are increasing faster in Scotland than anywhere else in the UK.

Earlier today, Anas Sarwar and I met Shelter’s helpline team, who are on the front line in supporting people who are being made homeless. Day in and day out they support people with nowhere else to turn, who have been failed by councils that are, ultimately, running out of cash as they deal with the housing emergency. We heard about a person who had been sleeping in an out-of-use caravan in a mechanic’s yard. It had no electricity, water or heating, and, when the council found out, the person was told that there was no accommodation available, until a solicitor got involved. A woman with three children was moved from hotel to hotel for months and was forced to share a bedroom with her teenage children, and no adaptations were made for one of the children, who was using a wheelchair.

Most shockingly, we heard of a woman who has been in temporary accommodation for 10 years—she has spent 10 years in temporary accommodation. What is worse is that her six-year-old child has spent their entire life in temporary accommodation. That six-year-old has no concept of what a safe, secure place to call home is. That is an appalling indictment, and the fact that the Government cannot accept that there is a housing emergency when we have people in such circumstances is beyond belief.

My inbox, like those of many others in the chamber, is stuffed full of examples of families, children, and younger and older people who are stuck without somewhere that they can call home. Such stories are repeated across every part of the country, every day of the week. In recent weeks, I have heard from a woman with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease whose home is making her ill, a young family who have cut spending to the bone but are still a matter of weeks away from losing the roof over their heads, and a teenager who was kicked out of home and who is now couch surfing. Those are all devastating and miserable examples of how desperately people in need of a home in Scotland are living today.

However, rather than dealing with the scale of the problem, the Government is systematically underestimating the country’s needs. Councils have been set the task of finding land for a minimum of 200,000 homes over the next decade. Members might think that that number of homes would make a dent in the housing emergency—but only if it was the right number. Last week, Homes for Scotland revealed new data at its conference, which the minister attended, that would terrify any responsible Government into action—but not, it seems, this Government. Homes for Scotland is concerned that local development planning guidance will drastically underestimate real housing need, so it has commissioned a primary research-led report into the true housing need in Scotland in order to support planners. Measuring the number of people in the most extreme circumstances and counting only people who are in overcrowded and concealed households, as well as those who are homeless and in temporary accommodation, ignores the full picture. The Homes for Scotland survey of 14,000 Scottish households found that 28 per cent of Scottish households—700,000—have some form of housing need, which is far higher than the Government’s official estimate of 200,000.

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

I have some sympathy with the scale of the challenge, as I will say later in the debate. However, real leadership requires sound policies to resolve it. The SNP has built 124,000 social and affordable homes since 2007. What would Labour do?

Photo of Mark Griffin Mark Griffin Labour

We would build more houses. Labour’s record in Government shows that we built an average of 5,000 more houses each year in office than this Government has managed to build. The cause of Scotland’s housing crisis is a shortage in supply that has been overseen by the Government’s failure to deliver the houses that we need, which has been evidenced by bodies right across the sector. Homes for Scotland, Shelter and a whole range of organisations that specialise in the matter have said that the Government has failed consistently to deliver housing in the numbers that this country needs. Whether members speak to Shelter, Homes for Scotland or housing conveners across the country, they will hear that they have all been told that the minister is in listening mode. However, the response to the debate shows that the Government has not done a lot of listening and that it is definitely not acting.

People right across the country need and want an immediate emergency response at a scale that we have not seen before. The long-term answer to the problem is simple: it will be ended by increasing the supply and number of houses across all tenures through building more homes. The declarations of a housing emergency by both City of Edinburgh Council and Argyll and Bute Council have said that a lack of supply is the significant problem. Building more homes across all tenures is a key part of the solution.

The SNP Government’s inaction is exacerbating the emergency, and it is finding reasons not to act. It refuses to set the all-tenure house building target that Homes for Scotland has called for—a target that could focus Government and industry to co-ordinate action to tackle the crisis.

The minister’s amendment talks of work on the task-and-finish group’s recommendations, but his officials are in charge and are telling him that the Government cannot commit to an interim target for building social housing.

The Government trumpets housing completions, but the number of social homes has dropped by 24 per cent compared to last year, and its chances of picking up the pace are dire because the number of homes that have been approved has plummeted by 50 per cent.

The Government must double what it is doing now in order to have any chance of building the number of homes that it plans to build. At the same time, the number of empty homes has jumped by 1,500 in the past year but the Government has still not delivered an escalating council tax surcharge. Worse still, since it set its 110,000 target, the Government has seen an exodus of staff from the very team that it has tasked with delivering more homes.

The minister’s department has been sounding the alarm for months now. It is an open secret that there is a high risk that affordable housing targets could be missed altogether. Despite mortgage rates rocketing, we are almost two years into a review of the home owners’ support fund, and there is still no new support for people who are struggling with their mortgage payments.

Time and again, Government inaction is making this emergency worse. It is strangling the pipeline and failing to deliver the homes that we need—and look at the consequences. Given half a chance to accept that there is a need to take drastic action, the Government is looking the other way. The finance secretary said yesterday that the Government is broke, but the truth is that, with relentless cuts to council budgets, the councils are trying to tackle this crisis with one hand tied behind their back.

I have heard from constituents who are destitute in their homes because they cannot or will not be rehomed. An amputee who cannot get out of his building and a pensioner with mobility needs on the top floor are told that they are adequately housed, so they are left with little option but to present as homeless.

In East Lothian—the minister’s backyard—the council has said that it cannot take any more homes because the revenue demands to run schools and services are too high. City of Edinburgh Council and Argyll and Bute Council have faced up to reality, but every part of this country is facing a housing emergency. Everyone can see it and feel it apart from those in St Andrew’s house.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You need to conclude, Mr Griffin.

Photo of Mark Griffin Mark Griffin Labour

It is time for the Government to accept and admit that there is a housing emergency in Scotland and to support the motion.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that Scotland is experiencing a housing emergency.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you, Mr Griffin. I remind those who are looking to participate in the debate but who have not already done so to press their request-to-speak button.

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

I welcome this afternoon’s debate on housing. I also thank stakeholders who have engaged with us today, whom I meet on a regular basis.

The Government has three missions—equality, opportunity and community. Housing is the building block for success in all three. To tackle poverty and protect people from harm, we must have secure and affordable homes. For people to share in economic opportunities, they need the stability of a home; for communities to thrive and to realise their full potential, people need a place to live in peace and dignity.

Housing is at the heart of our social, emotional and economic lives. I am committed to giving housing and homelessness the support and attention that it deserves, and I have been doing that since being in post.

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

I will not at the moment, thanks.

I have met many experts in the sector, and I have spoken to tenants in the private and social rented sectors. I have heard moving personal stories from people with lived experience of homelessness. I have met investors. What people tell me is that Scotland has the right housing targets and the right plan to end homelessness, but they want me to keep those plans moving forward, to maintain momentum with our targets and to create the right environment for investment. I am proud of Scotland’s record on housing, but we need and want to do much more.

I will focus on the delivery of affordable homes. Our ambition is for everyone—

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

I will not at the moment; I have only a limited time.

Our ambition is for everyone to have a safe and affordable home that meets their needs—

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

Will the minister be taking any interventions?

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

Yes, I will—if I can make progress.

That is why we are making £3.5 billion available in this parliamentary session for the delivery of more affordable and social homes.

Since 2007, we have worked with partners to deliver nearly 124,000 homes, more than 87,000 of which were for social rent. I want to touch on the point that Mark Griffin made. In that period, Scotland has seen 40 per cent—

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

I will n ot at the moment, thanks.

Scotland has seen 40 per cent more affordable homes delivered per head of population than in England and more than 70 per cent more than in Wales.

Mark Griffin was asked about policy ideas by Kate Forbes

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

I will not at the moment, thanks.

We have delivered more. Let us look at the figures, which I have here. Between 1999 and 2007, 43,500 affordable homes were delivered, which is an average of 5,500 per annum. Between 2007 and 2023, 122,205 houses were delivered, which is an average of 7,630 per annum. That is 40 per cent more per annum, on average, than in the period 1999-2007. I suggest that Mr Griffin checks his figures, because those are official figures.

Photo of Mark Griffin Mark Griffin Labour

Social homes are clearly crucial. The figures that I gave were for all-tenure house builds. In every single year of a Labour Government, we built, on average, 5,000 more houses. The shortfall, which is set out by Homes for Scotland, has resulted in the housing crisis and the chronic lack of supply that we have today.

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

Government does not build private houses. We help the private sector to do that, but we do not build private houses. The Scottish Government has delivered 40 per cent more affordable homes than the previous Labour Administration did. That is a fact.

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

No, I have to make progress.

Back in 2016, we also brought an end to the UK Government’s policy of right to buy, which took more than 500,000 homes out of the social rented sector in Scotland. To my Tory colleagues, I say that we estimate that, since ending the right-to-buy policy, up to 15,500 homes have been protected and will remain available to renters.

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

No, thanks.

Looking forward, we are committed to delivering our target of 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, of which at least 70 per cent will be available for social rent and 10 per cent will be in our rural and island communities. That is an ambitious target, but we are making progress. Since 23 March 2022, 13,500 homes have been delivered towards the target, of which 10,500 are for social rent, including almost 23,000 council homes.

We are taking concrete action to boost housing supply, but some matters are beyond our control, whether or not we like that. There are inflationary pressures. Developers have been telling me that construction inflation is at 15 to 20 per cent. Our £752 million budget this year includes at least £60 million to support acquisitions.

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

No, thanks. That funding will address the high number of households in temporary accommodation.

Our recently published “Rural & Islands Housing Action Plan” supports our commitment to delivering at least 10 per cent of our 110,000 target in rural and island communities. That marks an important step in tackling challenges to delivering more homes in rural and island areas. The plan includes a £25 million rural affordable housing fund for key workers over five years, and a three-year package of support worth almost £1 million that is co-funded with the Nationwide Foundation. That will go to the Communities Housing Trust and South of Scotland Community Housing. This morning, I visited Rural Stirling Housing Association, where I talked about the difference that the action plan is beginning to make already.

Since 2016-17, we have supported the delivery of more than 10,000 affordable homes in rural and island areas.

We also talk about the importance of preventing homelessness. We have a world-leading approach in that regard. We are proud of our record on affordable housing supply, but we must also mitigate the factors that contribute to housing precarity and homelessness.

We see housing as a human right. That is why we are taking a world-leading approach to preventing—

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

The reality is that the minister has just given us a catalogue of complacency. Why are there record levels of homelessness in Scotland? Why on earth can he not see the connection between the rent freeze that this Government has imposed and the rising levels of rent and the rising levels of homelessness?

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

Thankfully, just today

, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that he will end the freeze on the local housing allowance.

The damage that has been done by Stephen Kerr’s Government over three years is an estimated £819 million cut to the allowance across the UK. That is coupled with cuts of £181 million to Scotland’s capital budget. So, just do not go there.

As I said, there is a declining trend in repeat homelessness and a decrease in homelessness from the private rented sector, and reports of rough sleeping remain lower than pre-pandemic levels.

The housing and homelessness sectors are under great strain. Last year was particularly difficult for the sectors, and that was reflected in our latest homelessness statistics. We know that councils are making huge efforts to deliver services to people who are experiencing homelessness.

Recovery from the pandemic, the continuing cost of living crisis and more than a decade of austerity from your Government, Mr Kerr—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Through the chair, please, minister.

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

—has put people, businesses, public finances and the third sector under unprecedented pressures. That is why we must focus on the things that matter, such as reducing the backlog in temporary accommodation.

We recognise the challenges that local authorities face. I have been going round the country meeting housing conveners to see how national and local government can work together on solutions. We are acting on the recommendations of the expert temporary accommodation task and finish group, including investing in the national acquisition plan. Funding of £60 million for that was announced in July.

We continue to support local authorities and registered social landlords to make use of their existing stock, to bring empty homes back into use and to increase allocations to homeless households. To support that activity, the Scottish Government has made an additional £2 million available to the 15 local authorities with the most significant temporary accommodation pressures.

In the longer term, we know that the best way to reduce the numbers in temporary accommodation is to support people to stay in their homes and to avoid the trauma of homelessness. We are introducing groundbreaking new homelessness prevention duties in this parliamentary year, which are designed to improve the way that local authorities, registered social landlords and public bodies co-operate to prevent homelessness.

We all know that certain groups are at particular risk of homelessness, including women experiencing domestic abuse. We are piloting a £500,000 initiative called “fund to leave” to help women to leave an abusive relationship.

We have made more than £83 million available for discretionary housing payments this year. The money will be used to fully mitigate the UK Government’s unfair bedroom tax, helping more than 92,000 households in Scotland to stay in their homes.

We have also committed to mitigating the UK Government’s benefit cap as fully as possible within our powers. The cap impacts more than 2,700 families. It will be interesting to see what Labour’s position will be if it takes power in Westminster next year. I would hope that the party would commit to that—hopefully, we will hear Mr Griffin make that commitment later on.

Many of the challenges that Scotland’s housing market faces today are borne of disastrous decisions: the freezing of local housing allowance, which we have talked about, a hard Brexit and a catastrophic mini-budget last year.

This Government has been working hard to secure the uplift of local housing allowance in advance of the UK budget statement today. I am relieved to hear that the chancellor will be scrapping the freeze on local housing allowance—

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

In conclusion, the Government recognises the challenges that people such as this young woman face. We know that there is an unmet housing need. People deserve better. We will continue to work in partnership with local authorities, with landlords and with housing developers to ensure that we have the right range and choice of homes to allow our communities to thrive.

I move amendment S6M-11351.2, to leave out from “agrees” to end and insert:

“recognises that Scotland is facing significant pressures with homelessness and temporary accommodation, and therefore agrees that the Scottish Government should build on its track record of delivering 123,985 affordable homes since 2007 by delivering 110,000 affordable homes by 2032; considers that it should continue to work on the recommendations of the Temporary Accommodation Task and Finish Group and recently published Rural and Islands Housing Action Plan; further considers that it should continue to develop its proposals for a Housing Bill in 2023, with stronger tenants’ rights and powers to prevent homelessness; acknowledges Scottish Government support for local authorities in developing targeted plans to address local housing needs; regrets the disastrous UK Government “mini-budget” of 2022, which has left the housing market struggling against inflationary pressures, as well as the devastating impact of Brexit on construction costs and workforce challenges, and calls on the UK Government to immediately uprate Local Housing Allowance, end the spare room subsidy, more commonly known as the bedroom tax, and reverse the planned real-terms reduction to Scotland's capital budget.”

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

I thank the Labour Party for bringing the debate to the chamber.

The starting point of the debate is whether one agrees that there is a housing emergency. It appears that the Scottish Government does not think that there is. That is despite overwhelming evidence and two councils having declared such an emergency in their own area, including in the capital, which was backed by SNP councillors. The Government’s amendment is petty, it shows an Administration that is out of touch with reality and we will not support it.

The evidence is compelling. The number of homeless applications increased by 9 per cent in 2022-23. Some 16,200 children have been assessed for, or are threatened with, homelessness. More than 6,000 families have been stuck in temporary accommodation for more than a year. In most council areas, the longest amount of time a child has been stuck in temporary accommodation exceeds a year.

Also, of course, the City of Edinburgh Council this month overwhelmingly declared a housing emergency in the capital; it was the second council to do so, after Argyll and Bute. The City of Edinburgh Council’s housing convener said:

“By declaring a housing emergency, we hope to draw widescale attention to an issue that demands urgent and united action. Every single person deserves a warm, safe, and affordable place to call home and we can address this, if we act now.”

Shelter Scotland director Alison Watson said of that declaration:

“Scotland is facing a housing emergency, which is at its most acute in the capital.”

That in itself should be enough for anyone to back the Labour motion. It is not enough for the Government, though.

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

One of the challenges around housing is how widespread the difficulties are, not least for owners who are struggling to afford their mortgages because a previous Tory leader crashed the economy, leaving people to face rocketing bills. What does he have to say to them?

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

We need an all-tenures solution to the housing crisis and the housing emergency, which the Government denies.

Shelter laid out the statistics in stark terms. A record 9,500 children are trapped in temporary accommodation; that is up 130 per cent since 2014. Forty-five children are becoming homeless every day. A household is becoming homeless every 16 minutes. There is a 10 per cent increase in households becoming homeless compared with last year.

Homelessness is at its worst when we have people sleeping rough on the streets, and that is on the rise again. It is at its worst when people are having to use night shelters. We must commit to ending both.

During the previous parliamentary session, I was on the Local Government and Communities Committee, which carried out an inquiry into homelessness. In October 2017, we visited Finland to look at that country’s housing first model. There, they had virtually eliminated rough sleeping. We recommended that the Scottish Government adopt the same approach. For a time, it looked as though the Government was on board, but now we seem to be slipping backwards.

No one should have to sleep rough and no one should have to use a night shelter, but they do. That is what makes it an emergency. It is disappointing that the Government does not see it that way. It has its head in the sand. We cannot begin to tackle a problem unless we first acknowledge the scale of it. We only have to listen to people such as the Edinburgh students I met this morning, who described the emergency for them in this city.

One of the big issues for many years has been our very low rates of house building. The Government amendment fails to recognise the need for more homes of all tenures or to acknowledge that the delivery of private housing is also pivotal to unlocking affordable housing delivery.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

You did not take my intervention, Mr McLennan, so I will not take yours.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Speak through the chair.

We know that the SNP Government failed to meet its 50,000 affordable homes target on time in the previous session of Parliament. We also know that the number of affordable homes approved has reached its lowest level in 10 years, and that social sector new-build starts are 36 per cent down on last year. The social housing sector needs to be a priority. We should not forget the private rented sector, which has seen landlords bailing out and rents rising thanks to Patrick Harvie’s ill-judged rent cap policy.

My amendment merely recognises that legislation is on the way, and we simply suggest that it should be used as an opportunity to change things. If anyone opposes the amendment, they will need to say exactly what the housing bill should be for if it is not to fix things. We have seen little in the way of detail so far about the bill, but it must tackle the issues that I have raised, and it must do something to address the chronic undersupply.

Denying the problem will not fix the problem. Is there a housing emergency? You bet there is a housing emergency.

I move amendment S6M-11351.1, to insert at end:

“, and calls on the Scottish Government to tackle the issues that have caused the current crisis in its forthcoming Housing Bill.”

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

SNP members, including Kate Forbes, are right to talk about the Liz Truss budget last year, which had a dramatic impact on household finances and meant that many people simply could not afford their mortgage. Construction costs have gone up, in part because of Brexit but also because of that budget. There is no doubt that demographics have changed. The demand for housing is going up steeply and, to be fair, even though more houses are being built, they are not meeting that demand. That is in part why we are seeing a dramatic impact on the housing situation in Scotland.

We also have the issue of holiday homes and short-term lets, which we have debated frequently, and the issue of second homes, which is putting a bit of pressure on parts of the world such as the east neuk, which I represent. Student demand has changed and, in some parts of the country, more families are being brought over with students from Africa.

All of that amounts to a really difficult situation and huge pressures. In the context of all that, it is unacceptable not to acknowledge that we have a housing emergency. We have a really difficult situation.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Before Mr Rennie leaves the circumstances and context in which we find ourselves, will he say whether he thinks that the prolonged austerity that was ushered in by the Liberal Democrats in 2010 has been a help or a hindrance in tackling the housing challenges that we face?

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

Mr Swinney knows, because he was a particularly astute curator of the finances, that it was important to get the finances under control. However, it is on the record that it was important to get the balance right between spend for the public purse and spend for the private citizen. Some mistakes were of course made during that period but, overall, I do not think that Mr Swinney would deny that, when we arrived in government, we found ourselves in quite cataclysmic circumstances.

However, we are here today and we are dealing with a housing emergency that has been in part—[


.] If Mr Swinney wishes to make this a partisan point, which I was seeking not to do, it is important that we recognise the failures of the Scottish Government in this regard, because it has not met the rising demand for housing. In my constituency, there are a couple in their 60s who are sofa surfing. There are numerous disabled families—[


.] I see that SNP members are not interested, now that I am talking about the difficulties that people face in their daily lives.

There are disabled people right across my constituency who are crammed into overcrowded housing, with not enough space for their equipment. In those very difficult circumstances, their quality of life has plummeted. We have damp and overcrowded houses, people who are surrounded by antisocial behaviour, and disabled people living upstairs, which is completely unsuitable for their needs. Housing officers in Fife are being increasingly blunt with my office staff and are saying that there are just no homes left.

If that is not a housing emergency, I do not know what is. Of course it is not all the SNP’s fault, of course Liz Truss’s budget is partly responsible and of course the demographic changes are responsible as well, but that does not negate the fact that we have an emergency. We should acknowledge that, rather than complacently going on thinking that our plans will be enough.

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

I will address the point that Mr Rennie has made. There have been calls today for Scotland to declare a housing emergency but, whatever we decide to call it—I respect the decisions of local authorities that have already declared a housing emergency—the most important thing is the actions that we take. I am keen to stress that we have a programme of action. To put it in context—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Minister, interventions need to be brief.

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

Per head of population, we build 40 per cent more houses than England and 70 per cent more than Labour-controlled Wales.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

But that is clearly not enough.

The people who are desperate for houses do not listen to those statistics; they believe that they do not have a home because they do not have a home. Hearing those statistics will bring them no comfort. It might satisfy the Minister for Housing, but it does not satisfy them. That is why we need to accept that there is a housing emergency.

The Labour motion is good, but it is an Opposition motion. Cammy Day and the City of Edinburgh Council, as well as the leadership of Argyll and Bute Council, deserve huge credit, because a bit of self-criticism is involved in announcing a housing emergency in Edinburgh and in Argyll and Bute, in that they are partly responsible for the situation that we are in.

Would it not be a powerful statement if the minister were to accept that, although he claims that he is doing more, it is clearly not enough and that there is an emergency? That would bring some comfort to my constituents who are desperate for a home. They would get some comfort from the minister acknowledging that more is required to be done for the 4,735 households including children that are in temporary accommodation and for the 29,600 homeless houses in the system. We have 693,000 people in some kind of housing need. That is an emergency.

I understand that construction costs have gone up, which is making it difficult for house builders to build more homes, but the number of new starts is down by 26 per cent, whereas demand is shooting right up.

We need to do so much more, and we need to accept that there is an emergency. That is what I hope to hear from the minister today, because I think that he wants to sort the problem, but he will not sort it if he denies the reality.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests in relation to my former employment.

Edinburgh’s housing shortage has been getting worse for years. On 2 November, as colleagues have acknowledged, the City of Edinburgh Council unanimously declared a housing emergency, recognising that we are in the depths of a housing crisis that touches all aspects of society.

Housing is one of the key issues on which people ask me, as a representative, for help. Families from all backgrounds contact me about the perilous situation in which they find themselves. We urgently need action and investment, because, at the moment, we are not getting them the homes that they urgently need. As of 30 October this year, nearly 5,000 families were being housed in temporary accommodation; that figure is up from 3,500 in March 2020, and it is expected only to rise as our population continues to grow.

As has been acknowledged, despite Edinburgh being our capital, it has the lowest proportion of affordable social rented homes in the country—only 16 per cent compared with the national average of 24 per cent—so it is no surprise that people are struggling to find somewhere safe and affordable to live. A recent council report highlighted that there are, on average, 197 bids for every available house. That means that, time after time, families are refused suitable housing, because there are simply not enough homes available.

The picture in the private rented sector is just as bad. We have lost homes to the short-term let sector, and private sector rents in Edinburgh are the highest in Scotland, with the average rent being in excess of £1,400 a month, or £400 more than the Scottish average. That figure is due only to rise, despite the rent freeze and the eviction ban.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

No—I want to crack on.

As well as the financial burden, there have been missed economic opportunities to create jobs in our local communities and supply chains. There is a massive human impact. Warm, safe and affordable accommodation is the bedrock that everybody needs for their lives, and the knock-on impact of not having somewhere safe and affordable to live is massive.

Evidence from Crisis suggests that 45 per cent of people who are homeless suffer from poor mental health. For those who are rough sleeping, the figure rises to eight in 10 people. The fact that people’s mental health begins to deteriorate within 72 hours of becoming homeless illustrates why we need everyone to have access to a home.

Moreover, the impact of homelessness on a child can be catastrophic for their academic outcomes as well as for their emotional wellbeing and opportunities in life. An estimated 9,000 children are in temporary accommodation across Edinburgh—that is 9,000 children in Edinburgh alone. Children are being let down, because of the failure to deal with this housing emergency. Just think of being one of those kids’ parents and imagine the huge pressure that they are under. We must do better; we must give every one of those children—and their families—the opportunity to learn and develop and have a safe home.

This crisis goes way further than the numbers suggest. Students have already been mentioned in the chamber; the figures do not include the 14 per cent of students in Edinburgh who have experienced homelessness this year at some point during their studies. We now have 100,000 students in Edinburgh, so that 14 per cent represents a significant number of young people forced to sofa surf or commute from further afield, both of which have a detrimental impact on their ability to learn.

If we are going to solve the issue, we need to act urgently. Local authorities need additional support and resources to make the difference that is needed. We need to bring more empty homes back into use.

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

Sarah Boyack knows that I meet the City of Edinburgh Council regularly. A sum of £60 million for the acquisition of properties was announced during the summer, and the council is working on that just now. Does the member acknowledge the partnership work that is also required? Edinburgh has acknowledged that it needs to do more with regard to the 1,500 empty homes that it has, and we are working closely with it on that and its allocations policy. It is not just about funding.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

The challenge is not the willingness of people to work together, whether it be with the voluntary sector, with the councils or even through talking to the minister—it is the finance. Yes, it is good to get a small amount of money to bring some empty homes back into use, but local authorities need more resources to tackle the situation properly. We have now had several round-table meetings in Edinburgh alone, as the minister knows, with MSPs, tenants, students, universities, the council and key stakeholders coming together. We need more than warm words—we need action now.

I have met people in the streets, listened to their personal stories of how they ended up homeless and heard about the massive personal cost to them and their families. It is critical that we prevent homelessness in the first place. Our housing charities do an amazing job, but there are queues around the buildings where people get support. Women have ended up rough sleeping after experiencing domestic violence, and there are families living in rooms that have bed bugs and nowhere to cook food. We have a systemic crisis. This Parliament needs to come together, admit that and act, because the situation does not reflect the equality, opportunity and community that the minister has said that he would like to see.

The City of Edinburgh Council saw that it was facing this crisis and came together, across the parties, to declare a housing emergency. We are going to hear from colleagues who have seen significant pressures on families in constituencies across Scotland. Scotland is facing a housing emergency, so we need to act. We need to take Edinburgh’s lead, look at the crisis that we are facing and start to invest, support our councils and our housing providers and bring to an end the situation of thousands of homes lying vacant for far too long—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You need to conclude, Ms Boyack.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

We need the Scottish Government to do the heavy lifting because, without leadership, our constituents are being let down. That is not acceptable.

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

Housing plays a fundamental part in all our lives. I have said it before, and I will probably say it again: we must rise to the challenges that the future brings, whether that be recovering from the pandemic, tackling climate change and achieving net zero or supporting our ageing population. As we know, ensuring that every one of us has a home that meets our needs will be crucial. That means that we need homes that are accessible and affordable, warm and sustainable, with a thriving community and near the services that people rely on.

Affordable housing can help reduce poverty and inequality, because people will spend less of their income on housing costs and the other essentials in life. We have kept poverty levels down in Scotland because rents have been cheaper here. Living in a warm and affordable home also helps with health outcomes, improves educational attainment and allows us to feel more grounded in our communities.

For individuals and families who face homelessness, that is an emergency and a crisis—a reality—for them. We have had a lot of discussion today about action and inaction. Some folk seem more than happy to forgive and forget some actions. Let us look at that in some depth.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

Kevin Stewart just described those circumstances as an emergency for those individuals. Why is it so difficult to describe the situation for everyone facing those circumstances as an emergency, too?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

F or each of those individuals—for all those folks who are currently sofa surfing or homeless—it is a crisis. We need to ensure that we get more houses in place to stop that kind of situation.

Also, a lot of folk are in crisis at the moment, because of the cost of living, which nobody seems to be willing to talk about today. That was brought on by the Truss budget and it means that many folk who never thought that they would face homelessness are now doing so, as they can no longer pay their mortgages because of high interest rates. They canna pay their energy bills and they canna cope with food prices going up. However, many of us here today seem unwilling to talk about that, because it does not fit the agenda.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

I am sure that Kevin Stewart was listening, because I did talk about that. Surely, though, this Parliament should be focusing on what we can do. Of course we can send a message to Westminster, but our priority today should be what we should do. Will the member spend more time on that issue today?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

I will spend more time on it. I give credit to Mr Rennie for talking about those issues, but others did not.

Let us look at the action that can be taken. The minister is sitting at the front there, as I have done previously as housing minister, and he will want to do as much as he possibly can. However, the reality is that the minister is bounded by the amount of finance available. Since I have been in this Parliament—that is, since 2011—we have seen constant capital cuts from the UK Government, which restrict the housing minister and other ministers who want to spend on capital projects.

Let us look at what the Government has done and what it plans to do. In the parliamentary session during which I was housing minister—the session from 2016 to 2021—the ambition was to build 50,000 affordable homes during the course of that Parliament. We would have done so, if it had not been for Covid. The target was reached a year later, in March 2022. That target of 50,000 affordable homes was immense. I wanted to go further and faster, as did the Government, but unfortunately the money that should have been available to the Government—to Mr Swinney and the finance secretaries—was not there, because Westminster kept cutting capital budgets. That is the reality.

Even with that, we have still managed to build more affordable homes per head of population since 2007-08 than any other part of the UK. There are 13.9 homes per 10,000 population here in Scotland; the figure is 9.7 in England, 8 in Wales and 13 in Northern Ireland. I am sure that the minister sitting at the front would want to go much further than that—and I would certainly want to see that happen, too—but he is bounded by the finance.

We also need to look at the reality—at the truth—of some of the things that have been said. There was talk of inaction from the Labour benches—and a lack of reality about what they did. Inaction there has been: there was inaction during the Labour-Liberal years with regard to stopping the sale of council homes—which we did to help people—and they also delivered much less affordable housing over every year of the course of their tenure than this Government has done.

They also have the shameful record of managing to build only six council homes in their last years in power.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

Will the member take an intervention on that point?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

No. You need to conclude, Mr Stewart.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You need to conclude.

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

I will conclude.

The “Housing to 2040” vision and principles were shaped through extensive consultation. We need to move on that front. I hope that the minister will get more finance—certainly, that has not come from the chancellor today—because he and I, like everyone in the chamber, want to go further and faster.

Photo of Pam Gosal Pam Gosal Conservative

I am pleased to be able to contribute to the debate about how we address Scotland’s housing emergency. I thank Labour for bringing such an important debate to the chamber. I will support the Labour motion and the amendment in the name of my colleague Graeme Simpson.

Housing is everybody’s business and fixing our problem with the housing system is everyone’s responsibility. As we have heard this afternoon, the evidence that Scotland is facing a housing emergency is absolutely clear. Earlier this year, Argyll and Bute Council, which is in my region, declared its own housing emergency. At recent meetings, several local authority chief executives have been clear that housing supply is one of their biggest challenges, particularly due to the increasing number of homelessness applications that they are having to deal with.

In this day and age, nobody should be at risk of homelessness, but it is still something that thousands of people in Scotland face each year. There are currently 30,000 households in Scotland’s homelessness system, which is the highest level since records began.

Photo of Pam Gosal Pam Gosal Conservative

I have just started. I might take one later.

There has been a 10 per cent increase in the number of households becoming homeless in the past year alone. As we have heard, almost 10,000 children are in temporary accommodation, which represents an increase of 130 per cent since 2014.

The housing emergency has been developing for a long time. We know that the Scottish Government failed to meet its previous target of building 50,000 affordable homes by 2021. Then, in 2021, the Scottish Government set a target of building 110,000 affordable homes by 2032. So far, however, progress towards that target has been mixed at best. The number of affordable homes to be approved has reached its lowest level for 10 years. In the most recent quarter, social sector home starts fell by 36 per cent compared with the previous year.

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

Speaking to local authorities and registered social landlords, we hear that the biggest barrier is the cost of borrowing due to high interest rates and construction inflation, which has been at around 15 to 20 per cent. The UK Government must take the blame for the high cost of borrowing, which is delaying our meeting those targets.

Photo of Pam Gosal Pam Gosal Conservative

I thank the minister for that intervention. It is actually a global problem. However, the chief executives that I spoke to last week made it clear that the Scottish Government is failing them. The onus lies with the Scottish Government. It would be good if the minister was to listen to the rest of my speech so that he hears how we can all work together.

The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations has said:

“This strain on the supply of new affordable homes is coming at a time when the need for social homes is only becoming more acute”.

The SNP might be holding out hope that the introduction of additional council tax premiums for second homes will increase the availability of homes for local residents, but the evidence on that is not so clear. A survey that was carried out by Propertymark found that most property agents do not believe that the policy will increase availability through the sale of second homes. Propertymark has made it clear that simply delivering more new homes would be a far more effective solution to housing shortages.

On top of that, opportunities have also been missed in the planning system. When the national planning framework 4 was debated earlier this year, the Conservatives were clear that the new planning framework has failed to put Scotland’s housing emergency front and centre in the planning system. Homes for Scotland has highlighted that NPF4 fails to deliver a workable plan for how a consistent pipeline of land for new housing can be provided in the long term. It has also highlighted that NPF4 does not address the shortage of resources in planning departments, which is causing huge delays for planning applications from home builders.

Although there are clearly problems with the supply of housing, our amendment highlights the opportunity that lies in the forthcoming housing bill. As members have set out, there are many problems with Scotland’s housing sector, to which there are several possible solutions. Legislation is one of those. As a member of the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee, I look forward to the introduction of the bill next year. I stand ready to take evidence from key stakeholders and scrutinise the bill constructively. I hope that it will deliver the changes that the housing sector needs. The onus now lies on the SNP Government to ensure that the bill delivers on that potential.

Scotland faces a housing emergency, and this debate is an opportunity for the Scottish Government to accept that. By accepting the motion and our amendment, the SNP could send a clear signal that it is treating the issue with the seriousness that it deserves. However, the onus will still lie on the Scottish Government to act now, and that action needs to include empowering our councils to fulfil their obligations to prevent homelessness.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You need to conclude, Ms Gosal.

Photo of Pam Gosal Pam Gosal Conservative

It also needs to include ensuring that councils have the framework and resources that they need to deliver new homes in every part of Scotland, as well as reversing the current slowdown in the supply of new housing. By taking such steps, the Government will be able to prevent the housing emergency from truly becoming a crisis.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I reinforce the fact that we have no time in hand, so members have up to six minutes. I also encourage front-bench members to stop carrying on discussions while somebody is on their feet speaking.

Photo of Ben Macpherson Ben Macpherson Scottish National Party

Housing is the most serious issue in my constituency and, arguably, the most serious issue for my generation and those who are younger. I speak for them today.

It is true—and it is widely recognised—that there is a housing crisis in the UK, including in parts of Scotland, among which is my constituency. It is equally true that that crisis was decades in the making. Context matters. The crisis started way before devolution. The right to buy created problems that we are still dealing with today. In a time of plenty and buoyant public finances, the new Labour Government could and should have done more. The austerity agenda of the Liberal Democrat and Conservative coalition Government impacted on the housing challenges that we face in the here and now. It is also true that the public finance challenge that we face at the moment constrains what we can action in this serious situation.

The crisis across the UK is wide reaching and it is about quantity, quality and price. It is a complex monetary and fiscal issue and the responsibility for it rests with us all. In 2007, the SNP Scottish Government rightly committed to a significant affordable house building agenda and investment in our shared national infrastructure. In the context of a recession, an austerity agenda, a Brexit that Scotland did not vote for, a pandemic, a situation of global conflict that impacted the prices of materials and the disastrous Conservative Truss Government that plunged the public finances into turmoil, the SNP Government built around 124,000 new affordable homes, including at the Leith Fort development in my constituency and on-going works in Granton. The Government also ended the right to buy so that we are constantly topping up the quantum of affordable housing in Scotland, which is why our figures are so much higher than those in other parts of the UK, including in Labour-run Wales.

However, it is true that we need more, and that is what we are focusing on in this debate. It is also why it is excellent that, despite the challenge of the financial scenario that we are in, the Scottish Government is committed to and focused on building 110,000 affordable homes, at least 70 per cent of which will be for social rent. In that context, we are in a position in which, although we have had greater success in Scotland, we need to do more. We need to recognise that parts of Scotland face a different challenge. Edinburgh is in a housing emergency, but there is evidence that our record on tackling poverty is better in other parts of Scotland because of the investment that the Scottish Government has made in affordable housing.

I welcome the fact that we are using this time to discuss the collective challenge of what is happening in Scotland but, as Edinburgh Northern and Leith’s MSP, I am sure that members would expect me to focus on the emergency that we have in Edinburgh. Specific attention must be paid to areas that have the highest levels of challenge. In Edinburgh, we have one of the lowest proportions of social housing in Scotland, but in recent years we have experienced one of the highest rates of population growth. That is reflected in my casework week after week, and the challenge that it creates is growing ever greater. Figures supplied by Shelter Scotland show that, as of 31 March 2023, there were more than 6,000 live homelessness applications. That represents a 17 per cent increase on the figure on the same date in the previous year. Those are Scottish Government figures.

Photo of Alex Rowley Alex Rowley Labour

I would not disagree with Mr Macpherson’s historical analysis, but there is a crisis right across Scotland. Does he agree that, as well as tackling planning and giving local authorities far greater powers so that they can get the land that they require, we need a skills revolution?

Photo of Ben Macpherson Ben Macpherson Scottish National Party

I will come to some of those points, briefly, in a moment.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

Mr Macpherson, you must still conclude within your allotted time.

Photo of Ben Macpherson Ben Macpherson Scottish National Party

Edinburgh has specific challenges that need specific attention. The Government needs to look at the strategic housing investment plan and the affordable housing supply programme with a view to considering how it can target and focus on areas with the greatest need. As has been mentioned, the forthcoming land reform bill gives us an opportunity to think about urban land reform and how we can reduce the price of land for housing so that local authorities can compete with the private sector in trying to get that land, the demand for which is so high.

Housing is a really high priority and it is right that Parliament is focusing on it. In particular, the Government’s focus should be on Edinburgh. I welcome the Government’s collaboration with me on that.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests, which states that I own a sixth share in a family home.

There is a housing crisis in Scotland, and many members have discussed that. However, that crisis is much more pronounced in rural areas. Sadly, the Government does not seem to recognise the scale of the crisis, given its amendment to the motion. That is really concerning, because if it does not recognise the scale of the crisis, how on earth will it rise to the challenge and put things right?

In rural Scotland, a lot of the problem is caused by second homes and holiday lets, which inflate the prices of homes. That is a result of the fact that people who live in such areas do not have access to the same level of finance or the same ability to get a mortgage as the people who come in.

Photo of Jim Fairlie Jim Fairlie Scottish National Party

Does Rhoda Grant recognise and welcome the Scottish Government’s proposed introduction of the ability for local authorities to charge far more council tax for second homes?

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

It has long been our policy to make sure that that happens, but we must go further. Because people who can afford to buy a second home have a fair amount of free cash, they will be able to pay that extra council tax, so we must consider other measures that recognise the fact that they have a lot more money than local people have.

Local people cannot get a mortgage, because they often work in seasonal jobs. They also have unstable jobs. Banks demand a monthly salary—a stable income is what they lend against. People who have three or four different jobs simply cannot provide that to get a mortgage.

We need to take into account the fact that the cost of living in rural areas is much higher. In good times, it was 30 per cent higher, but it will be much more than that now. That means that people in rural areas are less able to compete for homes in their communities.

We also need to look at the cost of building in rural communities, which is hugely different from the cost in other areas. I have often quoted—and I continue to quote—the unit price for a socially rented house in Barra, which was £233,000. The Government grant to housing associations for building in rural areas is less than half of that, at £111,640.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

I have already given way and I want to make progress, if I may.

Not only do rural areas not have enough grant from the Government, but they have the higher cost of materials. A house costs 25 per cent more before building it even begins due to the cost of transporting materials on ferries alone.

Housing associations are also bound to put their projects out to tender, and only large companies can afford to tender for them. Those large companies do not employ people in island or rural communities, which also adds to the cost, because they bring in workers from outside. Any economic benefit that could have been given to the rural community disappears, because all the profit from building the unit goes elsewhere. We have to look at how we rural proof our policies, because planning is very much urbanised.

Many people have welcomed the Government’s commitment to 10 per cent of affordable homes being built in rural and island areas, but I want to pick that apart a little. Seventeen per cent of people in Scotland live in rural areas, as defined by the Scottish Government. However, the definition includes small, remote towns and accessible rural areas, as well as remote rural areas. The problem with that is that communities such as Barra are competing for that 10 per cent with the leafy suburbs of Edinburgh. That cannot be right, because most of that building will happen in the central belt.

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

That 10 per cent, as discussed in the recent debate, is a minimum. I do not see competition between rural areas and Edinburgh happening under the rural and islands housing action plan. The figure is for rural housing, and there will not be competition with parts of Edinburgh for funding. I am happy to take that up with the member after the debate.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

I am talking about the leafy suburbs surrounding Edinburgh, and I am looking at the Scottish Government’s own map and definition. If it is working to a different map, I would very much want to see it but, according to the map that it published, rural areas are competing with country towns and suburbs in the central belt and those around other cities. We need to look at that and ensure that we get housing in our remote rural communities. The cost is so much greater in them that, if rural areas are competing with suburban areas, they will not get any of the housing that they need.

I could speak about many more issues that affect our rural areas. Companies are being encouraged to create their own housing as part of efforts to meet skills shortages, but we in rural communities have moved away from tied housing. I do not want to see a policy that drives us back to tied housing, in which someone’s roof over their head is dependent on their job and they are basically almost enslaved to a company because of that.

The whole of Scotland is in a housing crisis, but it is worse for rural communities for the reasons that I have outlined. If the Scottish Government does not deal with that, it will be presiding over a turbo-charged depopulation of our remote rural communities.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I remind members that there is no time in hand and that speeches should be up to six minutes.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

It is a fundamental right and an absolute necessity that people in our society should be appropriately housed. Safe and secure housing is essential to ensure that individuals are able to participate fully and effectively in our society with a stable base and that individuals are able to provide a good-quality environment in which children can be brought up.

It is clear that there are significant pressures on the supply of housing in various—perhaps all—parts of Scotland. In my Perthshire North constituency, there are acute challenges in the availability of housing that meets the needs of individuals and families, and I deal with the same types of cases that members have recounted in the debate.

Those pressures are present in most areas of my constituency. There is a need to ensure that suitable and appropriate accommodation to meet the needs of individuals and families is available for all. However, the pressures are perhaps at their most acute in areas where there is buoyant demand for tourist accommodation and where there is an attraction for people to own second homes. The affordability of housing is a real challenge for many people who seek to live and work in those communities, and the competition to obtain appropriate housing is intense.

The implications do not stop there. There are significant consequences for private and public sector employers, who face enormous challenges in recruiting staff simply due to the inability of individuals to afford to live in specific parts of my constituency.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

It is interesting that John Swinney says that perhaps all of Scotland faces these issues. He highlighted particular issues in his constituency. Why therefore is there reservation about describing this as an emergency? Would doing so not help to clarify focus and attention?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I will address that point later in my speech.

Over the past eight years, major developments have taken place in different parts of my constituency as a consequence of partnership funding from the Scottish Government and the local authority, such as the 65 homes at the Glebe school site in Scone, the 12 homes in Ardler Road in Meigle, the 20 houses at Linn Road in Stanley, the 20 flats in Birch Avenue in Scone, the 11 new homes in Springbank Road in Alyth and the 10 new homes in Balbeggie. There have also been other developments in which private developers have met their affordable housing targets.

Although those developments are welcome, I recognise that they are not enough. That is why I welcome the good work that is being undertaken by organisations such as Aberfeldy Development Trust, which are taking forward key projects to boost affordable housing supply in communities in which there is intense pressure on the housing stock. Enabling organisations such as Aberfeldy Development Trust to play a part in the effort to improve housing supply is crucial.

Although there are major challenges in the housing supply, I am proud of what the Scottish Government has achieved since it was elected in 2007. Before we came to power—the minister has made this point—our predecessors completed on average 5,431 affordable homes each year. Since this Government came to power, it has completed 7,638 affordable homes on average each year. That is 5,431 each year under the Labour and Lib Dem Administration and 7,638 each year under the SNP. Those figures are undeniable.

The Labour and Lib Dem record was delivered during a period of burgeoning public finances. There was so much money around that the Government at that time was unable to spend all the money that was available to it and, thankfully, it left £1.6 billion unspent when this Government came to office in 2007.

The record of the SNP Government has been achieved in the aftermath of the financial crash in 2008. All of it has been achieved against a backdrop of austerity, Brexit and the loss of staff, and the costs of borrowing have rocketed due to the Liz Truss-Kwasi Kwarteng mini-budget disaster.

Although there has been criticism of the Government today, a significant amount has been done to tackle the issue.

Various members have said—this is where I come to Mr Johnson’s point—that we should declare a housing emergency. I understand that aspiration and the seriousness of the point. My colleague Mr Macpherson made a compelling speech about the importance and severity of the situation that his constituents face. However, I respectfully say to Parliament that it is not enough just to do that. Substantial actions must be set out on how we will address the issue. That was lacking in Mr Griffin’s speech—he knows how much I respect his contributions in Parliament.

We cannot just wish away the conditions that we face. Today, construction costs and borrowing costs are higher. The labour market is tight because of the implications of Brexit. If we want to build more houses, we must be prepared to address the reality of the situation that we face. If we want to allocate more money to the task of building more houses, members must be honest enough to say what capital projects will not go ahead. What are we going to stop doing to create the space for more money to be spent on housing?

I spent long enough as the finance minister—nine years on the trot and one year of temporary cover for my dear friend Kate Forbes—listening to members of Parliament spending money twice. Suggestions about spending money twice, three times or four times over are getting particularly acute from Conservative members. If we want to declare a housing emergency, we have to be prepared to put our money where our mouth is. That is a responsibility of every single member.

Photo of Douglas Lumsden Douglas Lumsden Conservative

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, which shows that I was a councillor at the start of the session.

I thank Labour for this important debate. I also thank the organisations that have sent briefings for today’s debate and all those constituents who have emailed me, asking me to support the motion. The topic affects many people, and the Conservatives will support the motion.

Scotland is, indeed, facing a housing crisis, which is wholly due to the coalition of chaos that is the devolved Government of Greens and the SNP. They have imposed ridiculous measures on what was a thriving sector, which have limited its ability to grow. At the same time, they have cut local government to the bone, preventing investment in affordable housing.

Let us be clear: we are not talking about housing; we are talking about homes—places where people can find safety, security, warmth and comfort. Homes are places where families can make a place for themselves and where communities can be built. When the Government gets that wrong, everything else flows from there. When people have no sense of place and of community, they have no sense of security.

Homelessness is a scourge on our country, and it is a sad indictment of a Government that is so focused on independence that it has lost sight of what the Scottish people want. The Scottish people want a Government that is focused on their priorities, not on constitutional wranglings. They want a Government that addresses the big issues in our society around housing, health, education and economic growth, and they want a Government that invests in our communities.

Photo of Paul McLennan Paul McLennan Scottish National Party

Does the member acknowledge that the biggest drivers of homelessness are poverty and inequality? At the moment, we are spending £83 million per year on the discretionary housing payment. We also mitigate the unfair bedroom tax and the benefit cap. Surely, if those were removed, it would benefit Scotland and we would have more money to spend on the issues that the member was talking about.

Photo of Douglas Lumsden Douglas Lumsden Conservative

I thank the minister for his pre-scripted intervention. There was no word of national insurance being cut by 2 per cent, and what about the UK Government paying a large proportion of everyone’s energy bills last year?

We have seen a catalogue of failures in some of the statistics surrounding the issue. The number of homelessness applications has gone up by 9 per cent during the past year; 16,263 children have been assessed for, or threatened with, homelessness during the past year; there are 6,000 families in temporary accommodation; the number of affordable homes approved is at its lowest level for 10 years; and the Government’s own target of affordable homes has been missed.

Unfortunately, we cannot say that all of that is caused simply by incompetence on behalf of the Green-SNP Government; it is actually wilful policy making that is stifling growth and causing massive rent rises in our rented sector. The crazy rent cap policy—brought in by the Greens in coalition with the SNP—has brought massive rent rises in our cities, in particular, with rent growth in Edinburgh outstripping that in London. Zoopla has said that landlords are left with no choice but to increase rents between tenancies to ensure that they are covering their costs.

The number of homes that were in the rented sector and that are now being sold by landlords is also at its highest level since 2009, with many landlords simply leaving the sector as it is no longer viable for them to continue. That is resulting in a loss of rental accommodation throughout Scotland.

The social rented sector has also been badly affected by the short-sightedness and wilful neglect of the Government, as councils are struggling to balance their budgets in the face of SNP austerity.

When I was co-leader of Aberdeen City Council, I was proud that I worked with Labour to announce the largest social house-building programme in the city for a generation. It consisted of not only 2,000 homes, but 2,000 gold-standard quality homes. I did not want poor-quality homes thrown up quickly; I wanted social homes that matched the standard of the private sector and exceeded it.

We have to be honest: many of our social rented homes are not up to the standard that they should be at. We must build more homes in order to cope with the need and we must replace much of the stock that we have. The Conservatives would give local authorities the ability to build more homes for the people of Scotland. We have pledged to introduce a Scottish housing delivery agency that would be entirely focused on the supply of new homes for our residents.

We would relax planning laws so that more properties in our town centres could be brought into residential use for hard-working families. We would reverse the crazy rent freeze that has had such a detrimental impact on cities such as Edinburgh. It is clear that, although the policy may have been introduced with good intentions, it has made the issue worse.

We need to do more to create homes and communities in our cities, towns and villages across Scotland. We need to invest in housing so that families can find the security that they need to build their lives in a safe and secure setting. We need certainty for house builders that we are a country that is committed to economic growth, and we need funding for local councils to build more affordable homes in our communities. We need a planning system that has the flexibility to bring disused properties into commercial use, and we need a Government that is focused on the people of Scotland and not on independence. The Government has taken its eye off the ball when it comes to housing in Scotland and it needs to do better for all our communities.

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

I certainly understand the sentiment behind Labour’s motion. Anyone who saw the news coverage after City of Edinburgh Council declared its housing emergency would have been struck by the powerful stories that were told by those who are in temporary accommodation. As Willie Rennie rightly said, for those who are caught in temporary accommodation, are at risk of homelessness or are struggling in other ways to access warm housing, it feels like an emergency.

However, I am going to make the same point as John Swinney. Real leadership is not just about accepting the scale of a challenge or explaining what is taking place; it is about stepping back and figuring out how to best solve the challenge and then getting stuck into delivering some of the solutions.

There is no dispute from me about the scale of the challenge. Rhoda Grant talked about the issues in rural Scotland, of which I am particularly well aware. Time and again, my constituency office reflects on the fact that housing is at the top of our caseload of issues that are of concern to local individuals. However, every Friday and Monday in my constituency, I have a never-ending list of new housing developments to visit in the Highlands—because there is obvious evidence of the Government’s funding going into building houses and increasing supply. That is why I asked Mark Griffin about what Labour’s solution would be. Based on my years as finance minister and as a local MSP, it feels as though there has never been greater investment in improving the supply of housing of all tenures. So, why is there still a sense, particularly in the Highlands, that individuals find it very challenging to access so-called affordable housing or to get into the housing market? I will come to one solution.

However, I first want to illustrate a little bit more of the problem. Quite clearly, the challenges around accessing housing are inhibiting economic growth, undermining some of our public services and creating greater levels of homelessness in some of our communities. An example of where those challenges are inhibiting economic growth is Fort William, which offers great opportunities for businesses to grow and develop, such as the sawmill, the smelter and other businesses, as well as the decommissioning services in Kishorn Port. In a place such as Fort William, there is a sense of great prosperity and of being on the cusp of something incredible. Every business tells me that the biggest challenge is not its ambition or the opportunity, but accessing staff, which is linked to housing. For public services on Skye, the challenges of accessing housing for some of our key workers—whether they are nurses, doctors or teachers—are well documented, and they mean that key vacancies cannot be filled.

I spoke to one of our social landlords, who was clear that homelessness policies need to be rural proofed because how we prevent homelessness in urban areas might exacerbate the situation in rural areas. For example, in Aviemore, lots of young workers find themselves having to live in Inverness and travel an hour to get to Aviemore. There might be a plentiful supply of one-bedroom housing, but, as soon as they find a partner or start a family, they are unable to stay.

That is the scale of the issue. I understand it and recognise it, but the solution is not only to continue to improve supply—there is no question about that—but to see greater flexibility around policies. I will quickly mention five areas where I want to see such greater flexibility.

First, if we continue to have an overly fixed or rigid solution to the problem, we will run into the challenge that one size does not fit all. The solution in the middle of Edinburgh, which might be of huge interest to Ben Macpherson, will not work in Elgol, in Skye. Therefore, we have to be clear that policies are flexible.

Secondly, the policy has to be community-led. In Glenelg, at the moment, the community is trying to build new housing. It needs to be community led such that, where the policy does not lend itself to what the community is trying to do, it is the policy and not the community that should change.

Thirdly, we need to listen to those who are out there, delivering. The Communities Housing Trust, for example, is second to none. It is exemplary and brilliant at what it does. It says that, in its humble opinion, the policies and funding are largely already there but it is about using those policies and delivering solutions in each of those areas.

Fourthly, it is about planning. Why does it take between seven and 10 years to get six houses built? That does not add up. It does not make sense. There needs to be some sort of default in—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Ms Forbes has about two seconds left.

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

There needs to be some sort of default in favour of planning.

Last, and most important, is land reform. We need to see more progress in making land available.

Photo of Ariane Burgess Ariane Burgess Green

W e are living through the worst cost crisis for generations, with high inflation and a squeeze on household budgets. That is why I welcome the opportunity to discuss the housing challenges that Scotland faces.

One of the biggest expenses that people have is housing, which is why the first piece of legislation that was taken through the Parliament by a Green minister provided immediate support to tenants by capping rents. Last year, more than 10,000 homes were completed under the affordable housing supply programme, which is roughly the equivalent of the total housing stock of Orkney or Shetland, and a 12 per cent increase on the year before.

Over the course of this parliamentary session, we will introduce the biggest expansion of tenants’ rights since devolution, including better rights and protections and better rent controls. The causes of and solutions to the housing crisis in the Highlands and Islands, which I represent, are complex. A lack of supply, an ageing population, high land values, an imbalance between local wages and house prices, and poor public transport all play a part.

As my colleagues will know, I am a champion of community-led housing—it was good to hear Kate Forbes talking about that just now—and the potential of that model to transform housing, particularly in rural communities. That is why the Greens in government secured stable funding for the rural housing enablers, who empower communities to build the right homes in the right places. That is why we are working to deliver the rural and island housing action plan to ensure access to genuinely affordable homes, and it is also why rural councils have, rightly, welcomed plans to increase council tax for empty and second homes. We must continue to work closely with all councils to develop targeted plans to address local housing needs.

Homelessness in rural areas is not just a lack of a roof over someone’s head; it is also the loss of community, of young people of working age and of language and culture. We need more homes, we need to use the homes that we have more effectively and we need to fund services properly in order to treat people with dignity and respect. We need to ensure that we create homes that enable people to become rooted in their communities and provide the workers and families we need to keep local communities thriving.

In rural areas especially, we lose homes to the holiday and second-home market, as has been discussed already. In Argyll and Bute, and the Western Isles, second homes account for 6 per cent or more of housing; in Orkney, the figure is 5 per cent. There are more than 24,000 second homes in Scotland, and 3,000 of those are in Argyll and Bute alone. That is why the Scottish Government was right to regulate short-term lets; that is why we have introduced stricter planning rules on holiday properties; and that is why we are working with councils to bring empty homes back into use.

We need systemic change to put people and housing first. The social housing and not-for-profit sectors are addressing that challenge in innovative ways. I visited Highland Housing Alliance’s incredible retrofitting work on Merchant house. It has transformed a derelict building in the heart of Inverness into affordable energy-efficient homes. Meanwhile, Albyn Housing Association’s Bailey Place development has created brand-new highly efficient homes that are close to active travel networks. It has managed to create a real sense of community. I have also seen the pioneering work of Communities Housing Trust, which has worked with community land and development trusts and estates across my region, to build high-quality affordable homes that respond to local needs. From Staffin to Strontian, and from Tiree to Tomintoul, communities are filling the gaps that have been created by decades of underinvestment, which started long before devolution, and using the Scottish Government’s schemes, such as the Scottish land fund and the rural and islands housing funds, to deliver them.

What Scotland’s housing sector needs is long-term solutions and a cultural change away from housing as an investment to an approach that creates homes for all our people. It is deeds, not words. That is why the Greens in government will strive to ensure that everyone in Scotland has a safe, affordable and warm home, and that our rural communities remain places to dwell, as well as places to visit.

Photo of Jim Fairlie Jim Fairlie Scottish National Party

There is no doubt that there is a housing crisis in some parts of Scotland, and housing is, without doubt, the biggest issue that my office deals with. However, as Ben Macpherson said, it is a UK-wide issue, and he eloquently outlined the reality of that situation.

I turn to the motion, which states:

“That the Parliament agrees that Scotland is experiencing a housing emergency.”

That literally sums up the Labour Party’s ambition—it is one line of doomsday nothingness. Where is the ambition? Where is the hope and where is the belief that things can and must get better? Where is the fully costed and detailed plan on how to change what that party sees as a housing crisis? Is any of that too much to ask from a party that sees itself as the change that Scotland needs? I hope that those points will be answered in Labour’s summing up.

Grandstanding pontification with this insipid, lacklustre and, quite simply, insulting nothing of a motion absolutely deserves the derision of the chamber and of the people of this country whose trust Labour in Scotland tells us it has won for the coming election. That is in stark contrast to the SNP Government’s track record, as set out in Paul McLennan’s amendment. On seeing that, the people of Scotland will quickly realise exactly who is looking after their interests.

We know that there are issues to deal with. We know that homelessness is a scourge on our society. We know that we must do more and that we must think creatively to find workable solutions. I am certain that the housing minister has the ability, tenacity and willingness to find those solutions, implement them and help us to help those who need those homes the most.

I have to say that there are things in the Scottish Land & Estates briefing with which I agree, such as the call for a partnership approach, particularly in relation to rural housing. However, there is a distinct lack of acceptance of the culpability of some of those estates in helping to create rural housing shortages. In my constituency and across Scotland, it has been a heartbreaking thing for people who, like me, are desperate to find a rural house to witness the emptying and degradation of literally hundreds of old cottar houses as estates cleared staff and those houses fell to rack and ruin. That is why I very much welcome the £25 million rural affordable housing system that has come from the Scottish Government.

By all means let us have a better, positive relationship with estates, because they will have a role to play, but spare me the holier-than-thou attitude that it is all the Scottish Government’s fault, because it is not. There is a problem, so let us take the collective responsibility to make sure that the solutions are forthcoming. Let us have the ideas, but let us also have the honesty, as John Swinney said, about what we have to do in order to make the housing crisis better.

I would urge caution, however—this is another point on which I agree with Scottish Land & Estates—that the need for speed does not negate the need for quality or cause a lack of consideration of the potential for unintended consequences.

On a slightly different note, 15 per cent of Scotland’s land is non-LFA—that is, not classified as less favoured area. Non-LFA land means good-quality, grade 1 and 2 arable land—the kind of land that grows our most valuable foodstuffs, such as tatties, wheat, barley, salad, berries, veg and neeps. That is what we grow in those fields, but it is also the easiest ground for builders to build at speed on. In today’s debate, a number of people have asked for easier planning, but we have to ensure that competing demands are reconciled and balanced, so that we maintain a viable and vibrant food-producing industry that can continue to feed our nation.

The same principle applies to planting trees. Yes, the right tree in the right place has enormous value, but we must value and protect our best arable land at all costs. If we do not do that, who are we going to ask to feed us? A presumption of brownfield site development should be considered to protect our arable future, notwithstanding what SLE said are the challenges that those brownfield sites bring.

My final point is about using creative thinking to reimagine what the modern-day requirements are. The abundant empty buildings in city centres, such as the Debenhams building in Perth city centre, could be repurposed and developed to bring people back to the centres that were vacated under Covid and create thriving city centre communities. That, in turn, would lead to a rebirth in businesses, which will grow with the population.

We have numerous other derelict or empty properties throughout my constituency, such as the ex-council buildings or police stations in Crieff, Auchterarder and Kinross. They could all be repurposed, removing the blight of empty properties and helping to increase the number of available homes.

I can see a genuinely positive vision of how our housing and house-building sector can add enormous value to our economy and aid with our skills development and our aim to eradicate homelessness. I can see happening the necessary collaboration that SLE and others are looking for. I see all that ambition and vision in this SNP Government.

What I see in the motion from Labour is a single line of nothing that should tell the people of Scotland all that they need to know—that Labour and the Tories will simply not deliver. The SNP Government will.

Photo of Mercedes Villalba Mercedes Villalba Labour

I refer members to my entry in the register of interests, which shows that I am a member of Scotland’s tenants union, Living Rent, and of Acorn community union.

I speak today in support of the Labour motion—

“That the Parliament agrees that Scotland is experiencing a housing emergency”— as has been declared by the City of Edinburgh Council, and as I urged Dundee City Council to declare.

There is a housing emergency in Scotland, and tenants are on the front line of it. Despite the rent freeze, Dundee has seen a shocking 17 per cent rise in private rent prices—5 per cent more than the Scottish average—because of loopholes in the legislation. In fact, property investors are describing the city as “Scotland’s buy-to-let capital”. Property prices have shot up, driven by the potential to profit from a basic human right.

The picture is mirrored across Scotland, with thousands of people in temporary accommodation and thousands on social housing waiting lists. Properties at or below the local housing allowance rate are scarce, and the private rental sector is capitalising on the overwhelming demand for homes.

This is an emergency, and it has been building for years. Members will remember when I brought the campaign for a rent freeze to the Parliament. They will remember the Scottish Government’s fierce opposition to the proposal, and how the Government was forced to U-turn and introduce emergency legislation, thanks to national public pressure from Scotland’s tenants.

That legislation should have seen us through to the promised national system of rent controls needed to bring down rents, but more than a year later, as we approach the end of the period of the temporary legislation, loopholes continue to be exploited. Rents continue to rise, and rent control legislation is nowhere in sight. Tenants face persistent issues of mould, cold, damp and disrepair, as well as the constant possibility of being evicted so that their landlord can sell, all while rents continue to rise.

How is this happening? We know that people in joint tenancies have faced unregulated rent increases when a flatmate leaves, as that is often considered to result in a new lease. That loophole is resulting in the de facto eviction of the remaining tenants, who cannot afford increases of hundreds of pounds a month. Also, landlords are dramatically increasing prices for new lets to supposedly future proof against the rent cap, causing the spiralling rises in the market that we are seeing. That is pushing up prices and forcing overcrowding, worse living conditions and increased commutes, as people have to move further and further away from where their life is.

We need measures that protect people in joint tenancies, those in arrears and those who are being priced out of their communities. Strong long-term rent and eviction controls have the potential to protect people on the lowest incomes, who have the least ability to absorb extra costs and are at the highest risk of homelessness. We need those rent controls now.

We have heard the Government making promises to tenants for years, and we have seen the publication of consultations and strategies and commitments on housing. What we are missing is action. I therefore welcome the commitment from the Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights to the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee that the Government will bridge the gap between the end of the emergency legislation and the introduction of longer-term rent control measures. However, we have yet to hear how that will happen. Without that clarity, tenants face a cliff edge at the end of March, at which point there seems to be nothing to prevent landlords from hiking rents even higher.

We need a rapid response to this emergency—one that is watertight, permanent, effective and transformative—but it has to begin by recognising the problem. We are in a housing emergency, and tenants are on the front line. If the Scottish Government refuses today even to acknowledge that, what faith can we possibly place in its ability to address the issue?

I therefore urge all members, whatever their party, to support Labour’s motion,

“That the Parliament agrees that Scotland is experiencing a housing emergency.”

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

It is actually refreshing to debate something that is genuinely a priority of the Scottish people, so I commend the Labour front bench members for bringing the debate to the chamber. I wish that the SNP-Green Government were willing to spend more time discussing such matters, rather than some of the nonsense and fiction with which it prefers to waste the Parliament’s time.

I believe that the national conversation about housing epitomises what is so wrong with the system in our country. I thought that one of the best speeches that we heard, other than those from my colleagues on this side of the chamber, was from Kate Forbes. There are things about the system that need to be reformed, and quickly. For as long as I can remember, there has been cross-party consensus on the need to build more and better houses.

The question that we should be asking ourselves is not whether we should be building more houses—we all know and agree on the answer to that question—but why we, as a nation, are unable to build a sufficient number of homes to match demand. The current levels of homelessness in this country are a national disgrace, and the responsibility for the increasing levels of homelessness lies solely at the feet of—

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

—the minister who wishes to intervene. I will not give way to him. I stand by what I said to him earlier:

homelessness in our country has been made much worse by the SNP-Green Government’s staggering lack of insight, addiction to ideology and ill-advised approach to the rental sector. Despite expert warnings, it has pressed on with measures that have brought great distress to many individuals and families.

When it comes to building houses, we must properly investigate where the system is failing. The first problem relates to land. The process of repurposing brownfield land is too slow and too costly, to the extent that it is not economically viable to build on. We must work with those in the industry to make the process more efficient.

We are all aware of neglected buildings in our respective constituencies. Instead of sitting back and allowing the situation to continue, leading to dereliction and local eyesores, we should create a mechanism that allows councils and private companies to repurpose such buildings or knock them down and build anew. Therefore, I am in favour of compulsory sales orders and of bringing to an end the reluctance of councils to use the authority at their disposal to improve dereliction or gap sites.

The second problem relates to planning. We need to change the culture of planning officers. To kick off, there are not enough of them, as was said earlier. Communities and developers need planning officers to become advisers, to support building and to facilitate development, instead of blocking it. We need an end to the farce of an endless planning permission process, which leads to the blight of vacant and derelict sites such as the Banknock distillery in my region. In 2009, a large-scale planning application was approved for nearly four hectares of land, but the site remains on Falkirk’s register of vacant and derelict land. That is not good enough. We need to include local people.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

The issue is not just the nature of planning. Kate Forbes made an excellent point about the time that the process takes. Indeed, I think that Michael Gove agrees with that point, too. Does Stephen Kerr agree with it?

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative


. It is no wonder that people give up, leave and stop investing, because the whole process is frustratingly expensive and elongated.

I return to the need to engage with local people. Communities know their local areas best. They know the impact that developments will have on roads, schools and health services. Local people should feel empowered to voice their concerns, and developers should work with communities to mitigate them. When we mock people for nimbyism, we should acknowledge that such attitudes exist in part because the system is defective.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

The minister has a brass neck to try to intervene on any speaker in the debate, because I do not think that he took a single intervention himself. He might have taken one, as I have done.

We need to cut red tape. Instead of developers having to navigate regulations that are as long as “War and Peace”, there should be concise and clear guidelines.

However, building new housing is not enough. As has been said, it is a national disgrace that many Scots live in inadequate, damp and energy-inefficient spaces. As well as the drive to build houses, we need to be equally committed to improving Scotland’s housing stock. That should be a national mission. Housing is not just about bricks and mortar—poor homes can have an impact on health and family life.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Mr Kerr has 20 seconds left.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

I am coming to a conclusion. I would have loved to have taken the intervention, but we just do not have enough time to debate issues properly in the chamber.

There is further consensus that we must improve the energy efficiency of our homes. Let us find the money to do that.

We have a national housing crisis. Not only do we not have enough homes, but we have too many inadequate homes. We need to build. We need to improve. Everyone in Scotland must have a home worthy of the name.

Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party

It is always good to begin a contribution to a debate with some positives, and there are plenty to share in this debate. By 2032—only nine years from now—this SNP Administration will have overseen the building of 234,000 social and affordable homes in Scotland. Some 124,000 have been delivered since 2007 and another 110,000 are on the way, 70 per cent of which are earmarked for social rent. In Scotland, since 2007, we have built nearly 14 homes per 10,000 people in the population—a fact that was mentioned by several colleagues. That is a good record, and it outperforms that of any other nation in the UK—especially Wales, where Labour has been in power for so long but has managed to build only around half of that total. In my local authority area, Labour managed to build no council houses whatsoever—zero—during its eight years in power in this Parliament. However, it managed to sell off vital housing stock and, from time to time, to hand back to the UK Government vital cash that it could have invested in housing in Scotland.

The SNP in Government ended the right to buy council houses in 2016, which has saved around 15,000 council houses from being lost to the public social rented pool. Labour, in councils all over Scotland, was happy to sell off vital housing stock, following the Tory mantra of selling anything that could make a quick buck. Between 1979 and 2015, in Scotland, an incredible 494,580 council houses and social housing units were sold off. That is 14,000 houses being lost every year for 35 years. If we are in an emergency situation in some parts of Scotland, it has its origins there, and Labour and the Tories might want to reflect on their role in that before they come here to blame the SNP for their massive sell-off.

There is no doubt that we are facing a number of challenges. Skyrocketing costs brought about by inflation and the problems associated with materials costs, which were made worse by Brexit, are driving up construction costs and making it harder for people to access the various housing markets. However, we are doing what we can to overcome those challenges and support the programme.

I turn to my council in East Ayrshire. I want to share some of its positive achievements and its ambitions for the future. Only this morning, the council’s cabinet, which includes Labour councillors, met to discuss a number of housing strategy papers, and the council supported them all, with no exceptions. There was no mention of an emergency at all. There was not a peep from Labour councillors about an emergency in East Ayrshire. That is a curious contrast with the other messages that we are hearing here.

Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party

There is more to follow. I will let the member in if I have time.

Since 2010, East Ayrshire Council, under the SNP, has built 585 council houses. When we include other registered social landlord builds, the total is around 1,000. That is a remarkable achievement and, having seen the quality of the builds, I think that the council and its partners should be commended for that work.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

The member has mentioned what councillors are saying in some places. Does he acknowledge that SNP councillors in Edinburgh are saying that there is a housing emergency in the capital city?

Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party

I absolutely do, but the member may want to have a word with his Labour councillors in East Ayrshire, because they have not got the message. [


] Members can laugh if they like, but those councillors did not mention it.

However, it is not just the numbers that matter. The issue is also about things such as regeneration, wellbeing, climate change and energy efficiency. The council is now building its fourth supported living complex, which includes adapted units with warden support. That has meant that one tenant in particular, who spent 31 years in hospital and residential care, now has a home. There are plenty of other similar examples.

A major development in the north of Kilmarnock has seen 44 new council housing units completed to a high standard, winning a design award in the process. In the south of the town, a development in partnership with the local housing association is nearing completion, with every house being energy efficient and having heat pump technology installed. Another development is the first zero-carbon development to be completed in the area. Those examples from East Ayrshire show what is being done and what can be done to meet our targets and our other obligations.

It is always a pleasure to talk about housing, whether in the Parliament or anywhere else. I was my group’s spokesperson on the subject for many years when I was a member of the council in opposition. During that term, we wrestled with the problems of dampness and mould, poor heating systems and zero insulation, which were often overlooked by a Labour Administration that did not act quickly enough to correct those things even when it had the resources to do so.

Looking at where we are now, I am extremely proud of the achievements of my colleagues in local government in East Ayrshire, led by my friend and colleague Councillor Dougie Reid, who has championed that work for so many years. They have delivered for their communities, they are still doing so, and I hope that they will continue to do so well into the future.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We move to the closing speeches.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

I am delighted to close on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives. I thank Labour for using its debating time to bring the issue to the chamber and I thank Mark Griffin for highlighting at the start of his speech that the emergency is one of the Scottish Government’s making.

Scotland has a housing emergency. There is acknowledgement of that fact across the chamber and there is a consensus on it in our briefings from so many organisations. With his customary forensic analysis, my friend and colleague Graham Simpson cut to the chase when he highlighted that no one should have to sleep rough and that no one should have to use a night shelter. The fact that people have to do those things alone makes it an emergency—except, of course, for people who are trying to defend the Scottish Government’s position.

We see the usual obfuscation of reality: the publishing of a target without detail on how it will be reached, then a rolling back on the target by people who say, “It’s not our fault”, as we heard from Kevin Stewart. People say, “There’s nothing to see here.” However, with all the damning evidence that is stacked up against the Scottish Government’s handling of this emergency, to deny that there is an emergency and lay the blame elsewhere just will not cut it.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

Not just now.

We cannot begin to tackle a problem unless we first acknowledge its scale, as Mr Simpson reminded us.

Scotland’s homelessness deaths numbers are shameful. I would suggest that they are linked in no small part to our drug and alcohol crisis. As the previous First Minister said, she took the eye off the ball. I would suggest that that is what is happening here.

Douglas Lumsden highlighted the chaos that the Greens’ policies have brought to the Scottish housing market. The affordable rented stock has plummeted as landlords have left the sector after the Greens’ ideological policies have decimated it. Far from preventing rent rises, they have caused massive hikes in rents. I say to Ben Macpherson that many house builders who are looking to build affordable housing in the build-to-rent space have decided not to proceed.

Photo of Ben Macpherson Ben Macpherson Scottish National Party

Does Mr Whittle acknowledge that there is strong interest in cities, such as in the communities that I represent, in undertaking a variety of developments including build-to-rent, and that the Scottish Government is looking to implement its long-term system of rent controls? That certainty is what the market is asking for, and then the buoyancy will continue.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

I thank Ben Macpherson for that intervention, because it allows me to say that the reality is that the Greens and the SNP do not recognise outcomes if they do not agree with their extreme ideologies. Here is a fact for Mr Macpherson. In 2018, there were six applicants for every rental property in Edinburgh. There are now 24.

Pam Gosal pointed out that the upcoming housing bill has a mechanism to finally give direction to a directionless Government housing strategy. As she articulated, her meetings with chief executives of local councils have highlighted the increase in homelessness applications and the lack of housing stock as the biggest issues that are facing the housing market.

As my friend and colleague Stephen Kerr stated in an impassioned speech, homelessness in Scotland is such a scourge. He rightly asked why the SNP and the Greens continually fail to build enough housing to tackle the crisis. He also pointed out that the woeful planning laws are preventing that progress.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative


Willie Coffey mentioned climate change, and I would like to talk about that. With a finite budget and the stated twin goals of reducing energy bills and reducing the carbon footprint—which will help to reduce homelessness, especially for those in the most deprived areas according to the Scottish index of multiple deprivation—I suggest that a targeted investment to improve stock is one of the ways forward. The minister should be using funds to improve the energy efficiency of social housing and to build many more energy-efficient social and affordable homes. That would tackle homelessness.

Let us face it—Scotland has some of the least energy-efficient homes in Europe. Furthermore, if the target is also to reduce our carbon output, investment in off-grid rural houses, including in oil-fired heating systems, would have the greatest initial impact. That would also help to tackle the huge shortage of rural housing, which Kate Forbes highlighted in what I thought was an excellent speech.

Instead of that, we have a housing minister who stands up in the Parliament and says that we are going to retrofit a million homes in Scotland. I asked the Scottish Government in a parliamentary question how many applications have been made for Home Energy Scotland grants and loans this year. The total is 6,000, and the number of offers that have been made is 1,900. I looked through the numbers of applications from each local authority area, including from the poorest places in Scotland, such as Inverclyde, and the total number of applications from there was seven. That is great—we have 999,993 homes to go. I say to the minister that we are well on the way.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at an energy efficiency conference with some colleagues. I will mention some of the asks that came from that. Approvals and pay-outs need to be sped up and backlogs need to be reduced. It is as simple as that. Companies cannot call HES on behalf of customers because of the general data protection regulation, and the backlog is causing salesmen to quit because they cannot wait for four months to be paid their commission. The demand from the sector is there, but the way in which the Government has set up the funding makes commercial viability poor. Poor cash flow for the grants means that those companies cannot grow and recruit, despite the demand. South of the border, the wait is five days.

The Government needs to pay it forward so that builders can make sure that all new builds use renewable technology. The cost cannot be laid solely on the builder and then passed on to the customer. That is not affordable and it contradicts the Government’s affordable home strategy. Last week, I asked the Minister for Higher and Further Education whether the Scottish Government had completed a skills mapping exercise prior to setting the targets. Unsurprisingly, he responded that the Government is

“currently engaged with ministerial colleagues across Government to map the skills shortages.”—[

Official Report

, 16 November 2023; c 67.]

Let me tell the minister what the scale of the skills shortage in the building industry is. It will be unable to hit the Government targets because it is 22,500 tradespeople short. That makes a mockery of the targets that the Government has set and it epitomises the Scottish Government’s approach, which delivers headlines without a route map.

That Scotland has a housing crisis is beyond doubt, despite the continued protestations from the Scottish Government. It is time that that fact was recognised and accepted. Until that happens, how on earth can we possibly begin to tackle what is another Scottish Government crisis? I urge members to support Graham Simpson’s amendment.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I thank all members for taking part in the debate—with a number of notable exceptions. Some members brought to the debate well-reasoned contributions, positive, constructive ideas and an understanding of the causes of the challenges that we face. We should all ask ourselves to reflect on how people who are experiencing significant housing difficulties would view our debate—people who are in temporary accommodation, on housing waiting lists, in homes that are damp or in poor repair and who are struggling to meet housing costs.

Mr Griffin and others were right to say that far too many people are still in those situations, and this Government is determined to put that right.

People at the sharp end of those challenges need to hear that determination, but they also need to see action, so I am most grateful to those members whose speeches were focused on solutions. Mr Griffin’s speech, unlike his motion, called for a focus on action. Actions build more homes, make existing homes better and keep costs affordable. That is why the Government’s amendment focuses squarely on action.

Photo of Mark Griffin Mark Griffin Labour

I appreciate that the Government wants to set out the action that it plans to take to tackle the crisis. However, I do not understand why it has proposed deleting the entire motion to add its own actions. Why not acknowledge the emergency that exists and then set out the actions that it plans to take to address it? What is the Government’s problem with accepting that the emergency exists?

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

The actions that need to be taken are the only things that will make a difference.

Last October, we took emergency action to support people who rent their homes. The Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Act 2022 introduced restrictions on rent rises while a tenant remains in the same tenancy and strengthened protection against evictions.

It is perfectly clear that the Conservatives would still rather that we ignored the needs of tenants, but the act has continued to provide important additional protection for tenants across the rented sector. Anywhere else in the UK, private tenants have faced the double impact of unfettered rent rises during and between tenancies. Therefore, I was very pleased when the Parliament voted to approve the regulations that extend the provisions for a further and final six months until March.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

Much as I accept that the policy was introduced with good intentions, does the minister not recognise that the 14 per cent rent increase in Scotland in the past year is greater than the increase in London at the moment?

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

The member is talking about increases in advertised rents, which are rents for new tenancies. Those have been increasing at comparable levels in other parts of the UK, where tenants also face increases during their tenancies.

The emergency legislation is, by definition, temporary. That is why we have committed to introducing longer-term rent controls in a housing bill that we will bring to Parliament in this parliamentary year. I continue to engage with stakeholders and other colleagues on the shape of that bill. The scale of private rent increases across the UK demonstrates the need for action to tackle rent rises. It is clear from countries across Europe that, where greater regulation of renting and rents is the norm, such regulation can and should go hand in hand with encouraging investment in improving quality and supply.

In addition to our proposals on rent control, we are considering eight policy areas for further rented sector reform, some of which aim to improve the experience of renting and enhance the rights of tenants. That is one of many areas where action is needed in Scotland and in UK policy.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I am afraid that I need to make a bit of progress.

We will press ahead with measures to increase housing supply and will work in partnership to maximise the use of current housing stock. We will introduce new homelessness prevention duties this parliamentary year, which will offer stronger protections than those anywhere else in the UK. We will strengthen rights for tenants and offer greater security from eviction. We will bring forward a new housing rights bill.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I need to make a bit of progress to set out the action that we are taking.

The new housing rights bill will incorporate the right to adequate housing into Scots law within the limits of devolved competence.

For a considerable time, we have been pressing the UK Government to end the freeze on local housing allowance. I am relieved that the chancellor has finally given in to that pressure and has scrapped the freeze on LHA. It is an important source of support for low-income households and should never have been frozen in the first place. The damage done by three years of that freeze is an estimated £819 million cut to the allowance across Great Britain, coupled with cuts of £181 million to Scotland’s capital budget. It has also hampered efforts to increase available housing. I sincerely hope that a freeze like that is never considered again, because no one should have to make the choice between paying their rent, feeding their family and heating their home.

I want to be clear that the scale of homelessness and inadequate housing is one of the big challenges that Scotland faces, but it is by no means unique in that respect. For example, statistics show that there has been a 74 per cent rise in temporary accommodation in England over the past 10 years. Acknowledging the wider situation does not by any means absolve us of the need to take action, but we should be clear about that wider context.

In 2023, we are not where we should be, but from listening to some members—some from the Conservative Party and some from the Labour Party—one could be forgiven for thinking that such housing issues exist only in Scotland. Brexit continues to cast a dark shadow over our construction industry and our workforce capacity. [


.] I know that some members do not want to hear that.

The pandemic was followed by a cost of living crisis, which was topped by a disastrous experiment with far-right economics in the Truss-Kwarteng mini-budget. That has put a huge strain on our resources. All too often, it is the people with least to fall back on who are hit the hardest. They are the same people who have already been hit by a decade of austerity and brutal welfare cuts—the people who are in temporary housing accommodation or in the poorest housing. That is why we, in Scotland, are determined to do all that we can to turn that tide.

If we offered our package of action to tackle the issues that we are debating—a programme that has included providing 120,000 affordable homes over the past 15 years, getting rid of the right to buy, ending no-fault evictions in the private sector, introducing an emergency rent cap, bringing empty homes back into use and enhancing homelessness rights—to colleagues in England, whether Labour campaigners or housing organisations, or to people elsewhere in the UK, I think that they would bite our hand off.

We will continue to be open to positive, constructive ideas, whether from Labour members or anyone else in the chamber, about how we can continue to make greater progress. People in the most difficult housing situations in Scotland need action and commitment, and that is what this Government is determined to continue to deliver.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

There is a housing emergency, but that is not really up for debate. The choice for us this evening is whether we want to acknowledge that crisis or emergency and treat it as such. It is only by acknowledging it in that way that we will treat the situation with the urgency and focus that it deserves.

The tragedy of the debate has been that we had an opportunity. There was no need for the Government to disagree with our motion. The debate could have been an opportunity to have a frank discussion about how we tackle the problems, look at the solutions and come together with a degree of consensus.

I think that there has been quite a strong contrast between the speeches of Government front benchers and those of Government back benchers. We had some thoughtful discussion from SNP back benchers but, unfortunately, we have not had that from the front benchers. In fact, they want to wipe out the word “emergency” from the motion. Apparently, all that we are facing is “significant pressure”, and only among those who are homeless. Tell that to private renters in Edinburgh, to anyone who is looking for a house or to anyone who is facing homelessness. It is not “significant pressure”—it is an emergency.

The other critical problem with what the Government has presented this afternoon is that it fails to acknowledge the fundamental problem. The Government has talked about “initiatives” and “conversations”, but fundamentally we have a problem of housing supply. If we slice and dice that and look at particular categories, we will not acknowledge the full problem. The simple reality is that, on average, the SNP has built 5,000 fewer houses than we did when we were in power. Between 1997 and 2007, 230,000 homes were built.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

I will come to Mr Swinney in a moment.

Between 2007 and 2022, 260,000 homes were built. In other words, it took the SNP 15 years to build as many houses as we built in 10. That is the simple reality. If we had continued to build houses at the same rate as we were doing when we left power, there would be 104,000 more homes in Scotland than there are today. That is what the simple numbers tell us.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I am grateful to Mr Johnson for giving way. The only slight flaw in the contorted information that he has just given to Parliament is that it ignores factors such as the financial crash in 2008, which led to a haemorrhage of private building. That had nothing to do with the Scottish Government and everything to do with the financial mismanagement of the last Labour Government in the UK.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

There is a serious point. Those are the simple numbers—I did not make any attributions. We have to acknowledge the fundamental point about supply. Unless we do that, we will never make progress.

The simple reality is—Sarah Boyack put it very well—that at the heart of all the numbers is a human experience. She mentioned the fact that 45 per cent of homeless people face severe and significant mental health consequences, which is something on which we should all reflect. It is something that I think about a lot during my surgeries. I hate the fact that, when I am faced with people who are living in cramped accommodation—families of five or six people living in two-bedroom flats—I have to tell them that because of the points on the EdIndex system, they are going to have to wait years. That is inhumane and, until we fix supply, it will continue to be a problem. That is why the Government has to face up to the emergency and face up to the fact that a family is being made homeless every 16 minutes in Scotland.

There have been a number of excellent contributions. Ben Macpherson’s contribution was absolutely spot on: we are not going to address the crisis unless we look at all the issues. There is a global context and a historical context. There was a move away from building social housing through the 1980s and 1990s, and perhaps Ben Macpherson is right that Labour could have done more when we were in power. Only by facing up to such things can we deal with the crisis. What I do not understand, however, is why so many of his colleagues acknowledge that the situation feels like an emergency to so many and yet do not want to recognise it—

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Labour

I thank my friend for giving way at that point in an excellent speech. One of the great strengths of Labour’s housing policy in Scotland during the 1970s and 1980s was the building of the community housing association movement, which is increasingly experiencing forced directed mergers at the behest of the Scottish Housing Regulator. Does he share my increasing alarm and concern at that trend in Scotland, which has been seen most recently with regard to the Reidvale Housing Association in Dennistoun?

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

I do indeed. Housing associations have faced being in an absolutely invidious position in recent years, in finding it very difficult to invest in their housing stock. Crucially, fewer housing association dwellings have been built under the Scottish National Party on average per year than were built under Labour.

I thank Kate Forbes for her thoughtful contribution. She is absolutely right that we need to talk about solutions. I do not disagree with a single one of the solutions that she set out, and I agree particularly on the planning point. Members across the chamber have acknowledged the fact that the reality is that there are financial pressures, but there are also systemic pressures that we could relieve. We have to acknowledge the fact that the number of planners has dropped by a third in recent years. Until we have throughput in the planning system, we will struggle to approve the schemes that we need to approve.

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

In the spirit of consensus, would Daniel Johnson agree that one of the key concerns is that, when a community group is, for example, progressing plans for affordable housing, it often has to jump through the same hoops as major corporate firms would have to jump through, and that we should ensure that it is easier for community groups to get through the process?

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

I absolutely agree with that. We need to think about throughput in systems and make sure that we reflect the priorities of particular groups, although I acknowledge that the issue is about the broader planning process and strategic infrastructure. Treating all planning applications the same does not make sense, so we need to look at that.

Members across the chamber asked what Labour’s solutions are. Let me gently remind them that we have made a commitment across the UK to build 1.5 million homes over five years. We will create a national infrastructure commission that will, through partnership, ensure that we lay the bedrock for that. We will ensure that house building and reform of the planning process are at the heart of delivering those plans. We will bring forward similar plans for Scotland.

The simple reality is that nothing that the ministers have brought forward this afternoon really acknowledges that anything needs to be done differently. Their amendment and what they have said point only to what has already been put in place—the plans that are already in effect—and they are saying that everything is fine. However, the numbers tell us that everything is not fine.

Ministers cannot even decide what numbers they want to choose. They disagree when we talk about private sector housing, yet the 130,000 figure that they cite includes private sector housing that they do not want us to talk about. It is a total nonsense and there is total confusion.

The simple reality is that the Government’s actions are not enough—the housing crisis points to that. Until supply is fixed, we will continue to have those problems. [


.] I am happy to give way.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Mr Johnson, you are beginning to wind up.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

The reality is that we have heard a set of excuses from the Government today, but governing is not about excuses. It is not about dodging problems; it is about acknowledging problems and coming up with an action plan to deal with them, but we have had none of that, and nothing new from the Government.

There have been questions recently about the mooted rebuttal unit that the SNP needs, but it already has it—the Scottish Government’s sole purpose seems to be rebuttal. The problem is that it is not very good at it.

We have the chance to get rid of the Tories in the coming months, but, unfortunately, we will have to wait two and a half years until we can get rid of this sorry Government. Until then, I am ashamed to say that Scotland will have to put up with a Government that seeks excuses rather than delivery. That will be felt most when it comes to housing.