Broken Promises : Johann's speech in the Scottish Parliament 4/10/07

Johann Lamont I am happy to speak in the debate.

I will start with a confession.

At first, I thought that it was rather uncharitable and a bit too critical for us to attack the SNP, which has been in power only since May.

We all recognise the real challenges that the Government faces and the hard decisions that must be made.

However, the problem for the SNP is that it cannot use that defence given its triumphalist, self-regarding and overblown claims about what it is doing.

It is in that context of overclaiming and underdelivering that it is entirely legitimate to focus on the gulf between Executive claims and Executive action.

I say to Patrick Harvie that the SNP has claimed that it is building consensus but it is doing that behind closed doors instead of working through the parliamentary process.

I will comment on the Executive's approach in an area in which I have a particular interest—housing and communities.

As has been mentioned, the motion talks about the first-time buyers grant.

That was an SNP manifesto commitment for which, I do not doubt, people voted.

However, the Executive's position is not clear.

Has it accepted that it is a costly promise that does not differentiate between people who struggle to get on the property ladder and those who do not?

In the Local Government and Communities Committee on 27 June, Nicola Sturgeon said that she accepts that she is in a minority Government and cannot automatically have her position agreed.

However, if she believes in the policy—I presume that she does, as it was in the SNP's manifesto—it would be reasonable to expect that she might try.

She also said:

"By necessity and by desire, we will have to test all our manifesto commitments in the Parliament."—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 27 June 2007; c 22.]

Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP cannot use the fact that they are in a minority Government as an alibi; they cannot say, "We would have done this but these bad people won't let us do it."

There have been many examples, over the past eight years, of policy coming to Parliament, being shaped and moulded by Parliament and coming out very different at the end of the process.

Either Nicola Sturgeon should be honest and say that the SNP now does not believe that the policy is credible, or she should test it through the parliamentary process.

If she does neither, our suspicion will be confirmed: like so many other manifesto promises, it was designed to win votes and, having served its purpose, can now be quietly dropped.

The second feature of the SNP Government is its pretending to act.

Members may recall the housing supply task force, which was talked up and lauded—of course, we were criticised last week for wanting to set up a talking shop.

It has now been confirmed by members of that task force, who accepted that their work would be determined by the Executive's housing proposals and the comprehensive spending review, that they were not told to produce a report or asked to comment on the Executive's housing proposals.

They have not been asked even for comments on what the Executive should argue for in the comprehensive spending review or for a view on the future of Communities Scotland as a crucial housing regulator.

Another example is the central heating programme.

We are told that there will be a review of it, but yesterday we learned that there is no remit, timescale or even a funding commitment for the central heating proposals.

Nicola Sturgeon: Will the member give way?

Johann Lamont: Let me make my next point.

The third charge for the SNP is that it takes administrative action, safe from parliamentary scrutiny, when it suits it. I will give members one small example: the abolition of Communities Scotland.

I was told in June:

"We will take time to consider the issues properly, consulting both organisations, trade unions and other key stakeholders, including ensuring that the relevant Parliamentary Committee has an input into the process before the final decisions are taken."—[Official Report, Written Answers, 23 July 2007; S3W-1701.]

On 19 September, Stewart Maxwell then said that

"it is imperative that we reach a decision as soon as possible ... If the committee has any other thoughts to tell me about Communities Scotland, I am happy to listen to them and to feed them back into the continuing process."—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 19 September 2007; c 74.]

The reality is that the decision to abolish Communities Scotland, like many other Executive decisions, is defended on the grounds that it is a manifesto commitment and will be done precisely because it can be done administratively.

That is the charge: the Executive is behaving like the old Scottish Office. It is, when it can, taking administrative action, unaccountable to Parliament.

The last charge is that the Administration calls itself a Government but will not govern.

On the community regeneration fund—an issue that I have raised in the past—Nicola Sturgeon told the Local Government and Communities Committee on 27 June:

"The committee will have appropriate involvement, but I will balance that with a clear commitment to people in the areas involved that clarity and certainty will be provided".

She was asked:

"Can we say that you are determined that funding for those projects will continue?"

She replied:

"Yes ... the matter will be a key priority for Stewart Maxwell and me in the summer, so that we can have clarity soon after the recess."—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 17 June 2007; c 28-9.]

Can the cabinet secretary perhaps tell us what she is going to do?

Nicola Sturgeon: Let me remind Johann Lamont that the delay in the comprehensive spending review is because of the activities of her party of Government in London. If she is frustrated by the delays—as we are—will she take it up with Gordon Brown?

Johann Lamont: With respect, that is precisely my point: the cabinet secretary should stop looking for alibis and start making decisions.

I know—because we did it—that the Executive could put in transitional arrangements to ensure that projects continue while the comprehensive spending review continues.

Let me also tell Nicola Sturgeon that the comprehensive spending review is not something that is visited upon the Executive but something that it shapes and determines by its priorities.

It told us in June that it could take a decision but it tells us now that it cannot. It should be honest about what it is going to do to communities.

The charges remain: it is disgraceful that the Executive will not take decisions; it is cynical in the decisions that it takes; and ultimately—I say this particularly to Patrick Harvie—it has absolutely no confidence in its rhetoric on consensus.

It will not speak to Parliament about what it wants to do, which is the biggest broken promise of all.

Glasgow Housing Association : Johann's speech in the Scottish Parliament 26/09/07

Johann Lamont : There is no doubt that housing always generates strong feelings and, in certain people, an excessive amount of hyperventilation.

It is a genuinely serious issue for the Parliament and I want to address the issues that are highlighted in the Labour amendment.

The amendment attempts to make a genuine contribution to finding a way forward.

I make no apology for emphasising the significance of the range of housing issues, sometimes conflicting, that matter to communities across Scotland.

Those issues are critical and we expect the Executive to deal with them in a reasonable timescale.

There is a balance to be struck between what we spend on social rented housing and the needs of owner-occupiers.

We must consider how we address low-cost home ownership; the balance of need between rural and urban areas; the challenge of homelessness; and the balance between our spending on bricks and mortar and our support for homeless people.

What do we do about meeting the needs of those who choose to buy a house inappropriately because the way in which we define need, in terms of social rented housing, means that they cannot apply for those houses?

As a consequence of that, too much of our social rented housing has become residual and is not used by mixed communities.

There is something for this Parliament to celebrate in relation to housing, because there has been consensus on a broad range of issues, including the work of the housing improvement task force and the homelessness task force.

We welcomed the creation of the housing supply task force, but I am disappointed that the Local Government and Communities Committee was informed this morning that the task force will not be consulted on the forthcoming green paper, will not comment on the future of Communities Scotland, and will have no opportunity to influence or shape the comprehensive spending review, which will be critical to the delivery of policies.

I ask the Minister for Communities and Sport, in summing up, to commit at least to continue with the previous Executive's proportion of spending on housing—a spending commitment in the 2004 comprehensive spending review that was recognised by the housing coalition that now lobbies on affordable housing as representing significant progress.

We need action on housing.

Some people might be concerned about the debate's narrow focus on the inspection report on GHA.

Tricia Marwick (Central Fife) (SNP): Will the member take an intervention?

Johann Lamont: The member should let me make some progress.

I acknowledge that wholesale stock transfer has been a controversial topic.

There are serious and legitimate concerns, especially in Glasgow, about the inspection report by Communities Scotland.

Indeed, some people have remarked to me that they were surprised that GHA was graded as a C and not as a D.

There has been action by Communities Scotland to appoint on to the board.

The report is challenging and it highlights serious issues, which concern all of us, about the needs and concerns of the tenants and communities of Glasgow. I do not underestimate the challenge that the report presents.

At the stage of transfer, there were evident tensions and anxieties about the future.

On the one hand, there were those in communities such as the one that I represent who knew that the community-based housing association movement and co-operatives had the power to transform their areas and wanted them to do that.

On the other hand, there were those who had not seen that happen and were anxious about it.

Indeed, one argument for wholesale stock transfer was that it would ensure that nobody was left behind. Partial stock transfer depended on individual communities' capacity to be strong enough to take it forward.

Alex Neil (Central Scotland) (SNP): Does the member still agree with her statement, which she made on 25 May 2006 as the Deputy Minister for Communities, that there is no financial black hole in relation to second-stage transfer?

Johann Lamont: I absolutely agree with that.

There is a challenge for Government back benchers who believe that there is a financial black hole.

The solution is not to say, "There is one, and we're not going to do anything about it." They have to address the matter.

Second-stage transfer was part of the core business of GHA that was identified in the ballot.

When Communities Scotland, GHA and the accountable officer of the Scottish Executive signed off the transfer, they understood that funding had been provided for second-stage transfer.

I do not doubt that Nicola Sturgeon will now understand the power of the official advice—not ministerial direction, but official recognised sign-off—that the finances were correct in that case. That is a significant safeguard.

Nicola Sturgeon: Will Johann Lamont respond directly to the comment in Communities Scotland's report that the previous Government "did not fully consider the practical implications" of second-stage transfer?

Johann Lamont: I do not accept that.

The point that I am trying to make is that, at the stage of transfer, it was important to go at the pace of tenants, to build confidence, and to move on. No one was in any doubt that the finances were in place to deliver second-stage transfer.

What is critical now is the action that is taken in response to the report.

There is a clear message that GHA is failing in its basic responsibilities.

Those who say that there is a choice to fund either refurbishment or changes to local structures, as Alex Neil has said, are entirely missing the point.

The message that has arisen from Glasgow's housing for a long time, which is reinforced by the report, is that investment on its own is not enough.

GHA has huge resources, but it is failing in its core services to tenants and owners.

Indeed, the community-based housing association approach shows that local, rational decision making meets local communities' needs and breaks the cycle of investment in failure that has made Glasgow's tenants suffer for too long.

That cycle is characterised by centralised decision making that meets the needs of the body rather than the people whom it serves.

It was broken by the community-based housing association movement, which has many friends in the Parliament.

That is why second-stage transfer is integral to making investment work throughout Glasgow and is not an added extra.

Otherwise, the absence of second-stage transfer from GHA's current programme would have meant that its other services were being delivered.

We know that that is not the case.

I must ask the minister to rise to the challenge.

In our amendment to the motion, we have given reasonable options for what the minister might want to do. It is not enough to say that it is up to GHA when she is faced by the chief executive of GHA who I understand has said that she is in principle opposed to second-stage transfer; by a report from the Government regulatory body highlighting serious failures in GHA; and by tenants and housing association members across Glasgow who have told me that their needs should not become a cheap political football but should drive the approach in the Parliament.

I understand the temptation of an incoming Administration to blame the outgoing Administration for any problems that it faces.

I know that Government back benchers will be under pressure to disregard the critical issues that are highlighted in our amendment on a way forward in order to secure the entirely partisan political benefit of attacking their political opponents.

I understand that—perhaps I would have done it myself.

However, all members on the Government benches who raised concerns about GHA and who promised tenants, owners and communities that they would do something when they were in power should be mindful of the consequence of supporting the motion.

In effect, the motion lets GHA off the hook, saying that it is not its problem.

It would sign away the opportunity for the 39 local housing organisations that have developed credible cases for transfer, which are now with GHA.

Those cases would be written away with the new model of shared services, which has been around for a long time.

We owe it to those tenants to ensure that the cases are considered.

In particular, I urge those who style themselves friends of the housing association movement—many of whom belong in the Government party, as well as in mine—to reflect on what we have identified as a way forward.

As I said to Alex Neil, if they think that there is a black hole, they need to address it as a Government.

If they recognise, as we do, that there is not a black hole but a failure of commitment, perhaps they can address that.

The amendment is deliberately non-controversial, and I urge the minister first to reconvene the ministerial progress group.

Nicola Sturgeon: It is time to stop setting up groups to talk about progress—it is time to start making progress. One reason why I propose reviewing the grant agreement is that the agreement that Johann Lamont's Government put in place does not give the Government adequate levers to hold GHA to account. That is what needs to be addressed with real action.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Johann Lamont is in her last minute.

Johann Lamont: The ministerial progress group was not a talking shop.

It brought together every bit of expertise and commitment throughout Glasgow to deliver.

It brought together a programme of joint action of a staggered series of proposed transfers across Glasgow. Members should read the joint action report, because it gives us a road map.

Critically, the group brings together people to make a difference—not just a discussion or warm words from the minister.

Secondly, I urge the minister to consider the role of Audit Scotland in exploring the financial issues of concern in the report.

That would include offering Audit Scotland the opportunity to investigate GHA's home improvement programme and its impact on owners.

Again, I was disappointed by the minister's lukewarm words on that.

Thirdly, I urge the minister to explore other legislative and creative options to use a mechanism of community right to buy to allow those who currently manage properties to see how they could take control.

We urge the minister to explore all those options: be creative and think positively about how matters can be taken forward.

There is a challenge in our amendment for the Government, and there are suggestions for action that it cannot justify refusing to consider.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: The member must finish.

Johann Lamont: The Government motion allows GHA off the hook.

I urge members on the Government back benches and others to consider the options in our amendment and to support it at 5 o'clock.

I move amendment S3M-539.1, to leave out from "notes" to end and insert:
"agrees that housing is an important priority and calls on the Scottish Executive to come forward with proposals for implementing its housing policy within this session of the Parliament; further notes the Communities Scotland inspection report on Glasgow Housing Association (GHA) and believes that the Executive should act to ensure that GHA meets its responsibilities to its tenants and to owners in the services it provides; further agrees that the Executive should intervene to drive forward progress of second stage transfer in Glasgow, given the critical role of community engagement and ownership in ensuring that the significant investment available to the GHA secures real and lasting improvements to Glasgow's housing, and believes that progress should be based around the following: (1) re-establishing the ministerial progress group, bringing together the broad spectrum of interests and expertise across Glasgow's communities, along with other key stakeholders, to explore the options available to deliver community ownership, (2) exploring the role of Audit Scotland in tackling the issues identified in the Communities Scotland inspection report and (3) exploring possibilities of community right to buy as a means of delivering community ownership."


Johann's Parliamentary questions Mid September -Mid October 2007


Johann Lamont : To ask the Scottish Executive on what date the next meeting of the Ministerial Progress Group on Second Stage Transfers in Glasgow will be held.

Answered by Stewart Maxwell (15 October 2007): The Scottish Government has no plans to reconvene the Ministerial Progress Group.

Johann Lamont : To ask the Scottish Executive how many meetings of the Ministerial Progress Group on Second Stage Transfers in Glasgow have been held since April 2007.

Answered by Stewart Maxwell (15 October 2007): There have been no meetings of the Ministerial Progress Group since April 2007. I understand the group has not met since December 2006.



Johann Lamont : To ask the Scottish Executive whether it is intended to continue the Cities Growth Fund beyond 2008.

Answered by John Swinney (12 October 2007): Decisions on the future of the Cities Growth Fund are being considered in the spending review. It would not be appropriate for me to comment in advance of the outcome of that review.

Johann Lamont : To ask the Scottish Executive what meetings are planned with Glasgow City Council to discuss the future of the Cities Growth Fund.
Answered by John Swinney (12 October 2007): No meetings are currently planned with Glasgow City Council to discuss the future of the Cities Growth Fund.

Johann Lamont : To ask the Scottish Executive what meetings have been held with Glasgow City Council to discuss the future of the Cities Growth Fund.

Answered by John Swinney (12 October 2007): The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing and I have discussed the Cities Growth Fund, amongst other things, with Glasgow City Council in meetings on 2 October and 22 August respectively. Officials from councils in receipt of Cities Growth Fund and the Scottish Government meet periodically to discuss issues around the fund, most recently on 21 August 2007.


Johann Lamont : To ask the Scottish Executive how much was spent between August and December 2006 on publicising the previous administration’s anti-sectarian strategy.

Answered by Fergus Ewing (21 September 2007): Between August and December 2006, the Scottish Government spent £100,000 on publicising and promoting its work to tackle sectarianism. Activity during this period centred around reconvening the Summit on Sectarianism and the publication of a series of documents, including ones relating to twinning schools, guidance on the new procedures for marches and parades, and tackling football related sectarianism.

Johann Lamont : To ask the Scottish Executive how much is proposed to be spent between August and December 2007 on publicising its anti-sectarian strategy.

Answered by Fergus Ewing (21 September 2007): The Scottish Government will spend £106,000 to publicise and promote initiatives to tackle sectarianism during August to December 2007. Activities will include a football weekend of action on 24 to 25 November 2007; an artwork event on 25 September, and a seminar to publicise the £100,000 which we have made available to support anti-sectarianism projects in schools.

Johann Lamont : To ask the Scottish Executive how much was spent between May and July 2007 on publicising its anti-sectarian strategy.

Answered by Fergus Ewing (21 September 2007): The Scottish Government is committed to tackling all forms of sectarianism and religious intolerance. £4,000 was spent on promoting the anti-sectarian agenda during May to July 2007. The focal point of activity during this period was the First Minister’s reception on 19 June 2007 which recognised the achievements of those individuals and organisations that have made a positive contribution to tackling sectarianism.

Domestic Abuse

Johann Lamont : To ask the Scottish Executive when it will confirm the future of the Glasgow Domestic Abuse Court and the Assist support service.

Answered by Kenny MacAskill (19 September 2007): I refer the member to the answer to question S3W-1296 on 16 July 2007. All answers to written parliamentary questions are available on the Parliament’s website, the search facility for which can be found at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/webapp/wa.search.

I set out then the various factors I would take into account in reaching a view about how the Scottish Government can best support the courts in dealing with domestic abuse cases.
I reaffirmed our commitment to developing a range of complementary and mutually supportive measures, within and beyond the justice system, for combating domestic abuse.
Domestic abuse is a serious crime.
The Scottish Government will uphold a zero tolerance policy towards it.
Our criminal justice partners are firmly committed to investigating all allegations of domestic abuse and to bringing all appropriate cases before the courts.
We already have a powerful framework of national policy and operational guidance in place for the pursuit of this crime.
I have carefully considered the evaluation of the domestic abuse pilot court in Glasgow, which was published in the spring.
The court has clearly brought benefits to victims and families.
Yet the research does not recommend replication of the pilot model across Scotland: it proposes that local solutions should be developed to meet local needs.
To this end I propose to take two specific actions.
First, I want to extend our thinking about the range of options for handling domestic abuse cases from the point they enter court until disposal.
We will prepare, consult upon and publish a guide to research and practice across Scotland.
We will put this at the disposal of sheriffs principal and local criminal justice boards in order to support self-assessment and innovation at local level.
I do not expect to see specialist domestic abuse courts in all parts of the country.
I do expect to see criminal justice partners in each area examining their own practice and pursuing new approaches where appropriate.
Secondly, I will take practical steps to further the aim of the sheriff principal for Glasgow and Strathkelvin to ensure the vigorous and sensitive handling of domestic abuse cases across the city.
The current pilot only serves cases arising in G Division of Strathclyde Police.
There is a need for new capacity to deal with the heavy caseload arising across Glasgow.
My officials will convene a short-life working group with relevant interests including the police, Glasgow City Social Work Department and providers of victim support services.
I have asked for a report by January 2008 to enable me to decide how the Scottish Government can best support a domestic abuse court serving the whole of Glasgow.
This is not simply a matter of extending the work of the current pilot.
We will need to develop a new and cost-effective model, including for the provision of support services to victims and witnesses and family members, that is sustainable in the longer term.
In addition, I am keen to use the opportunities of summary justice reform to improve the handling of domestic abuse cases right across the country and irrespective of whether there is a specialist court. Many of the efficiency gains reported in the evaluation of the Glasgow pilot should be attainable across the board as we implement changes to streamline summary business and move cases more quickly through the system.
To provide continuity during the transitional period whilst the Glasgow feasibility study is underway, the government will extend until the end of March 2008 the funding provided to the pilot specialist court.
These initiatives are part of the Scottish Government’s wider programme of work to combat domestic abuse.
We will make further announcements on this in due course.



Johann Lamont To ask the Scottish Executive whether it will ensure that the Housing Supply Task Force makes publicly available details of the land with outline planning permission currently owned by major housebuilding firms.

Answered by Stewart Maxwell (18 September 2007): The Housing Supply Task Force is continuing to develop its agenda and will make public its findings at the appropriate time.