Housing, Scottish Parliament, 25 June 2008

I thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of her statement.
I recognise that there was a lot in it, particularly about people who face repossession and so on, with which we can all agree.
I look forward to further debate in committee on some of the detailed issues of the housing policy, including homelessness, that the statement could not address.
I recognise, as the cabinet secretary said, that "Firm Foundations" secured support for some of its proposals, but ultimately it did not secure support for its key proposals.
The document is troubling because, despite assertions, it did not respond to the coherent opposition to the central proposition around the role of housing associations in particular and developing that agenda.
"Firm Foundations" was unconvincing when it was first published, and the changing context of the current housing circumstances mean that it is now well past its sell-by date.
The current housing circumstances present a huge challenge to the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Administration, to which I hope that the cabinet secretary will rise.
I note in passing that the £2,000 grant for first-time buyers is now officially dead, and that the cabinet secretary has had sufficient sense to back off slightly from the single developer model and will consult further on it.
I urge her to hold on to the option of jettisoning that model altogether.
Regrettably, the key notion of driving efficiencies into housing associations remains, despite the strongly expressed views of housing associations and others that that will expose them to risk in the financial markets, will result in increasing rents and potentially will involve a raid on their reserves, which we all know should be used for the good maintenance of properties and to ensure that they meet the Scottish housing quality standard.
I have three specific questions for the cabinet secretary.
First, she said:
"We will work to ensure that house building is best placed to grow again when market conditions recover."
Does she acknowledge that private sector house builders and housing associations now argue that housing associations have a critical role to play as an anchor for the whole housing sector, in order to sustain the house building sector while conditions remain as they are?
I urge her to reflect on how she might use the housing associations creatively—giving them more resource, not less—in order to provide that anchor.
Secondly, what targets has she set for social rented housing in different areas of Scotland?
Given the fact that home ownership is not now going to be an option, the fact that repossession is a genuine possibility for some, and the level of homelessness, I am interested to know what her targets are.
Thirdly, does the cabinet secretary recognise the disappointment that many housing associations in Glasgow feel because her signalled commitment to independent scrutiny of the Mazars report—which would give confidence to the GHA and to those housing organisations—has not been honoured?
Does she acknowledge the significance of having public confidence in that matter?
Given the role of public moneys in the work of the GHA, will she at least take responsibility by convening the meetings between the GHA and housing associations?
I have said elsewhere that they require supervised contact.
Will she consider convening those meetings to ensure that the progress on which she is insisting is realised?