Housing Bill Scottish Parliament speech 3 November 2010

Suitably chastised by the minister, I will do my best to be consensual.
However, when I express different views, I do so because I disagree with him.
As we move forward, seeking a false consensus is probably as much of a problem as anything else.
We have indicated that we are happy to support many of the bill's provisions.
In particular, I note and concur with the minister's comments on veterans' entitlements.
However, I do not think that the bill deserves to be described as radical.
Some of members' disappointment about the bill arises from the overblown rhetoric that the minister used in the early days about his plans to abolish the right to buy.
When we voted on the issue, it was recognised that the minister had overstated the case and that past changes had made the really big difference.
There is an overall challenge in relation to housing.
It is about the availability of housing to individuals and their families, but it is also about housing's role in sustaining communities, especially at this difficult time.
The minister will be aware of the term "community anchors".
Often, housing associations play that role.
We should tread gently when we move into that area, to ensure that we do not damage the role that housing providers—housing associations and councils—can play in communities.
We will have a tough budget decision to make, and housing providers will play a critical role in determining what happens in the future.
The plans for housing benefit at United Kingdom level have many implications both for individuals and for those who are planning and making decisions at community level.
For example, a housing association might be faced with a tenant who has rigorously paid their rent, who has been unemployed for a year, and who discovers that their housing benefit is to be cut by 10 per cent because they have stayed on jobseekers allowance.
That sort of situation has implications for housing associations and other organisations that generally manage things in a businesslike way.
I have no doubt that the proposals also have implications for people in supported accommodation—there are people with learning disabilities who are currently supported, and we do not know what the proposals will mean for Women's Aid refuges and so on.
I am sure that we will have to revisit the impacts of the housing benefit proposals on housing as a whole.
Tough decisions have to be made, of course, and one of the frustrations felt in my party comes from the silliness of some of the things that the minister and the Scottish National Party have said in the past about the division between our support for council housing and RSLs.
We took a tough decision to support stock transfer in Glasgow.
We brought £1.2 billion into the city.
If ever there was a Labour legacy for tough times, it is the fact that properties are still being improved there and there is still new build.
There is a new-build development in my constituency, which is creating jobs in the construction industry, and the private sector has embraced that.
The idea that spending through the public purse does not support private investment and activity is false.
We should be careful about making false divisions, which do not help the debate.
I am genuinely disappointed about the decision to remove the whole question of the private sector.
The minister says that it is water under the bridge, but the single most significant concern that is brought to me and others in our casework is to do with the quality of rented accommodation in the private sector.
Sarah Boyack highlighted the question of party flats, and Pauline McNeill mentioned houses in multiple occupation. There is also the matter of addressing antisocial behaviour, which Charlie Gordon raised.
It is unfortunate that, when it was indicated at stage 1 that there was a problem, the minister did not sort it out. There is a sense of urgency.
People do not want those issues to be dealt with slowly.
I am concerned that the HMO provisions are not coming until 2011.
There is an issue around the regulator.
We know the importance of having solid regulation, but there is a concern that the regulator will increasingly focus on community-controlled housing associations, despite the fact that they generally perform better in inspections.
The fear is that the regulator will get a notion that bigger is somehow better, so that there could be forced mergers, although we know that the lesson from the community-controlled movement has been that managing things locally, with control going down to local communities, makes a difference.

Alex Neil: At stage 2, I lodged an amendment to avoid forced mergers. The approval of the tenants will now be required before any merger or takeover happens.

Johann Lamont: I welcome that, but we should ensure that the regulator's approach is light touch.
We do not want to kill innovation at a local level in housing.
There is uncertainty about the fact that housing association grant has gone up and down.
It has been put to me that there is a fear that banks will use that as an opportunity to intervene and review, and perhaps change the arrangements that they have made with housing associations. That is of concern.
We have already discussed the controversial issues around homelessness, but I reiterate that the issue is the provision of support at the right stage.
We have been talking about preventative spend.
If we can address the issue at an early stage, ensuring that other agencies are engaged, that will be significant.
We welcome the Scottish social housing charter, but it has to be real.
We need to listen to what tenants say about allocations policy; about the difficulties of evicting difficult tenants, particularly drug dealers; about the need to address antisocial behaviour, and the need to bring back a community aspect to how antisocial behaviour is addressed; about sensitive lets and people being told that they cannot identify categories of housing for older people, whose whole lives might be disrupted by younger people being placed in a way that is inappropriate for both of them; and about the role of private landlords.
The social housing charter should reflect those concerns of tenants.
It should also reflect the fact that tenants want there to be mixed, safe communities.
There is a gap between that and what the regulator says.
There are also concerns about rent levels going up more quickly for councils and about increased debt being masked by low interest rates.
We are happy to support the bill for the limited changes that it creates, but we trust that we can engage with the minister on the many issues where action is necessary.