Thursday, 27 November 2008

The Scottish Government Housing Con

Among other things, I take an extremely keen interest in social and affordable housing. So much so in fact that girlfriend thinks I'm a secret Trot, but I suspect she is simply assuaging her guilt for going out with a Tory.

Anyhoo, I digress. Today, the Scottish Government announced the second tranche of their £100m investment into affordable housing.

Good news I hear you cry, and even someone as cynical as me would get excited at this, despite the fact that so far, Angus isn't getting any of it.

The £100m has been announced by John Swinney et al, more often than Micheal Jackson has been in court, so lets look a little closer at it.

The £100m is not new money as many seem to think, and to be fair the SNP have sometimes, though not always, stated that this is accelerated spending from the year three budget.

But, (and there has to be at least one doesn't there?) a closer look at the detail reveals that only £60m is coming from the Scottish Government, the other £40m is coming from Local Authorities. What this means, is that all the councils in Scotland are expected to chip in £40m into John Swinney's central pot so that the SNP can continue to be seen to be acting with open handed benevolence to the masses.

Worse still, if, for example we found £1m to help out the SNP, we actually have absolutely no say in where the money will be spent. Despite an assurance that we will get the money back in some way. The big cop out from the SNP would be to simply to allow us to borrow more cash in 'prudential borrowing'. I'm not suggesting they will do that, but it's certainly possible. And if we are spending year three's money this year, where will the cash come from in year three for housing? The 'jam today' scenario is fine just now, but what about later?

Apart from the fact our finances were already tight, the council of which I'm part is facing an energy price rise of £2m, on top of what we might have expected to pay a while ago. Fuel costs are hitting us hard too (a bin lorry only does seven miles to the gallon, so you can see where I'm coming frome here). We are having free school meals foisted on us, which may have been agreed in the much talked about 'historic concordat' but this was not to be done for some time yet, and financing this could well be a major problem.

Worse still, the Scottish Government is drip feeding the announcements of who is getting the cash, and today was only the second tranche which brings the total up to £18m. Great from a PR perspective, not good for those involved in providing homes.

The organisation 'Homes for Scotland' is rightly calling for the SNP to announce where the rest of the money is to be spent before Christmas, so that developers know where they stand as they approach the end of the financial year.

The Scottish Government are also allowing local authorities to purchase 'off the shelf developments'. In reality, what this means is that we will no doubt be offered blocks of flats that were built for people seeking to enter the 'buy to let' market, and are now lying empty and unsold.

Given the fact that most local authorities already have lots of flats, then these kind of developments are a very low priority for us. Add to this, the fact that these developments invariably mean that the number of properties on them is disproportionally high to the size of the plots they are built on.

Thus, we may well be making exactly the same mistakes as we did decades ago when the solution to housing shortages were........lots of flats. That experiment failed in a grand style, so should we really revisit it?

Housing after all, is not just about the number of units that can be provided, it is also about building a mix of the kind of houses we need, in the places they are needed, it's just as important that we seek to build safe, sustainable communities that people can take pride living in. I'm really not convinced that under the SNP's plan that this will actually happen.

Perhaps a more sensible, albeit longer term solution, would be for the Scottish Govt to take advantage of low land prices and start investing in a land bank which would help social landlords and hard pressed local authorities to provide local solutions to local pressures.

Perhaps one reason that may explain what, on the surface appears to be a fairly joined up approach, but with some analysis, and indeed some knowledge of housing, is actually a disjointed and short term solution, could be lie in a source of mine within the Scottish Government who tells me that "Ministers are under intense pressure to do something, anything, that makes it look as though they are taking action". Actually that sounds about right, and it's something I will revisit when I come back from a weekends walking.

Have a good weekend.

1 comment:

Stuart Winton said...

"Today, the Scottish Government announced the second tranche of their £100m investment into affordable housing....so far, Angus isn't getting any of it."

I knew there would be consequences over that flag ;0)

(Meant to post this last week, but forgot!!)