Fiona McLeod (SNP) asked the Scottish Government how it promotes better transport links to public facilities. Keith Brown, Minister for Housing and Transport, said the Scottish Government encourages improved public transport to connect people, places and work.
He added: “Our investment is significant, such as the £0.25bn per year on bus services, and it is wideranging, with new capital projects such as a £30m programme of improvements for railway stations across Scotland and our £40m support for Glasgow fastlink—which will be a rapid bus corridor linking the city centre with the new Glasgow Southern General Hospital—and for improving transport links for the Commonwealth Games.” Fiona McLeod then asked the minister to comment, in relation to the £0.25bn that is spent on buses, on the fact that Strathclyde Partnership for Transport has decided that MyBus cannot be used to access hospital appointments, as opposed to hospital visits.
Brown added: “The bulk of that support will be spent on concessionary travel, with additional funds being provided for the bus service operators’ grant. MyBus cannot be used for attending hospital appointments, except in exceptional circumstances, because it has been agreed that those appointments are the responsibility of the National Health Service. That reflects the specialist nature of the transport that is required and the lack of flexibility on arrival times.
SPT’s website advises that patients should contact their general practitioner’s surgery if they have difficulty in attending hospital appointments.” On the same question, Jim Hume (Liberal Democrat) asked: “The minister recently repeated inaccurate claims that the cut to the BSOG and the change in the formula were not reasons for the inflation-busting fare increases and cuts in services that we have seen. Why will he not utilise the extra money that was made available by the UK Government’s budget to protect bus services in Scotland?” Brown said the first reason is “that Jim Hume has already asked us to spend that money on ten or so different things – it cannot be spent more than once”.
He added: “It is also worth saying that we have provided £0.25bn of support against the backdrop of the substantial cuts by the UK Government that he supports. The money is being used to ensure that we expand the services that are available. The member will, of course, know that the changes that we have made to the BSOG will help rural bus services, which the previous administration—of which his party was a part—failed to do.”
16.05.12: Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc) (Scotland) Bill
The Local Government and Regeneration Committee heard evidence as part of a Stage-1 consideration of the Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc) (Scotland) Bill. The two witnesses were Jim Hayton, policy officer with the Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers and Kristen Hubert from Shelter Scotland, who is coordinator of the empty homes partnership.
Convener Joe FitzPatrick asked them to outline the reasons why properties are empty in Scotland, and the difficulties that local authorities face in trying to help owners to bring properties back on to the market and back into use.
Hubert said: “We work with councils to help them to develop processes to bring private sector empty homes back into use. Homes can be empty for many reasons, but it is not usually because of an issue with the property—generally, it is because the owner has got stuck somewhere. They might have an issue with making the best economic use of the property, have a fear of becoming a landlord, not have sufficient money to renovate it, or need information about how to rent or sell the property in its current condition.
“The challenges that councils face are to do with working with owners to get through those issues. One challenge is often to do with staff resources. Another is about giving owners the incentive to bring properties back into use. We work with councils to develop a process that starts with advice and information. We then work with councils to develop incentives, loans and grants to encourage owners to bring property back into use for affordable housing. In the worst cases, enforcement is an option. We see the powers that the Bill will give councils as being part of that process. The Bill is not a stand-alone measure, but is part of a wider approach to bringing empty homes back into use.”
Hayton added: “Local authority chief housing officers rely quite a lot on the Empty Homes Partnership and its research and information. I agree with most of what Kristen Hubert said. One obvious reason why homes are empty is to do with the current economic circumstances; developers might have new-build property that they are unable to sell, or people might have inherited property and be unsure what to do with it. As the market has flattened, people have found it difficult to sell property. There are also individuals who own property but who just have difficulty understanding the options and how they might bring the property back into productive use. There are a myriad of reasons why property might be empty.”
17.05.12 Housing option hubs
Richard Lyle (SNP) asked the Scottish Executive how the recently announced additional funding of £150,000 for housing options hubs will be used best to refocus services to look at individuals’ housing options.
Minister for Housing and Transport Keith Brown said: “The funding will be used by the hubs to enable the sharing of practice between local authorities and their partners, all of which is aimed at preventing homelessness.” Lyle then asked how the extra funding will be used to prevent future homelessness and what other steps does the Government intend to take to tackle homelessness.
Brown said: “The extra funding will support the good work that the housing options hubs have done to date. The housing options approach seeks to achieve sustainable and long-term solutions to individuals’ housing problems. Working in partnership, the hubs have done substantial publicity work around housing options services, training needs analysis and implementing housing options information technology systems. They are putting in place the necessary infrastructure. Richard Lyle will be interested to know that the homelessness statistics that were published in February showed a 20 per cent drop in applications and assessments. That is the lowest in a decade and demonstrates the impact of the prevention activity that has been led by the hubs.