Review of the political year: Q&A with Local Government and Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell
What personally has been the highlight of this past year been for you in your portfolio?
Announcing we would introduce the Scottish Child Payment was a significant highlight – that’s because it will make a big difference to those who need support. I got into politics to make a difference, help create a fairer Scotland and tackle inequality and this bold policy does just that. It is a brand new benefit that will provide eligible families with £10 a week for every child under 16, with introduction for under-sixes starting early.
When delivered in full, 410,000 children could be eligible for the income supplement – over a third of all children. It is estimated it will lift 30,000 children out of relative poverty by 2023/24. For a family with two children under the age of 16 this new payment would mean additional support of more than £1,000 a year. This will make real inroads to tackling child poverty and stopping families from falling into poverty.
What do you see as your main priority in the brief in the coming year?
We wanted to start the Scottish Child Payment as quickly as we possibly could so the next year is about rolling our sleeves up and making sure we deliver on time.
Secondly with the Brexit deadline rapidly approaching I’m concerned about the devastating impact this will have on our economic outlook and importantly what that means for families already struggling or because of Brexit and are facing the consequences such as job loss. I’m determined that we continue to fight Brexit whilst also planning to ensure we do what we can to support people at that time – as well as continue to tackle issues like child poverty no matter what the outcome of Brexit is.
Despite the Scottish Government’s homelessness strategy aiming to abolish rough sleeping in Scotland, it is continuing to rise. Has the strategy failed?
In a country with some of the strongest homelessness rights in the world, it is unacceptable for anyone to find themselves without a home. It is extremely disappointing to see the rise in numbers of people needing this support, though it does show that all the predictions that homelessness and poverty would rise due to the UK Government’s welfare cuts has sadly come to pass.
However, I was pleased that the latest statistics show a significant increase in households securing settled accommodation. We know more work must be done, and I am confident that the actions set out in our Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan, published in November 2018 and backed by £50 million, will bring about the change we need to see over the coming years.
There are multiple, complex reasons why people sleep rough – many have experienced drug or alcohol addiction problems or suffer from poor mental health and require specialist support, in addition to a home, to tackle these issues. We recognise a settled home as the best, stable platform to address needs and build a life. That’s why we’ve invested £32.5 million to support the transition to rapid rehousing and housing first, to help support people quickly into permanent accommodation.
This is a time of significant change, and there are still many challenges ahead to bring about the system change required. The actions set out by our expert group, informed by the voice of lived experience, represent an opportunity for all of us to work together across national government, local authorities, the third sector and the wider public sector to realise our vision of a fairer Scotland where everyone has a warm, safe place to call home.
The number of children living in temporary accommodation has risen for the fifth year in a row. How do you feel, particularly as a mother, about children growing up in such conditions that are in many cases illegal?
I want all children in Scotland to grow up with the best possible start in life. Temporary accommodation is an important emergency safety net for anyone who finds themselves homeless with nowhere else to go, in cases of housing crisis. But it should be just that – temporary. And when it is necessary, these arrangements must be for as short a time as possible and be of good quality.
That’s why in 2017 we introduced legislation to reduce the time that families and pregnant woman stay in unsuitable accommodation providing extra support for families and children. We are working with each local authority through their rapid rehousing transition plan, which sets out how they will reduce the amount of temporary accommodation being used and the length of stays there. To support this work, the Scottish Government has allocated £24 million for councils over the next three years.
We’ve also analysed the reasons behind increases in the number of children staying in temporary accommodation showed variations across local authority areas. As part of their rapid rehousing transition plan, each local authority should consider the accommodation they have available to house families with children.
The SNP along with the Tories voted against full planning control of short-term lets. What are you going to do to ensure short-term lets are properly regulated to protect the housing stock and wellbeing of residents?
As more people travel, short-term lets like Airbnb can be a great, affordable way to get a taste of new places and experience a ‘home away from home’. They can also helping to boost the tourism economy across all areas of Scotland.
However, we understand the pressures that short-term lets can create for some communities. While we welcome the economic benefits they can bring, we want to ensure that short-term lets are regulated appropriately. We are committed to working with local authorities to give them the powers they need to balance the unique needs of their communities with wider economic and tourism interests.
The provisions agreed in the Planning Bill will allow local authorities to control short-term lets in areas where they consider this is needed, without imposing unwelcome burdens elsewhere. We are also now considering the responses to our recent consultation on other potential forms of regulation for short-term lets, before publishing an analysis and considering our next steps.
Councils are at the forefront of measures to tackle poverty and support the most vulnerable, but their budgets have been reduced so much that they are having to cut many services. Is the Scottish Government not undermining its own intention to tackle inequality?
Despite facing real terms cuts of almost £2 billion to the Scottish budget since 2010, we have continued to treat local authorities fairly and have provided a 2.9 per cent real terms uplift in the local government settlement for 2019-20. Unlike other public services, local councils have the ability to raise the council tax. In 2019-20 this provided an additional £95.9 million to support local services.
The Child Poverty Act places a new duty on local authorities and health boards to jointly produce annual local child poverty action reports – the first of which were published at the end of June. These reports capture the wide range of action underway locally. A key part of the reporting process will be sharing learning across areas of what works, what hasn’t worked as well as anticipated and what gaps in provision exist.
We’ve put in place a package of support over the period of our first delivery plan [to 2022] in order to support local areas to do this, including: funding a national child poverty coordinator; funding new analytical support, and; funding new support to give people with lived experience of poverty a voice in decision making. This process will help local areas strengthen their partnerships and achieve the greatest impact with the resources they have available.
What difference do you think the recently passed Planning Bill will make to communities in Scotland?
This new act presents a radical new way forward for planning in Scotland. It’s a vision that empowers communities to have a positive say in shaping their future. It will lead to earlier and more meaningful engagement with local people, through the preparation of development plans and on major planning applications.
And a new right means community bodies will be able to prepare local place plans, expressing their aspirations for the development of the places they want and need. They’ll have a say in issues such as housing, open space and community facilities, along with business and employment opportunities.
We expect to see more, valuable collaboration where local people, developers and local authorities across Scotland work closely together for all our benefit. Our new, revitalised planning system will support vital investment in the development of the quality places our country needs to thrive.