‘Significant’ housing challenges ahead for Scotland
Audit Scotland’s ‘Housing in Scotland’ paper says there are “significant” challenges ahead and with a growth in population, the organisation estimates it could be 20 years before enough new homes are built to meet the projected increase in households.
The Scottish Government has also been warned it needs to clarify how it will work with councils and other partners in the sector make sure its targets are met.
The report found the number of new homes built by the private sector in Scotland has more than halved in recent years, and while councils and registered social landlords have an important role to provide homes at low rents, since 2005, they have built 14,000 fewer homes than Scottish Government research suggested were needed.
Caroline Gardner, Auditor General for Scotland, said: “Housing is a significant national asset and the sector in Scotland is under increasing pressure. Budgets are tightening, while demand is increasing and fewer houses are being built.
“Housing needs long-term planning and investment, but planning and funding arrangements have changed frequently. Funding is hard to track which makes it difficult to know if money is being well spent and whether initiatives are successful.
“The Scottish Government has an ambitious vision for housing. It needs to work with councils and their other partners to make sure that clear, long-term plans are in place to address challenges and to help them tackle important issues like homelessness and the quality of housing.”
The report, for the Auditor General and the Accounts Commission, notes that Scottish Government funding for housing fell by around a quarter between 2008/09 and 2011/12 with further reductions to come.
Responding to the findings, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “This government has taken decisive action to improve housing in Scotland. We are investing nearly £900 million over three years as part of our target of building 30,000 new, affordable homes over the lifetime of this Parliament.
“As this report recognises, we are having to deal with Westminster’s cuts to our capital budgets, a difficult lending environment, and the UK Government’s welfare reform agenda – all of which add to the pressures that we face in delivering new affordable homes.
“In response to these pressures, we announced this week that councils and housing associations can receive an additional £16,000 from the Scottish Government for every new home they provide – an additional £44 million – to stimulate the supply of affordable and good quality homes.
“We are to helping people onto the property ladder and supporting house building in the private sector too. We announced this week an investment of £90 million over the next two years for our open market shared equity scheme, which will help credit worthy buyers to buy their first home. Over the past four years this scheme has helped over 2,700 people on low to moderate incomes buy a home – reducing pressure on the social rented sector through freeing up properties and reducing demand expressed through housing waiting lists.”
David O’Neill, president of the Scottish Convention of Local Authorities, welcomed the announcement.
He said: “This report highlights the excellent work councils are doing in preventing homelessness, with a 17 per cent reduction in the number of households assessed as homeless between 2010/11 and 2011/12.
“In an ideal world we would like to build upon the success we have had in this area but unfortunately welfare reform provides a real stumbling block in us being able to do so.
“On wider housing issues, councils are striving to address the housing pressures in their areas, and are pulling out all the stops to ensure they are providing an affordable housing service.
“Councils, as the strategic housing authority, have a key role to play in the delivery and planning of housing policy. There is a high level of need and demand for affordable housing in Scotland. Plus, many councils have major commitments to invest in the quality and energy efficiency of their existing stock.
“I agree with the report when it states, ‘Councils have a key role but few powers to influence a range of public and private partners’. Councils need the appropriate powers and influence to deliver a quality housing service to their local communities.”
Labour’s infrastructure spokesman James Kelly MSP said the report was a “wake-up call” to the SNP Government and a “damning indictment of Nicola Sturgeon’s tenure in charge of housing”.
He added: “It demonstrates that there is no strategy, no vision, no leadership and insufficient resources to deliver the new homes that Scotland needs for the future.
“We called on the SNP to use the extra money it had to kick-start house building. This was rejected. Once again, we have a key area of government which simply lurches from one initiative to another and from press stunt to press stunt. This is no way to run the Scottish Government and is incredibly damaging to Nicola Sturgeon.”