I was running a workshop on Scottish housing issues at our UK housing seminar in York today.
In a tight financial environment there was a feeling that housing appears to have slipped down the list of political priorities. The Scottish Government has cut the housing budget by 22% this year and none of the other parties are making significant spending commitments.
Not that need for housing has gone away. Nearly 200,000 households are on housing waiting lists and over 56,000 made homeless applications. Homeless applications have increased by 26% in the last ten years.The number of new houses being built in all sectors goes no where near meeting this demand.
We are also making little progress in improving housing stock condition. 298,000 homes in Scotland are affected by dampness or condensation, 44% fail the energy standard and 62% of social housing falls beneath the Scottish Housing Quality Standard.
The funding plans of the Scottish Government simply spread the available finance around a little thinner, although they have at least built a small number of new council houses. Small programmes like the National Housing Trust and the Innovation and Investment Fund make a good political announcement but deliver small numbers of new houses. Labour isn't promising much more in finance terms although they have an innovative loan guarantee scheme for first time buyers.
The workshop looked at how we might use local authority pension funds (they are worth £20bn in Scotland) to generate housing bonds to finance new build. However, the UK government cuts in housing benefit could impact on this idea, not to mention undermining the pension scheme itself.