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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 19, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 19 September 2019

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Social Security Scotland (First Anniversary), Portfolio Question Time, Getting it Right for Every Child (Practice Development Panel Report), Pre-release Access to Economic Statistics (Committee Bill Proposal), Decision Time


Portfolio Question Time

Communities and Local Government

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The first item of business this afternoon is portfolio question time. I repeat my usual mantra: succinct questions, succinct answers. This is a test. Question 1 is from Anas Sarwar—I know that he will not fail me.

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

I start by apologising to members, because I will have to leave at 2.45. I have a pre-arranged meeting with the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport about a constituency matter. I informed the Presiding Officer in advance. [Interruption.] Was that me taking up time? I am sorry.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Mr Sarwar, that does not count. Members, do not barrack him. [Laughter.]

First-time Buyers Pilot Scheme (Criteria)

1. Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what the criteria will be for the allocation of funding for the pilot scheme for first-time buyers. (S5O-03549)

The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning (Kevin Stewart)

The new shared equity scheme will be open to all first-time buyers in Scotland by the end of the year. It will provide them with a deposit of up to £25,000. Buyers will be required to contribute a deposit of 5 per cent of the property value from their own funds.

The new scheme will be part of the range of support that we give to those looking to buy their own home, which includes our help to buy Scotland scheme and open market shared equity scheme. It will help buyers purchase a property that meets their needs in the area where they want to live.

Anas Sarwar

Will the minister clarify whether the scheme will include existing stock or be limited to new stock? If it will not include existing stock, what is the rationale for that?

Kevin Stewart

The scheme is for all stock—new and existing. As I said, it will provide first-time buyers with up to £25,000 towards the deposit for a property. It fits in well with the suite of schemes that we already have. It is a pilot, so we will of course analyse how it all works, but I think that it will be beneficial to first-time buyers and to the construction industry in Scotland.

Angela Constance (Almond Valley) (SNP)

Yesterday was Scottish housing day. How will the £150 million national pilot scheme build on the Government’s delivery of 86,000 affordable homes and its support of more than 32,000 households via home ownership schemes?

Kevin Stewart

The pilot scheme will support at least 6,000 first-time buyers on to the property ladder, enabling them to buy a home that meets their needs in the area in which they want to live. It will complement our existing home ownership schemes, which have helped more than 32,000 households purchase their property since 2007.

We are working hard to increase the number of homes in Scotland, so that everyone has a good-quality home that they can afford and that meets their needs. We will spend more than £3.3 billion during this parliamentary session to deliver at least 50,000 affordable homes by March 2021, at least 35,000 of which will be for social rent.

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

How will the pilot scheme be advertised? If somebody borrows up to the maximum of £25,000, how much will they have to repay when they sell their home?

Kevin Stewart

It is an equity-based scheme and, as with the other schemes, people will pay back the percentage of the sale based on the equity.

Officials are finalising the operational details of the first-time buyer scheme. A draft version of the administrative procedures was issued this week, alongside the legal procurement documents. That is all now in the public domain. The administrative procedures set out how the scheme will work in practice, as well as the criteria for applicants.

New Homes (Accessibility)

2. Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what plans it has to legislate to ensure that all new homes are fully accessible, including having downstairs sleeping and washing facilities. (S5O-03550)

The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning (Kevin Stewart)

We want everyone in Scotland to have a home that is warm, affordable and meets their needs.

In the summer, we published our draft vision and principles for a shared vision for our homes and communities in 2040. That shows our ambition to have enough accessible and adaptable homes across Scotland that are suitable for older and disabled people. In the coming months, we will engage further on how to make that a reality.

Miles Briggs

Today, the British Red Cross published “Life beyond the ward”, a document that has recommendations to improve hospital discharge. One of the challenges is that some people are not able to return home because they do not have facilities downstairs. What learning will the Government take forward from those sorts of documents, especially with regard to our ageing population?

Kevin Stewart

We always take cognisance of publications from third sector partners, which often have good experience of what folks face.

I have said previously in the chamber that 99 per cent of the homes that we are delivering in the affordable housing programme meet the housing for varying needs standards.

In answer to a question from Miles Briggs’s colleague, Jeremy Balfour, on 27 March, I said that we would look at the housing for varying needs standards, because they are “a bit old now”. We must ensure that the homes that we build are fit for purpose not only for today but for tomorrow. We will continue to look at all that. I urge all members to encourage all stakeholders and everyone in their communities take part in the consultation on housing to 2040, in which we can encapsulate their views.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

The Scottish Government set a target to build 50,000 new homes. In order to focus the minds of the housing sector on the desperate need for a wider range of accessible homes—including for the 17,000 wheelchair users in Scotland—is it time to set a target for 10 per cent of those homes to be accessible?

Kevin Stewart

The right way to tackle difficulties in our communities is not necessarily for national Government to set an arbitrary target. In their housing need and demand assessments, local authorities must ensure that they capture all the folk who require specialist housing in their area and deliver those homes accordingly.

During the course of the housing programme, I have been clear that, although subsidy standards are set, we will be flexible with local authorities and housing associations that want to deliver wheelchair-accessible homes, specialist homes or homes with a greater number of bedrooms—we know that there is a need for those homes, too.

Some local authorities and housing associations have grasped that opportunity. We have seen more wheelchair-accessible and specialist homes being delivered in many places. I want other authorities to look at what the best are doing to capture the needs in their area and to ensure that they deliver for the needs of their people.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Question 3 was not lodged.

Homelessness Registration (Support for Councils)

4. Jeremy Balfour (Lothian) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government how it will support councils in upholding the changes to the regulations regarding homelessness registration applications and people having a local connection. (S5O-03552)

The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning (Kevin Stewart)

We will work closely with local authorities as we prepare the ministerial statement, which we are required to issue within 12 months of commencing the provisions in the Homelessness (Scotland) Act 2003. We will listen to their views and see what we can do together to assist their preparation. That will include amending current data collections to ensure that we can measure and, where appropriate, act on the changes. We will update the code of guidance on homelessness so that local authorities are able to access the information that they need.

Our homelessness and rough sleeping action group recommended changing the operation of local connection referrals. We all agree that we want people who face homelessness to be able to choose where they settle and to access the support that they need, wherever they find themselves in their homelessness emergency.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I appreciate the answers, but I want to get as many members in as possible, so please make the answers—and the questions—a little shorter.

Jeremy Balfour

I welcome the minister’s answer. We can all agree on the points that he has made.

There are concerns in Edinburgh, where the changes might bring a major increase in the number of homelessness registration applications. The City of Edinburgh Council’s five-year plan indicates a cost of £9.2 million for implementing the changes. Will the Government provide additional funding to support the City of Edinburgh Council through the process?

Kevin Stewart

The Government has recently increased the amount of money for the implementation of rapid rehousing transition plans from the original £15 million to £24 million.

That money is about transition. It is about allowing local authorities to use that additional resource to bend the spend of their current resource to do what is right for the people in their communities. I have spoken to the City of Edinburgh Council this week, and I have spoken to other places about the changes and how we can help them to ensure that those changes are the right ones for them. My officials and I will continue to collaborate with local authorities on that.

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

Does the minister agree that, although the Scottish Government is working hard to tackle homelessness—including, most recently, through the £15 million homelessness prevention fund—it is a multifaceted issue and that, through its unnecessary austerity agenda, the Tory United Kingdom Government continues to exacerbate the problems around homelessness?

Kevin Stewart

Yes. I agree with Mr MacGregor. By 2020-21, a total of £3.7 billion in annual UK Government welfare cuts will be felt here, in Scotland, with more people being at risk of homelessness through debt and rent arrears. The shambolic introduction of universal credit means that tenants on UC have arrears that are, on average, more than 2.5 times the arrears that tenants on housing benefit had, and they are more than twice as likely to be in debt as other tenants.

We have continually called on the UK Government to backtrack on those flawed policies, to change its mind and to do what is right for the most vulnerable people in our society. I hope that folk across the chamber will join us in continuing to campaign for those changes and for the UK Government to finally see sense on the issue.

Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

Will the minister support further action to tackle the housing crisis in Edinburgh? Will he allow the council to cap the number of short-term lets in the city, and will he accelerate the funding that is available for new affordable housing, so that we can eradicate homelessness?

Kevin Stewart

We recently concluded our consultation on short-term lets, and we are working through the 1,000-plus responses in order to get whatever legislation is required right not only for Edinburgh but for other parts of the country.

During the current programme, Edinburgh has received £31 million more than the original resource planning assumptions in order that it can deliver more social and affordable housing in the city. I am pleased that Edinburgh has been able to utilise those resources well.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Questions 5 and 6 have been withdrawn.

Tackling Inequalities (Intergenerational Work)

7. Angela Constance (Almond Valley) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how it will support intergenerational work in communities that aims to tackle inequalities and improve life chances. (S5O-03555)

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government (Aileen Campbell)

The Scottish Government values intergenerational work, and we have demonstrated that by providing funding of £70,000 this year to the national experts in the field, Generations Working Together. We believe that intergenerational projects break down barriers between generations, tackle negative attitudes and stereotyping and strengthen local communities.

Generations Working Together sits on the older people’s strategic action forum and our national implementation group for our strategy on social isolation and loneliness. Through that strategy and our “A Fairer Scotland for Older People” framework, which was published earlier this year, we will consider what more we can do to promote intergenerational practice.

Angela Constance

A community enterprise in my constituency has researched a model of community-led care, taking an intergenerational and community empowerment approach that views young people and older citizens as assets, not problems. However, the concept needs some investment. Can the cabinet secretary advise us about specific funding streams and opportunities to test that innovative approach to intergenerational work?

Aileen Campbell

That sounds like an incredibly interesting project. I do, of course, agree that local community groups are essential for cohesion and for bringing folk together. There are many examples across the country of great intergenerational work, some of which are managed by the third sector while others are managed by integration joint boards. If the member writes to me with the details of the group and the specifics of what it does in her constituency, we will certainly look into possible funding solutions and give her further information on that point.

Michelle Ballantyne (South Scotland) (Con)

Outside the Scottish Parliament this morning, Aberlour Child Care Trust launched its campaign, “A bad start shouldn’t mean a bad end.” Unfortunately, many of us were not able to attend the launch, as we had to be in committees. Aberlour is calling for a commitment from the Scottish Government to create a transitional fund to support local authorities to deliver early intervention family support services. Will the Scottish Government commit to considering such a fund?

Aileen Campbell

We will continue to work with Aberlour and others who point out where there might be a need for additional support. We will also ensure that what we do across Government creates a whole-life package of support across the life journeys of children and supports them at key transition points. If there is more that Aberlour wants to discuss, I am sure that Maree Todd will be happy to engage—I see her nodding—and so will I.

Scottish Borders Council (Meetings)

8. Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met Scottish Borders Council. (S5O-03556)

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government (Aileen Campbell)

Ministers and officials regularly meet representatives of all Scottish local authorities, including Scottish Borders Council, to discuss a wide range of issues as part of our commitment to working in partnership with local government to improve outcomes for the people of Scotland.

Rachael Hamilton

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer, but I do not think that she answered the question.

Recently, Nicola Sturgeon announced that Scottish schools will be rebuilt or refurbished in the first phase of the £1 billion investment programme, benefiting 50,000 pupils across Scotland. However, none of those schools is located in the Scottish Borders Council area. Rightly, parents were angered by that decision.

Will the Scottish Government give assurances that Scottish Borders Council will receive a fair share of the funding that is allocated to school investment in the future?

Aileen Campbell

I understand that discussions are on-going and that work is being undertaken with Jedburgh academy. We continue to work with Scottish Borders Council on the strategic direction of the council’s learning estate and on which of the council’s upcoming projects might be suitable for Scottish Government support in future phases of the programme.