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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 29 June 2016

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Provisional Outturn 2015-16, Gender and the Workplace, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Srebrenica Genocide (21st Anniversary)


Contents


Portfolio Question Time


Communities, Social Security and Equalities

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The first item of business is portfolio question time. To get in as many members as possible, I would prefer short and succinct questions, and answers to match.


Energy-efficient Housing (West Aberdeenshire)

1. Alexander Burnett (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government how much it has allocated to making houses in west Aberdeenshire more energy efficient. (S5O-00061)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

Under our home energy efficiency programmes for Scotland area-based schemes programme and its predecessor, the universal home insulation scheme, Aberdeenshire Council has since 2010 been allocated a total of just under £12 million to deliver home energy efficiency improvements to private sector houses in selected areas across Aberdeenshire.

Allocations are made at local authority level and are not disaggregated to constituency level. Local authorities are responsible for choosing the areas where measures are offered and the types of measures. They are required to focus on areas that have higher levels of fuel poverty.

Alexander Burnett

I am sure that my constituents welcome the minister’s warm words but, given that the Existing Homes Alliance has shown that 20,000 homes in Aberdeenshire West are cold homes, will the minister support the Conservative manifesto commitment to allocate 10 per cent of the capital budget to energy efficiency measures?

Kevin Stewart

It would have been useful if Tory Governments had not cut successive capital budgets and if, beyond that, they had dealt with schemes appropriately south of the border. We are spending £103 million this year on tackling fuel poverty and increasing energy efficiency, which is £103 million more than the Government south of the border is spending.

As for the member’s constituency, area-based schemes to install energy efficiency measures have been carried out in places across west Aberdeenshire, including Insch, Echt, Huntly, Alford, Aboyne and Banchory. Further schemes are planned for Monymusk, Lumsden, Rhynie and Huntly. If Mr Burnett wants to join me in asking his Tory colleagues south of the border to increase capital budgets, I will welcome his help.


Homelessness (Oil and Gas Sector Job Losses)

2. Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of how the loss of jobs in the oil and gas sector has affected homelessness in the north-east and what action it has taken to mitigate this. (S5O-00062)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeenshire Council have said that there has been no increase in the number of homelessness presentations in their areas. That is supported by Scottish Government statistics, which show that homelessness applications in Aberdeen city and Aberdeenshire fell continuously throughout 2015. In the final quarter of that year, the figures were at their lowest level since 14 years ago, when electronic recording began. In addition, private rental costs have reduced in both areas.

The homelessness legislation provides a safety net for all unintentionally homeless households. It is a strong form of mitigation if people are in danger of losing their homes. All 32 local authorities are focused on preventing homelessness through the housing options approach. That approach enables a local authority to look at all the options that are available to households, which may include a homelessness application.

Mike Rumbles

It is clear from the minister’s reply that neither he nor any other minister has assessed the effect on homelessness of the downturn in the oil and gas industry. His response was rather complacent. It is not good enough to ask just Aberdeen City Council and Aberdeenshire Council what has happened historically. There is anecdotal evidence, to say the least, which I can make available to the minister if he wishes to pursue the issue, as I hope that he will.

Kevin Stewart

I am certainly not complacent when it comes to the north-east of Scotland. As I stated, the Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire homelessness stats fell continuously throughout 2015. Yesterday there were new homelessness statistics that show that homelessness has been dropping, and I will analyse them.

I say to Mike Rumbles that this Government will continue to focus on homelessness. We have some of the best homelessness legislation in the world, and he can be assured that I will continue to scrutinise all the figures.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Maurice Corry has a supplementary.

Maurice Corry (West Scotland) (Con)

A new report published by Your Move found that typical rents rose by 1.3 per cent in the month after the introduction of the land and buildings transaction tax surcharge. It has also concluded that rent controls would not help matters—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

May I interrupt you, Mr Corry? I called you for a supplementary about homelessness in the north-east, but I think that you have gone on to your own question.

Maurice Corry

Oh, sorry. I beg your pardon.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Do you have a supplementary?

Maurice Corry

I do not.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Okay. I remind members that, if their name is on the order paper for a question, they do not need to press their button. They should press their button if they want to ask a supplementary to another question.

Maurice Corry

My apologies.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That is quite all right.


Joint Ministerial Working Group on Welfare (Meeting)

3. Colin Beattie (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the meeting of the joint ministerial working group on welfare on 16 June 2016. (S5O-00063)

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities (Angela Constance)

I am pleased to say that the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work and I had a productive meeting of the group, and I look forward to it being a meaningful way of taking forward the important work of transferring social security powers and welfare benefits to this Parliament in the years ahead.

At the meeting we discussed terms of reference and set out a programme of work for the next 12 months. I have written to the relevant parliamentary committees updating them about the meeting, and we will continue that process following future meetings.

Colin Beattie

Is the working relationship between the Scottish Government and the Department for Work and Pensions sufficiently strong to satisfy the cabinet secretary that robust data provision will ensure that welfare benefits transition is seamless and that no Scottish recipient will be disadvantaged?

Angela Constance

Colin Beattie is right to highlight the importance of robust data provision and information sharing. It is early in my relationship with the DWP, but I have been encouraged by the meetings that we have had. I believe that both Governments have the safe and secure transfer of benefits as a priority, and I am clear that we will work hard to ensure that no one will be disadvantaged as a result of the transfer of powers. Ensuring access to data will be part of the process, and I am pleased that it is marked as a priority area for the next 12 months.

Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

I thank the cabinet secretary for keeping the Social Security Committee fully informed of the meeting of the joint ministerial working group, which has said that it is

“important to have a common understanding of practicalities and timetabling of commencement”

in relation to the transfer of social security powers.

Does the cabinet secretary envisage that that common understanding will include any sort of transitional period, in which some functions of the Scottish social security agency will continue to be administered by the DWP, and, if so, does she have any sense of how long that period might last?

Angela Constance

I am grateful to Adam Tomkins for his question and for recognising that the Government is determined to keep committees informed every step of the way, not just about notifications of the joint ministerial working group but about the outcomes of those discussions. We will release a joint communiqué following every meeting.

Timescales are important. Our manifesto set out our plan for the next five years, and we have started getting into the detail about commencement with United Kingdom Government ministers. The member will have seen that there is tranche 1 commencement; the Secretary of State for Scotland will have to take that through by order, through the UK Parliament. It is hoped that that will be done before the UK Parliament rises for the recess.

We need to work out carefully not just commencement dates for tranche 2 but how we can work together to implement the various responsibilities that are coming our way. We will need legislation. The crucial issue is how we deliver on the powers that we get. We will work hand in glove with the committee and the UK Government, so that we have a plan, in recognition of the fact that we have not done anything on this scale in the history of devolution.


Social Rented Housing (Tenants in Moderate Housing Need)

4. Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to ensure that housing allocation in the social rented sector takes consideration of tenants in moderate housing need. (S5O-00064)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

Under housing law, social landlords—that is, councils and housing associations—are responsible for the allocation of social housing in Scotland and are expected to allocate their housing on an objective assessment of housing need. In general, people with the greatest need will be given the highest priority. That is the right approach to allocating a limited resource.

We recognise that many people who would like social housing are having to wait a long time for a suitable house to become available. The Scottish Government is committed to preserving and expanding its social housing stock, as part of action to create a fairer society. That is why we legislated to end the right to buy on 1 August this year, which will prevent the sale of up to 15,500 houses over the next decade, and it is why we announced our bold and ambitious more homes Scotland approach, which will deliver at least 50,000 affordable homes, of which 70 per cent will be for social rent.

Bob Doris

People in moderate housing need can wait many years for an offer of a suitable home, given that people who are in greater housing need are—understandably—allocated homes first, on the priority basis to which the minister referred.

Everyone should have the prospect of having their housing needs met at some point in their life. Will the minister acknowledge the independence and flexibility that social housing providers have to give greater priority to the length of time spent on their housing waiting lists? What guidance or indeed recommendations exist on such flexibility? Some of my constituents will never, ever get a move, despite waiting for a long time. It is understandable that people in greater need can get a house and move in quickly, but other people are trapped for ever.

Kevin Stewart

Social landlords review their allocation policies periodically. In addition, when we implement the Housing (Scotland) Act 2014, we will introduce changes to the law on allocations. We will publish guidance on the provisions later this year, and social landlords will then need to review their allocation policies, to ensure that they can comply with the legislation when it comes into force. As part of that process, landlords will of course need to consult tenants and applicants about their allocation policies. Given that landlords will be doing that, we should allow some time to see what happens.

Social landlords can already give points for time spent on the waiting list, as long as that does not outweigh the points that are given for housing need. I recognise that some applicants are frustrated about having to wait a long time for an offer of housing, but I think that giving priority to people in greatest need is the right approach.

I reiterate that this Government is ensuring that we meet our ambitious target of 50,000 affordable homes, 35,000 of which will be for social rent. That will help some of the folk Mr Doris described.

Alex Johnstone (North East Scotland) (Con)

Having rejected the United Kingdom Government’s approach to underoccupancy, is the Scottish Government considering action of its own design to try to free up the vast amount of space in the social rented sector that is simply underoccupied?

Kevin Stewart

I am surprised to hear a member of this Parliament defend the bedroom tax. This Government will get rid of the bedroom tax as soon as we have the power to do so.

Housing associations and councils can take other measures to deal with folk who are in a house that is too big for their needs now. Some authorities have previously helped people with housing moves and offered grants for folk to move out of houses that have too many bedrooms for their needs. However, the Government will certainly not penalise the most vulnerable in our society with regressive policies such as the bedroom tax.


Proposed Planning Legislation

5. Ivan McKee (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how its proposed planning legislation will ensure that new housing developments comply with the aspirations of the Scottish planning policy. (S5O-00065)

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities (Angela Constance)

We will introduce proposals for further planning reform, including a planning bill, later in the year. In the meantime, we expect development plans to reflect the Scottish planning policy and its commitment to enabling the delivery of new homes.

Ivan McKee

In the Robroyston area of my constituency, where work has begun on a 1,600-house development, the local community is rightly concerned about the lack of clarity on the provision of local facilities in an area that already suffers from a lack of such provision. Is the Government minded to accept the recommendation of the independent review of the Scottish planning system, which states that we need

“An infrastructure first approach to planning and development”,

including the provision of local services and social facilities?

Angela Constance

We certainly agree that there need to be far stronger links between planning for housing and supporting infrastructure. Communities need far more than homes to live in, important though they are. In principle, we accept many of the recommendations of the independent review of planning, but we are considering all of them in more detail. Mr McKee talks about the infrastructure-first principle as an approach to planning and development. We will set out a full programme for planning reform later this year.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

With reference to the same report, and specifically the principle of

“Collaboration rather than conflict—inclusion and empowerment”,

will the Scottish Government consider reinstating the requirement for a local authority to notify the Government when its development or city plan has been breached? If not, what plans does the Scottish Government have to give communities alternative ways of addressing decisions that breach such plans so that they feel much more part of the system?

Angela Constance

Ms McNeill raises some important points. The purpose of the planning review was clear. Its time had come and there is cross-party consensus that we need to review how planning operates in Scotland, not least to ensure that we are able to achieve our ambitions on increasing the supply of affordable housing.

The point that Ms McNeill raises about community involvement and engagement is important. I was pleased that the independent planning review made some important recommendations on that. As we move forward, we will aim to get some early wins from the planning review, because not everything will require legislation. However, it will not be too far into the future before we are ready to respond in detail to the 48 recommendations that came from the review.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We are not getting on very quickly, so I ask for shorter supplementaries and shorter answers from ministers if possible.

We come to question 6. Your time has come, Mr Corry.


High Rents

6. Maurice Corry (West Scotland) (Con)

Thank you, Presiding Officer. My apologies for my earlier intervention.

To ask the Scottish Government what it is doing to tackle high rents. (S5O-00066)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

The most recent official statistics from the Office for National Statistics show that private rents in Scotland increased by 0.5 per cent over the year April 2015 to April 2016. The Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016 will provide clarity and predictability in relation to rent increases, as rents will be able to rise only once in 12 months and tenants will have three months’ notice of changes to enable them to budget accordingly. In addition, councils will have the ability to apply to ministers for a cap on rent increases in their areas for up to five years.

The Scottish Government continues to value social housing with affordable rents, and gives it a high priority for funding because of the security and protection that it offers people who have low incomes or who are vulnerable in other ways. We are committed to building a further 50,000 affordable homes—70 per cent of those for social rent.

Maurice Corry

Does the Scottish Government agree that the best way forward is to solve the issue of high rents by tackling the housing shortage and building 100,000 new homes over the next five years?

Kevin Stewart

We are committed to building 50,000 affordable homes. As I pointed out to one of Mr Corry’s colleagues a few weeks ago, the 100,000 homes that were mentioned in a Conservative amendment—50,000 affordable homes from the Scottish Government and 50,000 in the private sector—would actually be a decrease on what has happened in recent times. Last year, the private sector built 12,000 homes in Scotland, and I hope that we will be able to build many, many homes across all tenures over the coming parliamentary session.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

A quick supplementary please, Mr Findlay.

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)

During the election, the housing minister posed with a poster stating

“It’s time for rent controls”,

endorsing the living rent campaign. I welcome his public commitment to that. Will he today set out the timescale for the introduction of legislation to enact his pledge?

Kevin Stewart

The Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016 addresses the problem of excessive rent rises for sitting tenants in the private rented sector. Local authorities will be able to apply to ministers to set a cap on rent increases for sitting tenants in areas where significant rent increases are having a detrimental impact on tenants. We should wait and see, analyse what happens when the powers come into play, and then take other decisions.


Post Offices (Town Centre Economies)

7. Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact of post offices on town centre economies. (S5O-00067)

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities (Angela Constance)

As was set out by the Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills in his written answer to Mr Bibby last month, the Scottish Government recognises and prioritises the importance of our town centres and local high streets through our town centre action plan. We also recognise the importance of post offices to local communities and economies in Scotland. Post offices and postal services are reserved and we have made it clear to both the UK Government and Post Office Ltd that they have a responsibility to ensure that the availability of existing services is maintained across Scotland.

Neil Bibby

The cabinet secretary is aware that Post Office Ltd is proposing to close Paisley Crown post office and move services into a W H Smith store. Thousands of customers have signed the Communication Workers Union’s petition against the move, but concerns are not just limited to customers and staff; local businesses are concerned about the impact on the town centre economy from the reduction of footfall at the current location. Does the cabinet secretary share concerns about the impact that such proposals could have on town centres? Given her remit for town centres, will she speak to her ministerial colleagues and use the Scottish Government’s influence to urge Post Office Ltd to reconsider this case?

Angela Constance

The Government is always more than willing to reiterate its views, either to Post Office Ltd or to the UK Government. We recognise that post offices are important to local communities and local economies. As local members, we have all experienced post offices closures or relocations in our constituencies. Relocations are obviously preferable to closures, but Post Office Ltd needs to be transparent about what is driving the proposals for Paisley. I note the member’s motion on that matter; it is crucial that local people are listened to and they deserve the facts and the opportunity to be part of a solution.


Occupational Segregation

8. Alison Harris (Central Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to address occupational segregation. (S5O-00068)

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities (Angela Constance)

Occupational segregation is a complex and deep-rooted problem, but we are determined to make progress. That is why it is a top priority for the Government’s developing the young workforce programme, which has set ambitious targets to increase the gender minority share in the most imbalanced college subjects groups and modern apprenticeship frameworks by 2021.

In addition, we are investing up to a total of £1.5 million over the next three academic years through the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council in a programme of quality projects across colleges and universities. We will also look to the new advisory council on women and girls to help us to identify what additional action we and others need to take to tackle this serious issue.

Alison Harris

Occupational segregation is one of the barriers that prevent women from fulfilling their potential in the labour market. It is vitally important that women have the opportunity to work in traditionally male-dominated industries. According to a report from Close the Gap, the latest figures show that the science, research, engineering and technology professions are 78 per cent male dominated. What steps is the Government taking to ensure that women have the opportunity to learn skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects to enable them to embark on careers in the science, research, engineering and technology sector?

Angela Constance

This is a subject that is close to my heart. Ms Harris is right to say that occupational segregation is a barrier to women either entering the labour market or reaching their full potential once they are in the labour market. It is also certainly a drag on economic growth.

It is important for us to have a system-wide and comprehensive response to the issue. I am sure that we will debate it in more detail during this afternoon’s debate. However, I point the member to the important work that we are doing on developing the young workforce and challenging some of those stereotypes. Of course, we need to start challenging such stereotypes much earlier, well before children get to secondary school.

I have touched on the work that the funding council and Skills Development Scotland are doing through their specific action plans.

It is important to recognise that entries and passes in STEM qualifications are increasing, although when we scrape down to the detail, we are concerned about computing science, for example. We have more women in our college sector studying science, maths and engineering, as well as more science undergraduates, but we do not dispute that there is still some way to travel.


Joint Ministerial Working Group on Welfare (Meeting)

9. Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government what issues were discussed at the first meeting of the joint ministerial working group on welfare. (S5O-00069)

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities (Angela Constance)

In addition to what I said in my answer to Mr Beattie’s question on our programme of work, we discussed commencement of 11 of the 13 welfare provisions in the Scotland Act 2016.

Richard Lyle

We have already seen the incredible uptake of the Government’s Scottish welfare fund and the help that it offers to people in communities across Scotland. What is the projected impact on further social security provision as a consequence of the austerity agenda that the United Kingdom Government is pursuing?

Angela Constance

We know that the impact of austerity is severe. The previous UK Government’s package of welfare reforms takes out £2.5 billion in 2015-16 alone. Today we published our annual report on welfare, which demonstrates the scale of the challenge and the squeeze in incomes as a result of austerity. We will always do what we can to protect people from the worst of those measures, but we have to recognise that we will gain powers over only 15 per cent of social security spend in Scotland and that 85 per cent spend will remain under Westminster’s control. That means that we cannot redress all the unfairness in the current UK Government’s system.


Waste Management Facilities (Planning Guidelines)

10. Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what consideration it is giving to reviewing the planning guidelines on the proximity of waste management facilities to residential areas and community facilities. (S5O-00070)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

Scottish planning policy is clear that planning authorities should consider the need for buffer zones between dwellings or other sensitive receptors and certain waste management facilities. We have no plans to review the policy at this time.

Monica Lennon

I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests, which states that I am a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute and an elected member of South Lanarkshire Council.

I am disappointed to hear the minister’s answer. Will he undertake to meet me and my constituents in Whitehill in Hamilton, where a decision was taken by the Scottish Government to grant planning permission on appeal, which is out of step with the Government’s own guidelines in Scottish planning policy? I note that there is to be a planning review and that there is a commitment to empower communities, but we have a fairly recent example of public trust being broken. That is very much a live issue. I would welcome the minister coming to my community to try to learn some lessons.

Kevin Stewart

I am happy to meet Ms Lennon to discuss the issue. However, paragraph 180 of Scottish planning policy is clear that development plans

“should enable investment opportunities in a range of technologies and industries to maximise the value of secondary resources”.

I do not know all the ins and outs of the Whitehall decision, but I am willing to meet Ms Lennon. If she contacts my office, we will arrange that—possibly we could do it before the end of term.

Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

I thank the minister for his answer, but it is actually Whitehill and it is in my constituency of Uddingston and Bellshill. What powers do local authorities have to recall decisions that have been made to grant planning permission for waste management facilities near residential areas and community facilities? What action can South Lanarkshire Council—I know that Monica Lennon is still a councillor in South Lanarkshire—take to recall the decision in this case?

Kevin Stewart

Planning authorities have powers to revoke planning permission under section 65 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997. Where planning permission is proposed to be revoked, the agreement of the Scottish ministers is required. Where planning permission is revoked by planning authorities or the Scottish ministers, the planning authority is liable for any claim for compensation. Planning authorities have the right to revoke planning permission.


Town Centres (Government Investment)

11. Gordon Lindhurst (Lothian) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met representatives of the retail industry to discuss Government investment in town centres. (S5O-00071)

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities (Angela Constance)

The Scottish Government is in regular contact with the Scottish Retail Consortium and other partners, such as Scotland’s towns partnership, to take collective action to revitalise Scotland’s town centres. Most recently, officials attended the Scottish ratepayers forum meeting with the Scottish Retail Consortium on 20 June, when a number of issues were discussed, including investment in town centres.

Gordon Lindhurst

Given that answer, the cabinet secretary is no doubt aware of the concerning figures that the Scottish Retail Consortium has released showing that Scotland’s high streets have seen a slump in sales, with falls across all retail categories of about 3.3 per cent year-on-year in April of this year. I realise that there has been a welcome slowdown in that drop just in the last month, but I am sure that the cabinet secretary agrees that the Scottish Government should recognise the important contribution that town centres make. My supplementary question is therefore this: Will the Government today commit to supplementing the first two tranches of the town centre regeneration fund, which were originally successful in ensuring proper funding to continue essential services and shops in Scottish town centres?

Angela Constance

I am, indeed, aware of the figures that Gordon Lindhurst mentioned. It is important to recognise the work that was done on the town centre action plan, which was a result of the national review of town centres. The Scottish Retail Consortium was an important member of that review group. One of the main findings of that work was that town centre regeneration has to move beyond provision of retail to have a wider focus on public services and community enterprise that will complement the retail offer in a town. A wide range of actions are required, and they are not just actions by the Government.

I am conscious of time, Presiding Officer, and I am also conscious that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution is sitting just two seats away from me. Obviously, the Government will announce its spending plans in due course. However, we have invested a considerable amount in regeneration, and a lot of those regeneration funds are available to town centres. There has also been targeted funding for town centres.


Local Government Budget Reductions

12. Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government what impact reductions in local government budgets are having on communities. (S5O-00072)

The Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities (Angela Constance)

The 2016-17 local government settlement funding package was focused firmly on the delivery of joint priorities to deliver sustainable economic growth, protect front-line services and support the most vulnerable in our communities. Those shared priorities will improve outcomes for local people.

We have protected the council tax freeze for a ninth year, thereby providing much-needed financial relief to vulnerable groups, in particular. We are investing £250 million in integrating services, and we are improving educational attainment by maintaining the pupil to teacher ratio in Scotland’s schools. Taking into account the £250 million for health and social care integration, that means that the overall reduction in local authorities’ total estimated expenditure is less than 1 per cent.

Neil Findlay

Jeezo! I do not know what planet the minister is living on. In communities across Scotland, bus services have been cut, jobs are being lost, community groups are losing funding and the educational attainment gap is growing. That is bad for our economy, for social cohesion and for the wellbeing of families, and—as always—it is the poor and vulnerable who suffer most. Will the minister commit today to making it clear to her cabinet colleagues that she will not tolerate any real-terms cut in her departmental budget?

Angela Constance

Of course, Mr Findlay is being his useful constructive self in respect of how he conducts himself in the chamber. I remind him that Councillor John McGinty, who is Labour leader of West Lothian Council, said on 18 February:

“we have a budget that focuses on and meets the needs of local people whilst protecting services that have the greatest impact on the most vulnerable members of our society”.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

The cabinet secretary will recall that Neil Findlay abstained rather than voting for or against European Union membership when it was debated in the chamber last month.

Can the cabinet secretary tell us—for Mr Findlay’s benefit—what the impact of Brexit is likely to be on Scotland’s public finances, on top of the cut of £1.5 billion in 2016-20 by his better together allies in the UK Tory Government? Does she share my astonishment at the litanies of the Tory MSPs who come here week in and week out demanding that more money be spent across the board when it is their Government that is cutting our budget?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Mr Gibson, your question is over.

Angela Constance

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that tax rises and spending cuts will be needed to deal with the economic impact of leaving the European Union, but he has stopped short of announcing an emergency budget. What is clear is that there will be an economic impact, which will feed through into public finances.

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution is engaging closely with Her Majesty’s Treasury and with counterparts in other devolved Administrations to further our economic interests. It is, of course, for Mr Findlay to account for the positions that he holds.


Housing (Building Rate)

13. Mairi Evans (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP)

To ask the Scottish Government how the rate of housebuilding in Scotland compares with the rest of the United Kingdom. (S5O-00073)

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

The 15,954 new-build homes that were completed in Scotland in the 12 months to December 2015 equates to a rate of 297 homes built per 100,000 population. That rate is higher than all other areas of the United Kingdom, where the rate was 261 in England, 219 in Wales and 287 in Northern Ireland.

Over the lifetime of the previous session of Parliament, we surpassed our target by delivering 33,490 affordable homes, and within that 22,523 social homes including 5,992 council homes.

Since 2007, our sustained high level of house-building has enabled 41,000 more homes to be built under this Government than would have been built at England’s lower per capita rate. That is the equivalent of a new town the size of Paisley.

Mairi Evans

Can the minister provide an update on how many jobs are expected to be supported by house-building schemes over the course of this parliamentary session?

Kevin Stewart

It is estimated that our 50,000 affordable homes target will support approximately 14,000 full-time equivalent jobs a year in the construction industry and related industries in Scotland over the next five years. In addition, it is estimated that our current help-to-buy scheme will support around 2,000 full-time equivalent jobs a year in the construction industry and related industries in Scotland over its three-year lifespan.

Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

The figure may well be higher in Scotland than in the rest of the United Kingdom; nevertheless, Scotland has a housing crisis that needs to be tackled. The Government has committed itself to building 35,000 social rented houses over the next five years. Can the minister advise whether the Government has a national house-building plan in place to deliver those houses, how many of them will be built this year and what planning is taking place to ensure that those much-needed houses will be built year on year?

Kevin Stewart

Our more homes Scotland approach is bringing all aspects together to ensure the delivery of those 50,000 affordable homes—35,000 of them for social rent—over the parliamentary session. I assure Mr Rowley that I am having conversations with our partners day and daily to ensure that our ambitious target is met.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That ends portfolio question time. I ask members to note that we managed only 13 questions because of the length of questions and the length of responses from Government ministers. I ask members to think on that over the summer.