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What does the Programme for Government announcement mean for housing?

In his blog, SFHA's Director of Policy and Membership, Aaron Hill, discusses the publication of the Scottish Government's first Programme for Government announcement and what it means for the housing sector.  

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by Aaron Hill, SFHA Director of Policy and Membership

As Scotland emerges from most COVID-19 restrictions, the publication this week of the new Scottish Government’s first Programme for Government was an important moment in mapping the next steps in the nation’s recovery. A Fairer, Greener Scotland builds on the co-operation deal between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Greens, placing an emphasis on health, a green economic recovery, and tackling inequality, with social housing a significant feature throughout. However, many questions remain. 

The headline commitment to increase the number of affordable homes delivered over the next ten years to 110,000 is an ambitious and welcome step. However, social housing providers will be nervously awaiting the budget this autumn for indications of increased funding to meet this target. The £3.4bn already committed by the Scottish Government is likely to come under increasing strain as the pressures of Brexit, COVID-19 and global supply issues bite for contractors, causing price increases throughout the supply chain.  

With the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow just weeks away, it is no surprise to see similarly ambitious plans to tackle the climate emergency. Housing features heavily in the Scottish Government’s attempt to reach Net Zero, but the £100m commitment to the Net Zero Heat Fund remains some way short of the estimated £2bn required to meet the proposed new Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing (EESSH2). With the overall ambition extending way beyond these standards, a clear action plan and funding to match will be critical to achieving these ambitions. 

The sector will be eagerly anticipating the Scottish Government’s response to the Zero Emissions in Social Housing Taskforce (ZEST) report, and SFHA will continue to push for a review of EESSH2 to ensure it is fit for purpose to achieve our ambitions. 

With over a third of social housing tenants living in fuel poverty, it will be critical that this action plan navigates the tricky funding balance to ensure that no tenant is left with costs they can’t afford or heating systems that don’t work for them. 

The Programme for Government also featured an extensive list of proposed legislation, with twelve Bills set to be brought to the floor of the Scottish Parliament over the next twelve months. Legislation to establish a National Care Service will undoubtedly be of interest to housing providers, and we will continue to engage with members on this issue.  

It is the introduction of a new Housing Bill in Year 2 of this Parliament which will undoubtedly have grabbed the attention of many. The Bill is likely to seek legislative changes to establish “an effective national systems of rent controls”, as well as build on proposals set out in a Draft Rented Sector Strategy which will be published before the end of the year. It remains unclear the extent to which both these initiatives will consider social housing within their remit, but SFHA has already begun to engage with government on this and will make sure social housing’s viewpoint is well represented. 

With housing associations’ longstanding commitment to affordability, and to local rent setting, we will be working closely with our members to ensure that this is visible across government and that clarity on these proposals emerges very soon. 

In an extensive and wide ranging programme, there are a number of other housing proposals worth noting: 

  • £12m for a new Ending Homelessness Fund in 2021-22, and the strengthening of existing homelessness legislation 

  • £20m to establish a Gypsy Traveller Accommodation Fund 

  • Maintaining the current rates of residential Land Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT) for the full parliamentary term. The First Time Buyer relief will also remain in place, in effect raising the nil rate band to £175,000 and resulting in a reduction of tax of up to £600. 

As ever, the devil will be in the detail of many of these initiatives and we will continue to keep members updated over the coming days and weeks. It is clear that housing associations will have a huge role to play in the delivery of the Government’s programme, but if the sector is to play its fullest role in the recovery, long-term certainty and a clear action plan are needed in many areas.  

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