Malcolm's supports extra spending on housing in Edinburgh
Housing: resources and spending in Edinburgh Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab):
I want to speak briefly about the overall level of resources available for housing and in more detail about the distribution of that money, with particular reference to Edinburgh.

I welcome Alex Neil to his first housing debate as minister, and I welcome his new ministerial style, as mentioned by Ross Finnie. Of course, I acknowledge the high level of resources that the minister has been able to announce for housing this year, although it is clear that he has been able to make the announcement because of the money that has rightly been brought forward from next year's budget. I do not think that the minister should get too carried away by the figure - or by some of the other figures that he has been quoting recently in relation to approvals and completions.

The downside of bringing money forward - although it was the right thing to do - is that a lot less money will be available for housing next year. That is why it is so important that the Scottish Government earmarks for housing the £45 million of consequentials from the UK budget. I was disappointed that the minister did not announce that in his opening speech; I hope that he will do so in his closing speech.

It is right to skew capital expenditure to housing. Harder times are coming for public expenditure, so it will be more important than ever to pick the right priorities. Emphasising capital expenditure on housing over other areas of expenditure is important for three reasons. First, it is socially just and necessary, especially when many people are losing their homes; secondly, it is economically important, as the minister has said; and thirdly, it will be essential if we are to achieve the historic 2012 homelessness target. As I am sure SNP members will acknowledge, of the several important achievements during the first years of the Scottish Parliament, the homelessness commitment is the achievement that is most appreciated and recognised internationally. We should all realise our obligation to meet that commitment in three years' time.

In light of that target, I want to talk about distribution. In the next three years in particular, we will have to skew the distribution of housing resources with the objective of achieving the 2012 homelessness target. First, all local authorities will have an obligation to house all unintentionally homeless people, and we will need to ensure that each local authority has the resources to do that. Secondly, we will have to ensure that local authorities can do that without an excessively high percentage of new lets going to homeless people, because many others will have a clear and legitimate claim to council housing or other forms of social rented housing.

Edinburgh cannot achieve the homelessness target. The council stated that explicitly in its homelessness strategy, and Cathy King repeated it at the Local Government and Communities Committee a few weeks ago: it cannot meet its target with its current resources. I should add that the council is already allocating two thirds of its lets to priority-need homeless people, which is twice the national average. The simple reason for that is the chronic shortage of supply in Edinburgh—a shortage that is by far the worst in Scotland, according to analysis done for the Scottish Government by Bramley a year or two ago.

For every council house that becomes available in Edinburgh, there are 154 people seeking it. The result, of course, is that many people are disappointed. Furthermore, because of the emphasis that has to be put on homelessness, thousands of people in Edinburgh cannot move out of their overcrowded homes. The problem is compounded by the fact that not enough larger houses are available.

The situation is masked to some extent by a successful private sector leasing scheme in Edinburgh. However, when people are placed in a private sector leasing property, it does not meet the homelessness obligation. Other problems arise too. For example, high rents mean that people cannot move into work - just last Saturday, somebody talked to me about that at one of my surgeries.

David McLetchie:
Will the member take an intervention?

Malcolm Chisholm:

I do not have time; I have only one minute and 40 seconds, so I will have to conclude.

I acknowledge that the problem is not new. Although housing resources to Edinburgh increased in the latter years of the previous Administration, that increase had to be built on. Since that time, £1.8 million of the £40 million that was brought forward last year went to Edinburgh; £1 million of the £25 million for council houses went to Edinburgh; and - I acknowledge - £5 million extra went in this year, as well as money that has been brought forward from next year for land at Saughton. There are concerns that that money will be taken off next year's budget. I hope that the minister will be able to reassure us about that.

I actually do have time for an intervention from Mr McLetchie.

David McLetchie:

I point out to Mr Chisholm that the evidence that Cathy King gave to the Local Government and Communities Committee was that the rents in the private sector-let houses to which the City of Edinburgh Council has access are not above the market level but are, in most instances, covered by housing benefit. The suggestion that, somehow or other, the private sector leasing scheme prevents people from getting proper housing is simply untrue.

Malcolm Chisholm:
It does not prevent them from getting proper housing; it prevents many of them from moving into well-paid work. That is the problem.

There is cross-party agreement in Edinburgh that Edinburgh needs substantial extra resources. I know that the leaders of the SNP and the Liberal Democrat groups met Alex Neil recently to put that case. I make the case for a substantial amount of the £45 million going to Edinburgh, and more next year. More generally, I make the plea that housing resources over the next three years should be distributed on the basis of supply shortages and with the objective of ensuring that every local authority, including the City of Edinburgh Council, can meet its 2012 obligation.
April 29th 2009, (Column 16846-8)