I’ve just come back from a very busy weekend at the Scottish Liberal Democrats Spring Conference held this year in Inverness. Apart from listening to key speeches from government ministers, attending fringes and training sessions, a favourite part of the Conference is in the main hall when party members debate their policy ideas and if voted for by the membership it then becomes party policy. The Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey local party called on the Scottish Government to reverse the 30% cut it recently made to its housing budget and to give proper priority to the construction jobs and affordable homes that are so badly needed to tackle Scotland’s huge social housing and employment problems and reinvigorate our urban and rural communities. On behalf of the Aberdeenshire West local party, I called for the word “affordable” to be amended to “social housing for rent” as explained in the text of my speech below.
“Aberdeenshire West local party welcomes this motion on the housing crisis and congratulates Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey local party for bringing this debate to conference.
They have raised all the points that we must shout about; from the numbers languishing on waiting lists to the Scottish Government’s refusal to invest in jobs and in the people of Scotland.
As you will see from the conference papers, we are seeking to change the word “affordable” in line 20 to “social housing for rent”, and I will explain why:
The SNP in their 2011 manifesto promised to build 6000 new “homes for social rent” each year for the next 5 years. Only 4 short months after the Scottish Elections the wording of their housing manifesto had sneakily been changed from “homes for social rent” to “affordable homes”.
In the housing world, the term “affordable” includes schemes such as shared equity, shared ownership and low cost ownership – schemes which require an element of purchase by the applicant. Whilst these schemes are laudible, we have two main concerns –
Most people on waiting lists do not have access to a mortgage. In the present economic climate, social rented housing is not just sought after by the homeless or unemployed; it is needed for our young people looking for a fair start; for our older people perhaps looking to downsize; it is needed for our hard working families and our hard working single people.
If I could steal a quote from Gallen Milne from a different debate yesterday “If you’re a local loon working for a low wage for a farmer in oil-rich Aberdeenshire, what are your housing options?”. They are very few.
Our second concern is that these affordable schemes such as shared equity and shared ownership require very little government investment, leaving local authorities and housing associations to find funding to build these homes.
So, it is very important that we change the word “affordable” to “social housing for rent” so that we don’t let the Scottish Government shirk their responsibility on housing.
We all know the Conservatives would like to see social housing dead and buried; it looks as if the SNP do too. I know that the Scottish Liberal Democrats are the party who will stand up for social rented housing and make sure that it isn’t a 2nd class option but a real opportunity for hard-working people to get on with their lives.
I urge you to support this amendment”.
Speakers came forward on both the motion and the amendment. After a rousing endorsement for the amendment by fellow Scottish Liberal Democrat, Peter Bellarby, councillor for Stonehaven and Lower Deeside and a summation by Kristian Chapman, the amendment was carried unanimously.