Housing priorities for the new year
CIH Scotland policy and practice manager Ashley Campbell takes a look at where we are at the beginning of the new year and what 2020 might have in store for the housing sector.
It’s a new year, a new decade and we have a newly elected Conservative government in Westminster. Their new manifesto has promised increased spending and there is talk of an end to austerity, but we don’t yet know what Brexit will bring and the late election means that the UK budget has not yet been announced.
The delay with the UK government budget has created some complications for Scotland.
Without knowing what the funding allocation for 2020/21 will be, the Scottish government was not able to introduce a draft budget before Christmas as would usually be the case. This means greater uncertainty about the funding for the year ahead and much less time to debate the budget bill when it is introduced. So what do we want to see when the draft budget is published?
In the last year of the 50,000 affordable homes target, we are expecting the final instalment of the £3.3 billion contribution promised by the Scottish government. But we are also urgently calling for the government to look beyond 2021. Housing developments take time, and we need to start planning now for the homes we will need over the next five years and beyond. Without long-term financial certainty, most housing associations and local authorities won’t be able to keep building. They won’t be able to retain skilled staff, and we are at risk of losing the hard-earned progress we have made to date.
In a statement issued on 6 January, COSLA president Councillor Alison Evison warned that councils' budgets are “at breaking point” due to inadequate funding and suggested that the available funding is increasingly being ringfenced to meet Scottish government priorities. We know that non-statutory services are at risk of being cut when councils face tough spending decisions, but these can often be the services that are most valuable in terms of supporting vulnerable people, keeping people in their homes and preventing homelessness. Subsequently, there is clearly a need to ensure that local services are funded in a sustainable way. This must involve better partnership working between housing, health and social care and a willingness to look more creatively at how budgets are spent.
Prevention needs to be the focus for spending going forward, and housing can play a key role here. Investing in adaptations and support services can prevent the need for costly hospital admissions. Preventing homelessness saves money for the NHS, reduces reoffending and, importantly, leads to better outcomes for individuals and families.
2019 was a year dominated by climate change. A schoolgirl from Sweden sparked a global movement, and Nicola Sturgeon announced that we are officially in a state of climate emergency. While 2019 secured climate change’s place on the public and political agenda, 2020 needs to be a year of action.
Last year the Scottish government did introduce ambitious statutory targets to eliminate fuel poverty as far as possible by 2040 and to reach net zero carbon by 2045. The energy efficiency of our new and existing homes will play a significant role in achieving these targets. To date, social landlords have led the way in building new energy efficient homes and have invested significant amounts in improving existing homes through the Social Housing Quality Standard and Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing. But business as usual will not be enough going forward.
Social landlords and their tenants cannot be expected to bear the financial burden of all of the work still to be done. The Scottish government must commit to significantly increasing funding for energy efficiency measures and ensure that regulations cover minimum energy for homes across all tenures, including homeowners who still make up the majority of the housing sector.
So, to sum up - the new year and the delayed budget present an opportunity for politicians to set their intentions for the decade ahead. We need to make sure that housing is at the heart of those plans.