First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has set out the Programme for Government for 2017/18. A wide ranging set of 16 Bills covering everything from education to the economy and the environment. There were also some promising statements on housing, homelessness and fuel poverty – but are the plans ambitious enough? CIH Scotland’s policy and practice manager, Ashley Campbell, offers some thoughts.
What’s in the programme?
The First Minister acknowledged the complexity of homelessness and in particular the need to eradicate rough sleeping. The Scottish Government will establish a Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group to consider options for ending rough sleeping and review the way that temporary accommodation is used. The announcement of a £10 million annual Ending Homelessness Together Fund is extremely welcome but the First Minister did fall short of promising a national homelessness strategy which many third sector organisations have been calling for.
Amongst the announcements on criminal justice reform, the First Minister confirmed that the presumption against short term prison sentences will be extended from three to 12 months. This is an important development as many people who go into prison subsequently lose their tenancy, facing homelessness on release and increasing the risk of reoffending. Of course the Courts will ultimately set sentences and reassurances were given that safeguards will be put in place to protect victims of domestic abuse.
Beyond restating the Scottish Government’s commitment to deliver 50,000 affordable homes over the life of the Parliament, and confirmation that the long awaited Planning Bill will soon be introduced, new measures to support affordable housing delivery were a bit thin on the ground. The First Minister did announce that the first strategic recommendations of the new Scottish Land Commission (established by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016) will be published shortly and that the Scottish Government will consider Land Value Tax as a means of encouraging development.
The full publication of the Programme for Government also indicates that the Scottish Government will go ahead this year with a Rental Income Guarantee Scheme to support the development of purpose built private rented accommodation.
Improving housing quality and tackling fuel poverty
A Warm Homes Bill will include a new statutory target for reducing fuel poverty. While further details are lacking at this stage, we would also expect the Bill to include a framework for delivering Scotland’s Energy Efficiency Programme (SEEP). CIH Scotland will continue to work with Existing Homes Alliance Scotland (ExHAS) partners to ensure that the Bill sets the foundation for an energy efficiency programme that can tackle the root causes of fuel poverty and support improvements in our homes across all tenures.
Following consultation earlier this year the First Minister confirmed that a minimum standard of energy efficiency for homes in the Private Rented Sector (PRS) will be introduced to improve the quality of our homes. We are also expecting a Scottish Government consultation on fire safety across tenures to be published in the next few days.
The Social Security (Scotland) Bill which will set the foundations for the new system in Scotland has already been introduced and is making its way through Parliament. However, the First Minister announced that details of the location and configuration of the new Agency will be confirmed this autumn. She also pledged funding to support interested local authorities to develop proposals and test the feasibility of a Citizen’s Basic Income – a radical departure from the current social security set up but an interesting idea to explore.
Opposition parties will now have their say over three days of debate and given the SNP’s lack of an overall majority, there may still be room for changes. We will of course also get a chance to comment on all of the Bills over the coming year throughout the legislative process.