Black’s Blog: Half an hour with the housing minister

Black’s Blog: Half an hour with the housing minister

Jimmy Black picks out points from a recent discussion with housing minister Paul McLennan, and Kieran Findlay, editor of Scottish Housing News.

Rent controls? Now that Patrick Harvie is no longer in government, I imagine that housing minister Paul McLennan has a bit more room to manoeuvre over controversial areas such as rent controls. That’s good because the system proposed in the current Housing Bill seems unnecessarily bureaucratic, and prolongs uncertainty for potential investors in the private rented sector.

Private investment looks increasingly attractive in the context of big cuts in the affordable housing programme, which the minister attributes to a 9% reduction in capital funding from Westminster and reduced “financial transactions”. (Financial transactions are a kind of public sector borrowing made available by Westminster).

If the Scottish Government takes any kind of holistic view of housing finance, they won’t want to scare away investors by introducing a scheme which could prevent private rents increasing in line with inflation. (See our previous SHN podcast with Dr John Boyle of Rettie & Co).

Rent controls are bound to be a factor in the deliberations of the Housing Investment Taskforce, which is discussing ways of bringing in private investment. The minister is adamant that the Taskforce is all about “additionality”; in other words, it’s not just about replacing the budget cuts. Bankers, private investors and social landlords are looking at ways of financing mid-market rental property, and build to rent too.

He’s not just looking at private money. Local authorities have greater borrowing powers than the Scottish Government, and the minister wants to help councils use those powers to invest in housing. The Taskforce might consider changing the rules which surround the Housing Revenue Account to unlock investment.

Mr McLennan still hopes to see cuts to the Scottish Government’s capital budgets restored by the UK Government, whoever that turns out to be, and he wants increased borrowing powers for the Scottish Government too.

It’s clear that other parts of the Housing Bill, such as placing a requirement on public agencies to “ask and act” to prevent homelessness, are not set in stone, and the minister is meeting a range of stakeholders to discuss the best way forward. There’s no point in heaping extra duties on homelessness agencies when they cannot cope with the current demand.

None of this is to say that the Scottish Government is backtracking on its commitments to protect private tenants and deal with the housing emergency. It just means that this is a good time to lobby the Government and MSPs of all parties, as it might actually lead to improvements in the Bill.

Mr McLennan gives the impression of being a minister who listens. It’s also true that he has to produce a Bill which the majority of MSPs in a hung Parliament can support. If you can see something in the current Housing Bill which will do more harm than good, now is the time to speak up. If you have any better ideas, bring them out, dust them off and send them to someone. The next Housing Bill might be a while coming.

A transcript of this episode is available here.

Catch up with the rest of the Housing Bill series here:

For more information on SHN’s Housing & Social Care Accessibility Summit in partnership with Horizon Housing, click here.

The Scottish Housing News Podcast is co-hosted by Kieran Findlay and Jimmy Black. All episodes are available here as well as on the following platforms:

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