Black’s Blog: Talking stock transfers, Reidvale and more with Craig Stirrat

Black’s Blog: Talking stock transfers, Reidvale and more with Craig Stirrat

Grampian Housing Association's Osprey Heights development in Inverurie

Jimmy Black and Kieran Findlay spent 45 minutes of the SHN podcast discussing just about everything important in Scottish housing with the hugely experienced Craig Stirrat, Group CEO of Grampian Housing Association. Jimmy picks out the bits he found most fascinating…

Council house stock transfer? Until the Reidvale saga, I wondered if there would ever be anything so exciting again. Gordon Brown’s government offered a chance to start the 21st century by writing off billions of housing debt, lifting the dead hand of politicians off the housing revenue account and revolutionising the management of Scotland’s deteriorating council housing. It just seems like a fantasy memory now, a wonderful and impossible dream.

It’s seventeen years since Inverclyde Council transferred its stock to River Clyde Homes and Cloch HA, and 21 years since Glasgow Housing Association took over something like 80,000 council homes. Housing managers who started after 2007 will regard all this as ancient history; but the choices some councils made then helped to create the housing emergencies which we now face.

Only six local authorities grabbed the Labour Government’s largesse; I often wondered what stopped them, apart from the misguided idea that mismanaging social housing was in some way socialist.

Craig Stirrat provides at least part of the answer to that in the latest SHN podcast, in which the conversation ranges widely. He explains that when the government brought out a new policy enabling councils to borrow as much as they needed, councillors had a choice … “transfer all your houses, or borrow ‘prudentially’ and service the debt from the rents”.

Craig is now the Group CEO of Grampian Housing Association, but back in the noughties he was working in strategic jobs for Aberdeen City Council, finishing in 2010 as Head of Housing and Community Safety. He had some challenges; Aberdeen’s 26,000 tenants rejected stock transfer and kept the existing housing debt. Estimates at the time suggested that Aberdeen needed to spend £600 million on its council homes.

The city organised a comprehensive stock condition survey … innovative at the time … and started tackling the work. Interestingly, to me, anyway, they didn’t knock most of their 59 multis down, like Dundee chose to do. Aberdeen found the most cost effective way to improve the multis was to create groups of buildings and install a form of district heating. The city now has a very big housing debt, but as Craig points out, there’s nothing bad about debt if you can afford to service it.

Craig has never stopped innovating. Although achieving zero carbon homes which are affordable to heat is a big challenge for Grampian Housing, Craig’s teams are making progress. They already have a ground source heat pump in operation, also a single air source heat pump which heats a small scheme at Mackenzie Gardens in Turriff.

Kieran Findlay, the editor of Scottish Housing News, co-presented the podcast as always, and between us we managed to get Craig to talk about his passion for professional education in housing, supporting tenants through the cost of living crisis, the issues raised after Reidvale around tenants and members of housing associations, and his delight at receiving a CIH Scotland lifetime achievement award in 2023.

Further reading:

  • You can catch up with all the news on Grampian Housing Association 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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