Blog: Busy year ahead for Joint Housing Policy and Delivery Group

Tom Barclay
Tom Barclay

Tom Barclay, co-chair of the Joint Housing Policy and Delivery Group reflects on 2015 and looks ahead to the next 12 months.

Happy new year to you all. As we settle back into work at the start of 2016 I’m thinking back to 18 November, a very wet morning in Edinburgh when the Joint Housing Policy and Delivery Group met for the fourth time in 2015. I was delighted to chair the meeting for the first time, stepping into the co-chair role that Jim Hayton carried out so ably before he retired.

The Group brings together 29 organisations plus Scottish Government officials and is tasked with delivering the actions in the Joint Housing Delivery Plan for Scotland as well as reporting on progress with delivery to Ministers and COSLA elected members.

I think that we all appreciate this is a big ask but also a huge opportunity. My hope is that we are establishing a real spirit of trust and co-operation around the table which both Lesley Fraser (co-chair) and I want to nurture and maintain. In doing so, I’ve asked members to think about how such a large group might work together more effectively in the future, both with each other and with our wider networks, to focus on delivery.

I believe that part of the challenge for the Group working effectively together is that we need to come armed with our expertise, but to then leave our representative hats at the door, and instead focus on action and debate that has at its core the best interests of the entire Group’s objectives. There is no doubt that this is easier said than done, but I believe that with 30 plus stakeholders around the table we must try to engage in that mind-set. For that reason, I’m looking forward to the debate at the next meeting about the future architecture of the group.

Turning to the November meeting again, we started with a strategic update from the Scottish Government - hearing about the challenge of the spending review, progress with the Scotland Bill and the fiscal framework that will support implementation of new devolved powers, Ministers’ ambitions to deliver 50,000 new affordable homes if the SNP is re-elected at the next election, and the reclassification of RSLs in England by the Office of National Statistics – which means that their debt now counts as public sector debt.

Members considered and discussed papers on Land Tenure Reform; growing the Private Rented Sector; the Private Tenancies Bill; how digital technology could be harnessed to support delivery of some of the actions in the Plan, and how the Regional Tenant Networks might bring their knowledge of working with communities to a number of actions in the Delivery Plan.

I was delighted that we were able to have Alex Neil MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights join the Group for the final part of the meeting and I was pleased to give an interim update with the actions in the Delivery Plan. This was our first stock-take since the Plan was published and was helpful in seeing where more focus might be needed. Going forward, I indicated that given the scope of the Plan, that formal progress reporting at the group would be on an exceptions basis, but that the full monitoring report for all 34 action areas will be kept live on the Knowledge Hub and shared on the Scottish Government website.

The Cabinet Secretary set out the Scottish Government’s overarching priorities as delivering substantially more housing, improving the quality of housing and tackling fuel poverty and climate change. He emphasised that we would all need to find ways to increase financial capacity and address skills shortages and I’m sure that this will be a focus of some debate at our future meetings. Alongside that the Cabinet Secretary highlighted that the current independent review of planning in Scotland is intended to deliver a more user-friendly, flexible and responsive planning system.

He went on to outline the Cabinet’s commitment to increasing the affordable house building programme by almost 70 per cent during the next Parliament with a £3 billion budget to back that.

Against those ambitions, Mr Neil set out the magnitude of the challenge that he expected the Scottish Government to face following the Chancellor’s statement on 25 November and the Scottish Government’s own budget announcement on 16 December. He encouraged all those around the table to work flat out to make sure that we can achieve the 50,000 target and the strategic aims of improved quality, improved energy efficiency and reductions in levels of fuel poverty.

Reflecting on the discussion afterwards, there was no doubt that the Cabinet Secretary had thrown down a significant challenge to the Delivery Group and the sector as a whole. That is a challenge that I feel sure that we all relish as housing professionals, tenants and stakeholders, and I look forward to us taking that debate into action. I am in no doubt that the ambitions set out by the Cabinet Secretary underline the prominent place that housing has established in public policy both in terms of driving forward wider economic benefits and a fairer Scotland. Something that appears to be in stark contrast to the position that our industry finds itself in south of the border.

The Group meets again on 9 February 2016 with Margaret Burgess, MSP, Minister for Housing and Welfare and Councillor Harry McGuigan, Community Wellbeing Spokesperson, COSLA, attending to hear more about progress with the actions in the Delivery Plan.

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