First Minister sets out programme for government

HolyroodFirst Minister Nicola Sturgeon has outlined a comprehensive programme for the Scottish Government including early action to prepare for new social security powers and delivering 50,000 affordable homes over the parliament.

In a speech to MSPs at Holyrood yesterday, Ms Sturgeon said the next five years represent a “precious opportunity” to improve the lives and opportunities of Scotland’s young people, to grow the economy, to transform and reform public services and to empower communities across the country.

Repeating a pre-election commitment to embark on a £3 billion programme to build 50,000 new affordable homes over the next five years, at least 35,000 of which will be for social rent, the First Minister pledged to go even further if possible.

Ms Sturgeon said: “These new houses will help to ensure that individuals and families across the country have access to good affordable homes.

“But they will also deliver economic benefits. Their construction will support around 14,000 full-time equivalent jobs a year and generate around £1.8bn in economic activity.

“We will also introduce a Warm Homes Bill, making use of existing powers to tackle fuel poverty and new powers over energy efficiency.”

Ms Sturgeon also announced that the Scottish Government will consult on social security legislation as soon as possible in order to introduce a bill during the first year. It will also begin work to establish a Scottish Social Security Agency.

The First Minister added: “During this parliament, we will assume important new responsibilities over social security. We will introduce a Social Security Bill in the first year of this parliament and start work to establish a new Scottish Social Security Agency.

“We will use our new powers to put dignity and respect back at the heart of our social security system.

“We will abolish the ‘bedroom tax’, we will make changes to how Universal Credit can be paid, extend winter fuel payments to families with severely disabled children and we will restore entitlement to housing support for 18-21 year olds in our country.”

On addressing poverty and inequality, Ms Sturgeon told MSPs: “We will shortly publish a Fairer Scotland Action Plan.

“We will also implement all of the recommendations of the independent Poverty Adviser and we will commence the socio-economic duty contained in the 2010 Equalities Act. Over the next few weeks, I will also reappoint an independent poverty advisor.”

Also announced yesterday was a plan to implement the Land Reform Act and progress the commitment to introduce a register of controlling interests to increase transparency of land ownership in Scotland.

Ms Sturgeon said: “We will continue our work to get more land into community ownership and make land ownership more transparent.

“The Land Reform Act, passed at the end of the last Parliament, provides a strong basis for taking our land reform agenda forward and I can confirm today that over the summer we will progress our commitment to introduce a mandatory public register of controlling interests in landowners.”

Other early actions set out by the First Minister include setting out a clear timetable and routemap to ensure that, by 2021, every household in Scotland has access to fibre broadband and consulting on new legislation on climate change to cut Scottish emissions by at least 50 per cent by 2020.

The renewed commitment to the building of 50,000 affordable homes over the lifetime of this parliament was welcomed across the sector.

Mary Taylor, chief executive of the Scottish Federation of Housing Association (SFHA), believes the move will help to solve the housing crisis that Scotland is currently facing, and said “together with our members, we stand ready to assist the government in delivering it”.

Mary Taylor added: “The SFHA and our members also welcomed the boost to the rate of housing investment announced in January of this year. The increase in grant levels will allow our members to start building again and help to sustain and expand our thriving social housing sector.

“Good quality, energy efficient, affordable housing is of vital importance to neighbourhoods, localities and communities across Scotland.”

The sentiment was echoed by Shelter Scotland but the charity added that the proposed 50,000 homes “shouldn’t be the limit of the Scottish Government’s ambition”.

Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said: “We need at least 60,000 new affordable homes during this parliament to truly tackle Scotland’s housing crisis.

“We also welcome the commitment to a Warm Homes Bill to tackle fuel poverty and improve the nation’s health and confirmation that the unfair and hated bedroom tax will be abolished.”

Industry body Homes for Scotland emphasised the need to take an all-tenure approach if such a housebuilding ambition is to be achieved.

Chief executive Nicola Barclay said: “I couldn’t agree more with the First Minister when she says greater opportunity of equality will help boost the economy and enhance everyone’s quality of life. Ensuring Scotland has enough homes to meet the diverse housing needs and aspirations of its growing population is absolutely fundamental to this, not only in terms of the very real social and environmental benefits it offers but also in relation to the creation of jobs, nurturing of skills and economic contribution.

“But it’s essential to recognise that this requires a broader focus than just housing for social rent, particularly given the fact that a large number of people are not eligible for social rented housing, but still aspire to live in homes of their own.

RICS Scotland said that in order to tackle Scotland’s critical housing shortage, then Holyrood “must look beyond affordable homes”.

Director Sarah Speirs said: “The Scottish Government’s pledge to deliver 50,000 affordable new homes is a welcome first step, but much more needs to be done. Not least, we would urge the government to expand the housebuilding sector, providing opportunities for both self-builders and SME firms to establish a greater foothold.

“We look forward to hearing more detail on the Warm Homes Act. However, we must make clear that the Act can only be deemed truly effective if it includes measures to improve the maintenance and condition of Scotland’s existing housing stock. By providing funding for home maintenance works, more homes will be fit for installation of energy efficiency measures - home owners need to know that not all properties can take all forms of energy efficiency measures. Few people know, for example, that fitting loft insulation in a damp roof will do more harm than good. We therefore strongly recommend the introduction of mandatory five-yearly building condition surveys for properties with shared parts.

“In our manifesto, RICS recommend the development of a Rural Infrastructure Investment Plan with a remit to improve transport, energy and broadband connectivity, and we welcome the SNP’s recognition of this recommendation in pledging their own rural infrastructure plan. The Scottish Government’s commitment to 100 per cent broadband coverage for all premises by 2021 should form one part of the plan, and we would urge the Scottish Government to include energy and transport.”

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