'Local government has already embraced the concept of new housing
partnerships. However, there is much work still to do to put flesh on
the bones of that initiative. We need to ensure that councils and
for their local circumstances. And we need to be sure that whatever
road we go down we have first fully through all the options to arrive
at the best answer.
'While we shall certainly resist any moves to force councils down the
stock transfer route, COSLA does recognise the logic for councils to
investigate different forms of relationship with other landlord
organisations, where this helps achieve housing plan objectives of
increased investment in the housing stock and more affordable housing
'I believe that the principle of community ownership has been broadly
welcomed for two reasons.
'Firstly, it is a long awaited alternative to the right to buy - by
transferring ownership to housing associations or housing companies,
councils are giving tenants the right to be represented on management
committees. Tenants are being given a direct say as to how the estate
they live in should be managed, what the level of their rent should be
and how maintenance and improvement programmes should be carried out.
Those of us who believe in participatory democracy can only welcome
direct tenant participation, creating as it does a partnership between
tenants, councillors and housing associations.
'Secondly, the investment of private finance will ensure that many of
Scotland's run-down council estates will be improved more quickly than
if councils had to rely on traditional forms of investment. I believe
that all of Scotland's councils see the logic in this new approach.
For the first time in a generation we are offering new hope to council
tenants. It could only be the most dogmatic politicians who would
deny tenants access to private finance because they had ideological
objections to private investment in public sector housing. I know of
no reasonable councillor who could look tenants in the eye and them
that he could not support their desire for decent, warm, secure
accommodation because the concept clashed with his principles. No-one
has the right to condemn families with children to continue to live in
damp, unimproved housing when suitable sources of alternative finance
are readily available.
'Let me turn to the implications for the future role of municipal
housing under a Scottish parliament. There are three ways in which
the parliament could seek to enhance the housing role of local
- Local government to be given a new status as the lead
agency in community governance. This gives local authorities new,
wider powers - for example, to co-ordinate the actions of quangos
locally. The recent announcement on community planning by the
Scottish Office and COSLA provides the framework for this.
- Local authorities recognise that their role has changed with 60 per cent of Scottish households now owning their own home. A new housing Green Paper is now long overdue. It would have an important symbolic
significance in updating provision and in clarifying the powers and
duties of local housing authorities, for example, in relation to the
private sector, renewal housing advice, strategic planning and needs
assessment and regulation of private landlords. I endorse the CIOH's
view that 'housing is a corner stone to tackle social exclusion, and
housing providers play a key role in the development and
implementation of strategies to combat exclusion and secure
- Clarification of the housing role of local authorities
would be insufficient to create strong local government if the
parliament merely confirmed the inconsequential role of the mid-1990s.
The landlord role has fallen into decline and the remaining strategic
role is frustrated through inadequate resources. The most positive
change open to the parliament would be to give local authorities a
leading role in the funding of housing development and renewal by
housing associations and other developers. This is where the key
decisions are made now, not in the building of new council housing.
'COSLA is aware that this proposal would have serious implications for
Scottish Homes not least in requiring the transfer of many development
staff to local authorities, but there is plenty to be done at Scottish
level with Scottish Homes or the parliament taking over everything.
COSLA has been invited to comment on the registration arrangements for
new social landlords. COSLA acknowledges that registration and
monitoring of publicly subsidised landlords is an appropriate function
for the national level of government. This is particularly so when
government provides a subsidy. This role is played at present by
Scottish Homes in relation to housing associations. It should extend
to include local authorities, for as long as they have a landlord
role, and any new landlords created as a result of transfers of local
authority stock to community ownership.
'COSLA believes that there must be an independent regulator to perform
this function. At present, regulation arrangements are the
responsibility of a body which also funds, influences, provides
guidance and still retains a significant landlord function. Surely it
would be better to have an independent regulator performing this role
with no conflict of interest? Divesting Scottish Homes of its funding
responsibilities, to allow it to concentrate on quality assurance,
working with councils and other housing providers, would clearly be a
big step in that direction.'