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COSLA CHIEF CALLS FOR POWERS OF SCOTTISH HOMES TO BE SLASHED

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Extracts from a speech by COSLA president Keith Geddes at the Chartered Institute of Housing/COSLA conference on ho...
Extracts from a speech by COSLA president Keith Geddes at the Chartered Institute of Housing/COSLA conference on housing policy 'Future Directions' in Edinburgh today.

'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

their partners are able to choose what is right for their tenants 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

for rent.

'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

government:

- 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

inclusion.'

- 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.'

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