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DOOR OPENS FOR NEW HOUSING AGENCY

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Communities Scotland, the successor agency to Scottish Homes, begins its work today. ...
Communities Scotland, the successor agency to Scottish Homes, begins its work today.

It will have three key responsibilities: housing, community regeneration, and the regulation of almost 300 social landlords covering 700,000 households - one third of all families in Scotland.

Social justice minister Jackie Baillie said that by combining housing with community regeneration the new agency would be the motor force behind the executive's radical overhaul of the country's rented housing sector inspired by the vision of making the communities sustainable and attractive places to live.

As a regulator, Ms Baillie explained, the agency would have the power to demand exacting performance standards to ensure the high standards of service for current and future tenants.

The new agency, which is part of the executive with direct accountability to ministers unlike Scottish Homes which was a non-government organisation (NGO), will:

* invest more than£200m a year in social housing across Scotland to fund an average of 5,500 homes per year, almost all of which will be new build homes, with the emphasis on providing housing for social rent

* attract annually over£135m of private finance into social housing programmes

* support local authorities to fulfil a new statutory lead role in preparing local strategic housing plans

* work with local authorities to prepare for the transfer of the former Scottish Homes development funding to them once certain conditions are in place

* install central heating in 6,000 housing association homes - with a target date of the end of 2004

The new agency's additional responsibilities for community regeneration will entail close partnership working with local authorities. It has to allocate£169m funding over three years for the 48 Social Inclusion Partnerships (SIPs) behind a wide variety of grassroots projects to help combat the social blight in Scotland's most disadvantaged communities.

It is charged with encouraging best practice in regeneration activities and supporting advanced innovative thinking. It also required to improve links with the voluntary sector and help develop the social economy.

Measures within the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 which come into force today will give Communities Scotland new powers in relation to the regulation of nearly 300 social landlords.

This includes setting exacting new performance standards housing associations and local authorities while working with them to improve the quality of services that all tenants.

The agency has powers to ensure that improved standards are delivered, including the power to appoint managers to under-performing landlords. It can publish performance reports on all social landlords, with inspections at least once every five years, and ask tenants their views during the assessment process.

In addition, for the first time, local authorities' homelessness functions will be regulated to ensure that they abide by new statutory duties to develop strategies to prevent and alleviate homelessness.

As a result of the End of Year Flexibility (EYF) settlement this year, Communities Scotland's development programme has been increased by£12.6m (including£5m EYF announced in June). This will be spent on building 220 new and improved houses in Scotland.

In addition, EYF of£2.6m has also been made available to be spent on the empty homes initiative which is designed to assist local authorities bring empty property back into use. This will mean that 260 empty properties are brought back into use for households in housing need or facing homelessness.

Ms Baillie said:

'With its enhanced responsibility for community regeneration as well as housing, Communities Scotland will not only be able to drive forward the executive's radical overhaul of Scotland's social rented housing but will also have a wider vision of making Scotland's communities sustainable and attractive places to live. The Agency will be delivering Scottish ministers' community regeneration polices and will work in close partnership with all of the other key agencies involved, most notably local authorities.

'The new agency will bring many benefits including equal rights and higher standards for all social tenants, partnership working to maximise the impact of investment in our communities and better co-ordinated regional housing planning.

'By bringing all social landlords in Scotland under a single regulator, Communities Scotland will be able to deliver higher standards of service for current and future tenants right across the country.

'The executive is building for the long term by tackling poverty and disadvantage and rebuilding and strengthening communities. Communities Scotland will be an important element in helping us achieve these aims.'

On Septmber 19, the minister for finance announced that social justice would be one of the main beneficiaries of a redistribution of last year's budget underspend, awarded a carry forward of£131.4m and given an additional£3m. The extra resource was transferred from treasury in recognition of the relatively low council house rent rises in Scotland and the effect this has on housing benefit in comparison with the council house rent rises in England.

In July, in response to PQ S1W- 16746, Ms Baillie published her plans for the allocation of£87.5m of the social justice budget. The table below details the distribution of the full carry forward, which, in some cases, is hoped to be spent across a three year period. Details of the revised community ownership budget following the new procedures agreed by the executive and the UK treasury on the treatment outstanding housing debt, which was announced on 18 September, will be announced in due course.

Social Justice Budget

EYF

Community Ownership

£94m

Communities Scotland Development Programme

£12.6m

Empty Homes Initiative

£2.6m

Implementation of the Housing (Scotland) Act:

(including resources for the implementation of the Scottish Secure Tenancy, Local Housing Strategies, Tenant Participation, Supporting People and Common Housing Registers some of which has been announced previously)

£14m

Rough Sleepers Initiative

£6.9m

Fuel Poverty

£2m

Social Inclusion

£1.2m

Equalities and Voluntary Issues

£1.6m

Total*

£134.9m

* Note there are slight differences due to roundings

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