The eighteenth century French philosopher Voltaire once observed “We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation”. If the new Scottish Labour Manifesto isn’t quite the new Scottish Enlightenment, it is certainly enlightened compared to anything we hear from the government in Westminster.
The emphasis in the Manifesto is on jobs and achieving greater prosperity in Scotland. But it also contains important housing commitments and an emphasis on affordable housing and mixed communities that has gone missing in the world of Pickles and Shapps (my thesaurus tells me the antonym of enlightenment is ignorance. Seems appropriate.)
The basic tenet of the housing policies in the Manifesto is that many Scots are anxious to obtain and retain secure affordable homes.
For example, on homelessness, it says that a Labour government would work towards meeting the target that all unintentionally homeless people are offered a secure tenancy by 2012 and would provide guidance on the interpretation of homelessness and housing legislation, in stark contrast to the approach in England of removing rights to secure tenancies from homeless people.
A mix of policies are proposed to assist people across the tenures. Labour will review the effectiveness of schemes to help home owners facing repossession, strengthen pre-action protocols, introduce First Foot, a new mortgage indemnity guarantee scheme that aims to reduce deposits to 5 or 10 %, and set up an infrastructure fund to encourage private housing development to build more homes to satisfy demand. New building should meet a Scottish Housing Quality Standard and there will be consultation on raising building standards especially in relation to energy efficiency. There is a strong target to end fuel poverty by 2016 and investment in community and household renewables, such as solar panels and community heat and power schemes, will provide a new revenue stream for housing associations, co-operatives and local authorities through the feed-in tariff.
The Manifesto says Labour will encourage responsible investment in the private rented sector and tighten landlord registration schemes to root out rogue landlords
Labour would establish a Taskforce to strengthen the role of local authorities and housing associations in increasing supply, especially of affordable homes. There is strong support for community-based housing associations and housing co-operatives, in particular in their role as ‘community anchors’, and the remit of the Scottish Investment Bank and Co-operative Development Scotland to will be extended to include housing. Social housing lettings will be reviewed to offer more support for vulnerable people and to ensure sustainable communities. And a Housing Advisory Service would be established for tenants and homeowners and new Housing Tribunal set up.
Scottish Labour Leader Iain Gray introduced the Manifesto ‘Fighting for what really matters’ by saying
“Scottish Labour believes that the foundation for a strong community is fairness. Jobs, opportunity and prosperity must be spread more widely throughout our communities – to improve housing, to regenerate deprived communities, to support the most vulnerable and to lift people out of poverty.”