Month: July 2015

Bricks and Mortar

So, I guess summer 2015 isn’t going to be remembered for long hot days spent on the beach, personally, I’ll remember it for a failed and painful half marathon attempt whilst holidaying in Shropshire, but enough of my minor travails!

In the Labour Party we’ve been engaged in a leadership and deputy leadership contest for both  Scotland and the UK.

I know there were some views, that this was an unpromising prospect, at least in Scotland.

However, during the course of the last few weeks, I have welcomed that the debate amongst the candidates has highlighted housing.

This resonated with the views of  members at our recent CLP nomination meeting in Midlothian North and Musselburgh.

When you look at the figures produced by Shelter Scotland for the two local government boundaries that straddle the Midlothian North and Musselburgh Scottish Parliamentary Constituency, you can see why this should be a concern not only for members, but for people living in both Midlothian and East Lothian.

In 2014 the number of households in Midlothian on the council waiting list, including transfers, was 4,258 and in East Lothian it was 4,482.

The scale of the problem is really put into context when you look at additional information available for East Lothian.

This shows, that if the number of new lets stayed the same as 347 in 2013-14, it would take over 11 years to clear the current waiting list.

If you can’t afford to buy in Mid or East Lothian and can’t get a house through the council or housing associations, what does the private rented sector look like?

When it comes to the private rented sector, both local authorities have slightly less households in the private rented sector than the Scottish average of 13%, Midlothian has 10% and East Lothian 12%.

However, the challenge for those in the private rented sector will continue to be rent increases.

The Office of National Statistics figures for rent increases in Scotland for 2014 was 2.1%, coincidentally, this was exactly the same figure for the full-time annual pay increase in Scotland.

With another squeeze on public sector pay announced in the recent budget, limiting increases to 1% for the next four years, the pressure on families can only increase, especially in places such as Mid and East Lothian where there are high percentages of people working in the public sector.

When combined with announcements by the Tory government on cuts to Tax Credits and benefits, it is going to make the coming months and years even harder for thousands of people.

I believe that Alex Rowley, standing for the Deputy Scottish Leadership, is absolutely right to say that Harriet Harman’s stance that Labour will not oppose the attack on Tax Credits is wrong.

I also think, that the plan he outlines, under a National House Building Programme to revitalise house building in Scotland is the way forward.

In this, he outlines a partnership between Scottish Government and local councils, that will initially build 10,000 houses a year and bring forward legislation to reform the private sector.

Such a programme would also need an investment in the skills needed to build these houses.

So, I would hope this would mean more apprenticeships in construction, ideally delivered at local colleges, which would mean an end to some students travelling an hour or more from Midlothian to North Edinburgh.

It is through policies such as this, that tackle the day-to-day problems people face like affordable housing, that offer opportunity,  such as jobs and that meet the aspirations of voters, something that has been much discussed recently in the Labour Party, through building decent homes, that Labour can once again appeal to voters in Scotland.