Scottish Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands
Speech in the Scottish Parliament
8 May 2008
I am grateful that we are debating housing again, and I speak in support of the motion in the name of
Housing is essential for everyone.
Too many people face a dismal future if this Government does not produce a housing strategy.
Housing was a high priority for the previous Government, and if the present Government does not build
on the legacy that it inherited, it risks losing the good work that was done.
The Labour motion is wide-ranging.
The fact that it covers a great many housing issues shows the complexity of the problem. I will address
one or two of those issues.
I have the privilege of representing one of the most beautiful parts of the world, but its beauty has a
knock-on effect on housing.
Houses for sale on the open market are attractive to people from outside the area, either as a second
home or as a base to move to in a prime area for a change of lifestyle.
Those people tend to have finance from property or savings that allows them to outbid locals easily.
On the other hand, locals tend to have several jobs, some of which are seasonal or temporary, which
means that they do not have the security or amount of income to allow them to compete
That leads to many people living with their families in substandard accommodation or caravans.
We need to tackle the market imbalance that is created by second home ownership by developing two
different markets: one for second homes and one for those who live and work in an area.
That has been done successfully in other areas.
By creating two markets, we can ensure that the needs and aspirations of both communities are met.
Locals will not be outpriced by people moving into the area and will be able to own or rent their own
However, we do not want to prevent communities benefiting from the economic boost that comes via
second home and holiday home ownership.
Building affordable houses for rent or purchase has its challenges in rural areas, because there are no
economies of scale.
Because of their size, villages need only one or two houses, which prove expensive to build due to the
small size of the development.
Additional costs are incurred when securing services in rural areas: telephone and electricity connection
costs can be horrendous, and access to water and sewerage services can be non-existent.
Many small villages have access only to private water supplies that cannot be easily upgraded to supply
new properties, and the same applies to sewerage systems.
Housing associations that are grounded in their communities are more likely to reach solutions and create
developments that are sympathetic to their surroundings.
For example, Albyn Housing Society has ensured that its house designs fit with local properties and take
on the character of the local village.
The association is aware of the additional costs and challenges of building in rural areas.
Fuel poverty can be a big problem in rural areas.
There are few alternatives to electricity, which can be expensive.
The cost of electricity means that people of all ages can be reluctant to heat their homes.
Housing associations are thinking imaginatively about those problems, and some have developed
community heating schemes.
Others, such as Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association, are installing renewable heat sources—heat
pumps—in new properties.
They are also investigating heat capture schemes for existing housing.
They are not cheap to install, but they help tenants and owners to access affordable power, and thus
tackle fuel poverty.
The Government's rhetoric does little to encourage housing associations—it devalues them.
The Government lumps them together with the private sector and ignores their social remit and benefit.
The Government boasts of investing £25 million in housing, but that amount is derisory when compared
with the £160 million debt write-off that was available to Highland Council for its housing debt.
That money could have come to the Highlands had it not been for the SNP-led campaign to reject the
Highland Council tenants now face an inflation-busting rent increase of 5.3 per cent, while the council
freezes council tax for the laird.
This is Robin Hood in reverse: taking from the poor and giving to the rich.
On top of its £160 million debt, Highland Council must now find money to fund a £247 million investment
to meet the Scottish housing quality standard.
How small its share of the lauded £25 million appears in comparison.
Highland tenants must rue the day that they were so badly misled.
Bob Doris (Glasgow) (SNP): Does the member agree that a housing stock transfer vote in which tenants are told that they must
vote yes or the council's housing debt will not be written off is UK Government blackmail, and that the Government should be
prepared to write off the debt no matter what?
Rhoda Grant: I will come to that point. However, I must point out to the member that tenants in the
Highlands look across the Minch to the Western Isles and see that a debt of £38 million has been written
off there, that upgrading is not just a dream, and that there is the promise of new houses and a £12.5
The same is happening in Argyll and Bute.
How Highland Council tenants must rue the day.
Community ownership can never be privatisation.
How can the SNP look both ways by supporting community ownership under land reform and opposing it
under housing stock transfer?
What is the difference?
The previous speaker and the member who intervened have told us what the difference is: it is the
manufactured fight with Westminster.
Again, we see the SNP's constitutional ambitions being put ahead of the needs of the poorest in our
That is shocking and wrong.
The Government has a moral obligation to put the situation right for the people of the Highlands.
Rhoda Grant : www.rhodagrant.org.uk
Highlands and Islands Labour : www.handilabour.org.uk