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Caithness.org News Bulletins -  November 2002

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Rather than "footering with bureaucracy", the Scottish Executive should tackle homelessness by making more money available for affordable housing, especially in rural areas, such as the Highlands. This is the view of Councillor Garry Coutts, Chairman of The Highland Councilís Housing and Social Work Committee, who questions whether the Homelessness Etc (Scotland) Bill 2002 will meet its objectives.

Councillor Coutts was speaking after giving evidence to the Social Justice Committee on the Bill.

He estimates that an extra 285 new homes per year are needed in Highland, requiring around £13 million of additional public investment. Without increasing supply, there would be a shortfall of more than 4,000 affordable homes to meet housing need over the next five years.

The shortage of affordable housing, he said, had been aggravated by the sale of 6,198 council houses through the Right to Buy legislation over the past 10 years. During this period, only 2,263 houses had been built by the Council and housing associations.

He said: "What is really required is a housing policy that provides houses for all those who need them. The crux of the issue is that if we don't have enough houses for those seeking them there will always be tension in the system. This tension will

be greatest where demand is the greatest. By simply altering the relative priority of applicants we don't relieve that pressure, we simply redistribute the misery. We need more houses, not a different administrative system for allocating them. For us, in Highland, that is the real issue."

He said the Council believed it was premature to legislate when there has been no effective modelling of the impact of the proposals on different parts of the country. "It is self-evident that in areas where there is high demand for the available stock that the impact will be different than in areas of low demand. Despite this, the Executive has not, to my knowledge, commissioned any research to gauge that impact.

"Secondly, and most importantly, there is a general weakness in looking at homelessness in isolation - from other elements of the housing system. It is as if those who drafted the Bill believe we can resolve homelessness by footering with bureaucracy. The implication seems to be that we, in local government, are allocating houses unfairly and are discriminating against people who are homeless in favour of some undeserving group. This is patent nonsense.

"In much of the country and certainly in the Highlands, supply of affordable housing falls massively short of demand. This is the reason for high levels of reported homelessness, not bureaucratic inefficiency.

"Our allocation system is a form of rationing. If one group of applicants gets a bigger ration other groups inevitably get less. The impact of the Bill will be to increase the ration for some and reduce it for everyone else. If you believe the present system is unfair and does not give those in most need a big enough share then fine, legislate. But where is the evidence to say this is the case? In the Highlands we believe this is untrue and the impact of the Bill, however well intentioned, will add rather than relieve pressure on the housing system."

Housing Organisations In Caithness