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Shelter Scotland

Growth double the forecast in March

In his Autumn Statement, the Chancellor, George Osborne, has said the country is growing faster than any other major economy thanks to his policies. Britain, he claimed, would be back in the black within five years but the job of recovery was “not yet done” and money was still tight. As expected, millions would have to wait longer before they got a state pension, all to “keep track with life expectancy” something that would save future taxpayers £500bn.

The Chancellor says the Scottish Government budget will increase

The Chancellor says the Scottish Government budget will increase

In his 50-minute speech, Mr Osborne stressed that he wanted a “responsible recovery” and warned of “more difficult decisions” to come on spending. He acknowledged that the effects of the economic crash on family budgets were still being felt, but he insisted that the hard work of the British people was paying off and “we will not squander their efforts.” He insisted that “the plan is working – it is a long-term plan for a grown-up country. The job is not yet done but Britain is moving again – let’s keep going.”

The Chancellor had good economic news – the economy is expected to grow 1.4% this year – double the 0.6% predicted at the Budget in March. The Office for Budget Responsibility now predicts 2.4% growth next year up from its previous estimate of 1.8%. The level of borrowing has fallen more than forecast and forecasts for employment have been revised up. However, Government Departments in Whitehall can expect to face a further series of cuts over the next three years – £1bn in total.

The planned 2p rise in fuel duty scrapped

The planned 2p rise in fuel duty scrapped

As expected, Mr Osborne announced that offshore wind farms would receive Government support instead of onshore ones and he also announced plans to invest £375bn in energy, transport, communications, and water projects. He also announced that next year’s planned rise of 2p a litre for fuel would be scrapped

For Scotland, the Chancellor said that the government’s budget here would increase by £308m over the next two years. Unlike departments South of the Border, those run by Holyrood would face cuts of less than 0.2%. However, the Scottish Finance Secretary, John Swinney, argued the increase failed to make up for earlier cuts and said that the Autumn Statement showed the “damaging economic consequences” of remaining within the UK.

FSB welcomed some of the measures

FSB welcomed some of the measures

The reaction of business was positive. Andy Willox, the Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) Scottish policy convenor, said that Scotland’s small businesses would welcome many of the measures outlined this morning by the Chancellor. “By refusing to increase fuel duty,” he said, “he has recognised the big impact the price at the pumps has on independent enterprise and the economies of remote communities. “By abolishing employers’ National Insurance Contributions for employees under the age of 21, the UK government will give both firms and young people’s job prospects a boost. To have the maximum impact in Scotland, we must see our education system producing more young people with the right skills for the modern workplace. We must also ensure that we tackle the other barriers to small businesses recruiting.”

By contrast, Grahame Smith, Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) General Secretary said there was “nothing today’s statement to help embed the recovery and create decent jobs. While recent growth is largely attributable to consumer spending, real wages continue to fall at rate unprecedented in modern times. Yet the Chancellor brazenly adopted a triumphalist tone just as the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) revised down its forecast for wages growth. He continues to ignore the glaring disconnect between growth and living standards.

Grahame Smith STUC Nothing to embed recovery and create jobs

Grahame Smith STUC
Nothing to embed recovery and create jobs

“Business investment,” he added, “is contributing very little to growth and remains well below pre-recession levels. Net trade made a negative contribution to growth over the last quarter. This is not the ‘rebalancing’ promised by the Chancellor in 2010. Additional departmental cuts were announced although the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and others have questioned whether it will even be possible to implement previously announced cuts.”

Philip Hogg, Chief Executive of industry body Homes for Scotland, acknowledged that the Chancellor had drawn attention “to the weakness of housing supply and measures being implemented to address supply-side constraints such as the issuing of £1bn in loans to unblock large house developments. Builders face the same difficulties throughout the UK so we look forward to learning whether this loan facility applies in Scotland or, if not, what consequential funding is to be received north of the border. With yesterday’s Scottish housing statistics showing continuing falls in output and demonstrating the fragility of any market recovery, we hope that councils will look to take every opportunity to support the delivery of new homes in their areas.”

And in his first thoughts on the Autumn Statement, Graeme Brown, Director of Shelter Scotland, warned that the Chancellor’s optimism about the recovery “won’t be shared by the families struggling to pay their rent or mortgage, or the 4,574 children who’ll face homelessness this Christmas in Scotland. Beyond Westminster, thousands of people will be wondering if today’s announcements mean that their family faces yet another cut to the money they have to live on.”

Housing – a key part of the Scottish Budget

Delivering his Budget for the coming two years, Scotland’s finance secretary, John Swinney, said his spending plans would boost the economy.

John Swinney Finance Secretary

John Swinney
Finance Secretary

He told the Scottish Parliament that, despite having the money available to him cut by Westminster, there would be more cash for housing and he also promised to “limit the damage” faced by Scottish families cope as a result of the UK Government’s welfare reforms. Among the other details in the draft budget was money to pay for a national performance centre for sport. He added that the council tax freeze would continue and other universal benefits such as free prescriptions would also remain.

With just over a year to go before next year’s independence referendum, he used his 20-minute speech to emphasise that Scotland has “a highly skilled workforce, a long-standing reputation for innovation, a respected and recognisable brand, world-class universities and sectors and companies competing at the highest level across international markets. With the full decision-making powers of independence, I should, today, be able to present a budget that puts all of that economic strength to use in building a more prosperous and a more just Scotland. Instead, as a result of Westminster’s decisions, I must today present a budget constrained by significant cuts.”

Iain Gray Labour's Finance Spokesman

Iain Gray
Labour’s Finance Spokesman

Labour’s finance spokesman, Iain Gray, focused on the way the SNP Government has adopted a slogan before the announcement – “budget for independence” – which had been subsequently dropped. He dismissed the idea claiming that instead it was a “don’t-rock-the-referendum boat budget for a Scotland at a standstill on pause. Will he take this budget for independence away and bring back a real budget for jobs and a budget which banishes the bedroom tax from Scotland this year, next year and the year after as well?”

For the Conservatives, finance spokesman Gavin Brown said the budget would “penalise” businesses to the tune of almost £450m, under plans to increase the income from business rates from £2.4bn this year to more than £2.8bn in 2015-15.oday’s budget should have been about the economy – but as far as the economy is concerned, this is a budget that has both under-promised and under-delivered.”

Much of the comment on the Budget has focused on aspects of housing. For example, the chief executive of Homes for Scotland, Philip Hogg, welcomed additional spending on housing. However, he added that recent quarterly figures showed a 25% fall in housing completions across all sectors and starts slumping to their lowest figure on record. “Tackling this issue,” he said, “will require bold vision, commitment and action from all parties in order to halt the decline of what is a key national indicator.

Mary Taylor, Chief Executive of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) said she was “encouraged at the commitment to investment in affordable housing, of over £1.35bn over four years. We understand that times are difficult for public sector investment within the recent spending review settlement, but there is no more important capital investment than housing as the cornerstone of healthy successful lives in Scotland. Investing in affordable housing is itself a form of preventative spend, helping to prevent costly public interventions, particularly in promoting health, well being and independent living.”

Graeme Brown Shelter Scotland

Graeme Brown
Shelter Scotland

The news about the Scottish Government’s decision to give financial help to those hit by the so-called “bedroom tax” led Graeme Brown, Director of Shelter Scotland, to say he was “delighted that the Scottish Government has listened to Shelter Scotland’s campaign and is making £20million available to help thousands more households in Scotland affected by the so-called bedroom tax. This is a victory not only for supporters of Shelter Scotland’s Banish the Bedroom Tax campaign, but for the people suffering hardship who will benefit from this move. We hope that local authorities across Scotland will act quickly to top up their discretionary housing payments budget so that the maximum number of people this year can be helped.

From the business point of view, the main reaction came from CBI Scotland. Its assistant director, David Lonsdale, accepted that the Budget contained “a number of positive announcements on affordable housing, digital technology and the local carbon economy. We also welcome the continued council tax freeze and the decision not to use the Scottish Variable Rate.

“However the Budget,” he went on, “was a missed opportunity to introduce an air route development fund in order to establish more direct links with key overseas business destinations, and to signal a fresh direction on public service reform through contracting-out the delivery of a wider range of public services to the private sector. The lack of a moratorium on any new or additional rates levies is disappointing, not least as Scottish Ministers have already introduced £131 million of extra rates this past year with their levies on larger retailers and firms with empty properties.”

Today’s official figures show a worrying trend for the housing sector. The total number of new homes completed fell for the fifth year in a row which means that the past year was the worst since 1947. Only 14,877 new homes were built across public and private sectors in 2012, a drop of over 42% on 2007.

Philip Hogg Homes for Scotland

Philip Hogg
Homes for Scotland

Philip Hogg, Chief Executive of trade body Homes for Scotland, pointed out that around “465,000 new homes are needed in Scotland by 2035 to meet demand. However, the build rates highlighted today,” he said, “point to a potential shortfall in the region of 140,000 by this time when there are currently already significantly more people than that on housing waiting lists. Clearly this would only exacerbate Scotland’s housing crisis and highlights the need for further intervention by the Scottish Government to help reverse this downward trend.”

House building now at its Lowest since 1947

House building now at its
Lowest since 1947

The drop in completed new homes was most marked in the private sector. These have fallen by 55% between 2007 and 2012. The news prompted Michael Levack, Scottish Building Federation Executive Director, to describe the trend as concerning. “The fall in rates of private sector house-building does at least seem to be slowing down. But such a steep fall in public sector house-building activity at the beginning of this year must be a cause of concern. As we gear up for the Chancellor’s 2013 spending review later this month, I hope these numbers will add further weight to the calls being made for a reversal in cuts to capital spending.”

Graeme Brown Shelter Scotland

Graeme Brown
Shelter Scotland

However, Graeme Brown, Director of Shelter Scotland, acknowledged that the figures showed that “the Scottish Government appears to have delivered on its target to complete 4,000 new social homes during 2012-13, and we welcome that progress. However, a sharp drop in the number of new social homes approved for construction and a drop in the number of units where construction has actually started, will complicate efforts to deliver the pledge in each of the remaining years of the parliament.”

Michael Levack agreed, arguing that, with demand for affordable housing at a record high, “building more homes ought to be a major political priority. Bolstering capital investment in housing would provide the pipeline of work construction companies need to rebuild capacity and jobs and to offer more high quality apprenticeship opportunities within the industry. At the end of the day, house-building should be seen as a major catalyst of economic growth – and government funding priorities need to reflect that.”

Michael Levack Scottish Builders Federation

Michael Levack
Scottish Builders Federation

Philip Hogg from Homes for Scotland pointed out that while the MI New Home mortgage indemnity scheme “is making a positive impact in helping people step onto and up the property ladder as well as relieving pressure elsewhere in the system, today’s figures are a stark reminder that, and as the Housing Minister herself notes, operating conditions remain very challenging for house builders. They also illustrate the need for the Scottish Government to bring its equivalent Help to Buy shared equity scheme to market as soon as possible and to refrain from proposals to increase regulation and cost which we believe will only further depress housing supply.”

Looking forward, Graeme Brown of Shelter Scotland drew the worrying conclusion that there were few signs of optimism, adding “To deliver the Scottish Government’s pledge to build 4,000 homes for social rent in every year of this parliament an ongoing pipeline of shovel ready sites for social house building is required. Today’s figures show that approvals have fallen by 38 per cent from last year. The 18 per cent drop in the number of approved sites where construction has started raises further worries that the Scottish Government is not building quickly enough to maintain the capacity and skills in the workforce that rely on social house building for employment.”

Pictures from Wayne Hall’s Blog “6 Months in Scotland”

A homeless man has raised almost £3,000 for charity in the first three weeks of a six-month-long trek across the Scottish wilderness. Self-employed tiler Wayne Hall (46) set off on the expedition in February and has been eating mostly off the land after embarking on the 184 day trek. He has already endured sub-zero temperatures, sleet and snow to raise money for housing and homelessness charity Shelter Scotland.

Wayne and JerrySurviving mostly on a diet of fish, berries and edible plants, Wayne expects to lose 30lbs during the trek, although he admits he has accepted ‘the occasional bacon buttie’ from kind-hearted strangers in the small villages he has visited.

“The dog and I have enjoyed every minute of the trip so far but it’s also really hit home why we’re doing this,” he said. “There have been a few mornings when we’ve woken up to find the water bottle and food completely frozen, and that’s inside a good quality tent. I can’t imagine what it’s like for people who have to sleep rough night after night. After all, I’ve chosen to do this. There are so many homeless people and families who simply don’t have a choice about sleeping in cold, damp housing for months and even years on end. I’m really proud to have raised almost £3,000, but there’s a long road ahead before I reach my £10,000 target.”

Wayne, from Staffordshire, lost his home of nine years after his landlord died and the property was inherited and sold. Shocked at how quickly he went from living a secure and stable life to facing homelessness, Wayne decided to raise awareness and funds for Shelter Scotland. For the past three weeks his days have consisted of packing up his frozen camp and getting everything in the canoe to catch the high tide at 4am, before watching the sunrise, gathering food and setting up camp somewhere new. He also finds time to keep his 500 Facebook followers up to date with regular updates.

“I chose to raise funds for Shelter Scotland,” he added, “because I empathise with anyone who has lost the roof over their head. The one thing that is getting me through the cold, wet and snow is the thought of raising money to help others in my situation. I’d like to thank everyone who has donated and all those kind-hearted strangers who have brought me warm cups of tea, the occasional bacon buttie or given me access to their WiFi.”

Gordon MacRae, Head of Communications and Policy at Shelter Scotland, said that his team had been “keeping a close eye on Wayne’s blog and we’re delighted that he’s managed to raise so much money in such a short space of time. £3,000 is enough to help us to answer 300 phone calls to our free national helpline from families and individuals on the brink of homelessness or facing damp, cold and dangerous living conditions. Without the generosity and support of people like Wayne – and everyone who has helped him raise £3,000 – our work to end Scotland’s housing crisis for good would be much harder.”

Wayne and Jerry’s trip started at Loch Morar in the Highlands on 25th February. The pair will travel across Scotland, stopping at 25 lochs on the way. They’ll complete the expedition on Wayne’s 47th birthday at Galloway Forest Park on 27th August. His blog has over 500 followers and can be found on Facebook at and donations can be made through JustGiving

lord freudIn a joint letter to Lord Freud (right), Welfare Reform Minister, Shelter Scotland, CIH Scotland and the Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers have urged the Westminster Government to exempt local authority owned temporary accommodation from the under occupation penalties or the so-called ‘bedroom tax’.

The three bodies say that some tenants face losing more than £100 a week if the reforms go ahead as planned in April 2013. The letter says that the consequences will be disproportionate in Scotland because over 50% of temporary accommodation is council owned, compared to the rest of the UK where most temporary accommodation is leased from the private sector or from housing associations (leased property is not affected by the bedroom tax).

According to official statistics from the Scottish Government, over 5,000 households in Scotland will be affected.

The letter is published below.

Housing Letter Page 1
Housing Letter Page 2
The organisations argue that that majority of council-owned temporary accommodation is family-size housing, often with two or three bedrooms. They point out that this means the choice for homeless families and individuals to take a smaller property is severely limited. They add that, under the proposed reforms households deemed to have a spare bedroom in council-owned temporary accommodation will lose up to £100 per week in housing benefit, while those who under occupy non-council owned temporary housing will not. They suggest that this is grossly unfair and will have a devastating impact on thousands of homeless households already living on a knife-edge.

They therefore urge the Minister to take immediate action to mitigate this “expensive and ill-conceived change. We’re saying to Lord Freud that at the very least this measure should be delayed while more information is gathered on the full cost implications and possible solutions.”

Housing organisations and charities have expressed growing concerns over the Government’s welfare reforms and the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ in particular. The latest research comes from the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA). It shows that rental income for associations across Scotland could be at risk as a result of the welfare cuts for tenants. The organisation warns that this could threaten both services to tenants and the ability to build much needed homes.

The report says that the vast majority of housing associations and co-operatives in Scotland see welfare reform as a threat to tenants’ incomes, and consequently a risk to rental income. Nine out of ten housing associations and co-operatives in Scotland predict that rent arrears will rise as a result of the introduction of Universal Credit. The SFHA is concerned that non-payment risks eroding housing associations’ income and their capacity to continue providing vital services for low income and vulnerable people in Scotland.

Dr Mary Taylor SFHADr Mary Taylor, the SFHA’s Chief Executive, explained that tenants in the affordable social housing sector would face real hardships as a result of welfare cuts, which will impact upon vulnerable people and those living on low incomes. “This measure doesn’t just target the unemployed,” she said. “It will hit people in low paid work as well as the disabled – people who are already struggling to get by at a time when fuel and food costs are on the rise and jobs are scarce. At worst these changes may result in an increase in homelessness.

“The under-occupancy penalty (“bedroom tax”) is unfair on tenants. Any increase in rent arrears could put funding for housing associations and co-operatives at risk, with a knock-on effect on their ability to build the homes that are urgently needed today.”

The research suggests that many tenants will have difficulty in finding the funds to pay the under-occupancy sanctions, which can amount to an additional £600 a year. These cuts are estimated to impact upon some 105,000 Scottish households. Although the SFHA research shows that housing associations and co-operatives are supporting tenants to downsize where possible, there is a lack of smaller and especially one bedroomed properties in the affordable social housing sector.

These concerns are also reflected by work carried out by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO). Its new survey of charities suggests that “fear and ignorance collide to create chaos” in the wake of the welfare cuts. It reports that a lack of awareness and a negative public attitude towards those on benefits are major obstacles for charities taking on welfare reform.

More than three quarters of the charities, including advice bodies, older people’s charities, youth groups, local mental health support projects, housing associations and disability groups from across Scotland, did not feel there was a good level of service for benefits and welfare advice in their local authority areas at present. And nine out of 10 of the charities said that they expect to see more people turning to them for help this year.

msime01-266x300Martin Sime, Chief Executive of the SCVO, explained that “a welfare system that leaves people broken and scared is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. While the general public remains in the dark about the devastating impact of welfare cuts, the outlook for people living in poverty and fear in Scotland is bleak.

“It’s left to charities and voluntary organisations across Scotland to pick up the pieces, but there is also a job to be done in bringing this issue out into the open so that the devastating impacts of cuts are not conveniently swept under the carpet.”

There are also concerns that the reforms may not lead to the savings the Government expects. The leading housing charity, Shelter Scotland, believes it has evidence that the ‘Bedroom Tax’ will cost the taxpayer in Scotland’s cities more money, not less – despite assurances from the Westminster Government that it will save money.

The charity points out that the tax will force those who can’t afford the shortfall to downsize or run up arrears. It believes that, as a result of the chronic shortage of one-bedroom social houses, many will have to turn to the private rented sector. But rent for a one-bedroom property in the private sector is on average much higher than rent for a two-bedroom social property. This would leave the tax payer with a bigger bill to pay as the newly private tenants would qualify for full Local Housing Allowance (LHA) as they would no longer be assessed as under-occupying.

Graeme_Brown ShelterGraeme Brown, the organisation’s director, described the ‘bedroom tax’ as ill-conceived. “The simple fact,” he explained, “is that there are just not enough one-bedroom social homes for people to downsize to. This is going to force households to either make up the shortfall themselves, run up arrears and face possible eviction or move into the private sector where rents are much higher.

“It’s a no-win scenario. The householder loses their home and the public purse has to pay more to help with their housing costs in the private rented sector. It’s time the Westminster Government reversed this ‘draconian’ reform and sent the bedroom tax to ‘never-never land’ where it belongs! That is why I am urging Scotland’s Housing Minister Margaret Burgess MSP to set up an emergency summit of social landlords to agree measures for protecting Scotland’s tenants from the ‘Bedroom Tax’.”

shelter1A growing number of organisations are starting to use social networking and smartphone apps in interesting and unusual ways. The latest to do so is Shelter Scotland, which has just launched a new way of helping bargain-hunters in Edinburgh to share their thrifty finds through the location-based social networking site foursquare.

foursquare enables people to connect and share information about their favourite places based on their location. Points and badges are awarded for “checking in” at venues, allowing users to compete on a leaderboard against their friends. The user who checks in to a venue the most times becomes its “mayor” and remains in that position until ousted by a rival.

The service operates on all the main smartphone systems. It will allow users in Edinburgh to check in at the charity’s eight shops in the city while browsing the merchandise and earning special discounts and winning prizes. They will be able to make lists of their favourite places, write reviews, take photographs of items and share them with friends.

It is part of campaign to raise awareness of Shelter’s fundraising activities. The eight shops in the capital will be the first to trial this. The aim is attract the attention of people who otherwise wouldn’t use charity shops and to persuade them to give a new lease of life to thousands of donated items.

Visitors who check in at the stores will collect exclusive badges – with each store having a unique Stina Jones design. Those who collect all eight badges will automatically be entered into a final competition to win prints of the distinctive designs.

“This is an innovative and fun way for us to appeal to a new generation of supporters,” says Gordon MacRae, head of communications and policy at Shelter Scotland. “Social networking has become part of everyday life and Shelter Scotland is proud to move with the times – becoming the first charity to engage digitally with supporters through foursquare.

“Our shops offer an array of fantastic high quality second-hand items and play a vital role in raising funds to help in our fight to end homelessness. Our hope is that foursquare will enable us to spread the word to a new generation of Shelter Scotland supporters.”

The campaign is planned to reach Shelter’s shops across Scotland in the coming months, with a view to a UK-wide roll-out by 2012. The eight Edinburgh shops are located in Stockbridge, Corstorphine and Morningside, as well as on Dalry Road, Forrest Road, Nicolson Street and Home Street.

foursqua

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libdem1Scottish Liberal Democrats

Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Tavish Scott launched the party’s Sports Action Plan after joining Spartans FC for a youth training session in Edinburgh. At the session, Mr Scott also expressed his support for Scottish sport by signing the “Vote for Sport” pledge, an initiative organised by the Scottish Sports Alliance which is encouraging MSPs to act as Scottish Sporting Champions during their time at Holyrood.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have announced plans for a Scotland-wide school Olympics along with changes that would allow community organisations and co-operatives a greater say in the running of football and other sports.

Want to discuss other issues? Join in the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

Commenting, Mr Scott said: “Sport is more than taking pride in the achievements of Scotland’s elite athletes. Sport should genuinely be for all. Our policies would provide people of all ages with more chances to get involved at both the local and national level. We would support the immense contribution volunteers make towards making sport accessible for as many people of all ages as is possible.

“Sport can bring people together in a way that few other things can and we need to be doing everything we can to ensure that we maximise the benefits it brings to Scotland.

“The training session I participated in this morning was what sport should be all about – people coming together to play their game in the right spirit and enjoy themselves.”

Brian McKelvie, chair of the Scottish Sports Association, said: “The campaign has been received very positively and it’s great to see such a demonstration of support for sport here at the Spartans Football Club with the Liberal Democrats.”

Commenting on Shelter Scotland’s analysis of the parties’ manifestos, Liberal Democrat election chair George Lyon said:

“We recognise the need for serious, long-term investment in Scotland’s housing stock, which is why we”ve identified £250 million for insulation of homes and buildings, cutting household energy bills and creating jobs. We”re pleased that Shelter recognises this substantial investment.

“We will also take steps to bring back into use the 70,000 homes lying empty in Scotland, with grants to homeowners who take this on, provided they allow housing associations to rent them out for 10 years. And we”ll extend programmes to help people who are struggling to get on the housing ladder, afford their first home.

“These are ambitious plans that will make a real difference to people in Scotland. “Providing decent housing is essential if we”re to meet our long-term ambitions for the economy, health and social well-being.”

greens2Scottish Greens

The Greens welcomed an Ipsos MORI poll showing the party on 6 per cent on the second vote, a result which would see a significantly larger group of Green MSPs elected to the Scottish parliament, and noted an additional question which asked Scots who they would like to see the next first minister work with. This second question shows that the Greens are the preferred post-election partners for both SNP and Labour voters.

Patrick Harvie said: “This election will answer two questions: who will be first minister, and who will they have to work with at Holyrood. Today’s poll indicates that both Labour or SNP voters would prefer to see their candidate for first minister working with Greens to deliver a fairer and more sustainable Scotland.

“Perhaps the worst outcome of this election would be a Scottish government dependent on one of the coalition parties driving the cuts agenda from Westminster. That way lies a continued assault on public services and an administration which pours cold water on Scotland’s economy. The only alternative to this bleak scenario is a strong second vote for the Scottish Greens.

“Overall this result shows the Greens as one of only two parties heading upwards in the polls. We’re running a positive campaign to defend public services, to guarantee the funding which can keep tuition free, and to insulate every home in Scotland, and we’re delighted to see this approach getting such a warm response.”

Scottish Greens also announced their plans for a true zero-waste Scotland, pledging to back communities across the regions fighting plans for a generation of mass-burn waste incinerators, and to scale-up support for local reuse and recycling initiatives. The Greens are the only party that consistently opposes these incinerators, and Greens are committed to revising the Scottish government’s waste strategy to bring in a moratorium on new facilities. The party argues that burning waste will significantly undermine recycling efforts by creating a built-in demand for waste.

The party will make the case in the next parliament for a strategy that reduces overall levels of waste at source, conserving valuable resources and creating more jobs in community reuse and repair projects, as well as supporting the local provision of recycling facilities. Greens would also pilot a packaging “deposit and return” scheme, which has resulted in very high recycling rates in countries such as Denmark and has long been pioneered with glass bottles by Barrs in Scotland.

Kirsten Robb, the Scottish Greens’ top candidate in Central region, announced the policy ahead of a public meeting on incineration organised by Greens in Stonehouse, a Lanarkshire community threatened by proposals for an incinerator.

Kirsten Robb said: “Scottish Greens have been on the side of local communities across Scotland who simply want a better solution when it comes to waste. Whether in Newton Mearns or Dunbar and from here in Stonehouse or Carnbroe right up to Invergordon, Greens support campaigners who are worried about the health of their families and who just want a safe and sustainable system for reducing waste. Incineration is part of the same old thinking, it’s ‘landfill in the sky’ for local authorities who are running out of space and facing millions of pounds in fines for not tackling the root causes of this problem.

“We want a Scotland that starts by reducing waste in the first place, not just burning it or sending it to landfill. There are hundreds of examples out there of community projects leading the way in sharing, repairing and reusing items, often saving people money in the process. We think that most people who shop in a supermarket would also agree that big retailers and manufacturers have got a long way to go to reduce packaging and stop pushing offers that increase food waste. Voters who want a party that is ambitious about a more sustainable and less wasteful Scotland should use their second vote to elect a strong group of Green MSPs to the next parliament.”

The Greens launched a mini-manifesto on issues relating to children, with policies including: the provision of free nursery education for all children aged from three upwards, commitments on universal free school meals and outdoor education, the introduction of a new School Grounds Enhancement Fund, support for the Active Schools and Eco-Schools programmes, support for home learning, and the introduction of child safety legislation with the aim of making Scotland the safest place to grow up in Europe.

Alison Johnstone, the Greens’ education spokesperson and top candidate in the Lothian region, said: “These policies are designed to give Scotland’s children the best start in life that we can possibly give them, by keeping them active, feeding them well, protecting them from harm and ensuring that they live, learn and grow up in a safe and sustainable society. The Scottish Greens recognise that today’s young people are tomorrow’s citizens and leaders, and that early interventions to make them as fit, healthy and happy as possible are important in helping them to become well-rounded and active members of Scottish society.

“Our children must not be wrapped up in cotton wool – we must give them the opportunity to explore and learn, and recognise their rights, as well as teaching them about their own responsibilities, to society and to the environment in which they live. If we get it right at the start, the rest just falls into place – active, healthy, happy children are far more likely to steer clear of crime, and to become happy and fulfilled members of society, so investing in them at an early age brings benefits and savings for the whole of society.”

labour3 Scottish Labour

Scottish Labour has reacted to an analysis of the Scottish Tories’ manifesto costings by NUS Scotland which has unearthed a black hole of between £500m and £1.5billion in their university spending plans.

Scottish Labour’s candidate for Eastwood, Ken Macintosh, said: “This revelation blows apart any plans the Tories had to balance their budget on the backs of students. Not only are the Tory plans to hit students in the pockets deeply unfair, their sums just don’t add up.

“The Tories must come clean on exactly how they are going to pay not only for their higher education polices, but their entire manifesto promises.

“Only yesterday an independent evaluation of the manifesto costings found that Labour’s was the only party that had balanced it budget. Now the Tories are back, Labour will not only balance the books, we ensure no price tag is attached to those who want to go onto university.”

The last thing David Cameron wants in Scotland is a Labour government, Scottish Labour said yesterday.

The comments come following a radio interview in which the prime minister neglected to encourage voters to vote the Tories on the constituency vote, despite the Tories fielding candidates in every constituency in Scotland.

The comments come following a radio interview in which the prime minister neglected to encourage voters to vote the Tories on the constituency vote, despite the Tories fielding candidates in every constituency in Scotland. In the Good Morning Scotland interview, the prime minister said: “…the more that the Conservatives get in terms of votes and seats in parliament the more influence Annabel will be able to bring to bear and because you have got this particular voting system where you’ve got your peach form as it were for the regional vote, I would urge people, whatever they do for the constituency vote to vote Conservative on the list vote because then we’ll get more Conservatives and more common sense in the parliament.”

Scottish Labour also pointed to one of its latest leaflets that highlight the fact that David Cameron secretly wants a SNP government.

Scottish Labour’s candidate in Dumfriesshire, Elaine Murray, said: “It is clear the last thing David Cameron wants in Scotland is a strong Labour government standing up to the Tories at Westminster. David Cameron has already arranged for the Tory’s favourite newspaper to back the SNP so it is hardly surprising than he even now even seems to be encouraging people to vote SNP.

“He seems to have given up.

“Now the Tories are back, it is only Labour that can fight Scotland’s corner and focus on the things that really matter like apprenticeships, jobs and getting Scotland back to work again.”

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray has slammed the Tory and SNP campaigns as being “out of touch” with the lives of ordinary Scots, after David Cameron tried to play down the cuts that were being made in Scotland.

The prime minister’s comments came on the same morning that Alex Salmond was guest of honour at a breakfast banquet hosted by News International. Labour believe that News International are backing the SNP in Scotland because David Cameron fears a Labour win.

Speaking after campaigning with Gordon Brown in Fife yesterday, Iain Gray said: ”It is absolutely stunning that David Cameron has tried to downplay the impact of his cuts in Scotland. To try to make out that things are fine is just fantasy.

“10,000 Scots joined the dole queue this year, but Alex Salmond and David Cameron have a vested interest in pretending that everything is going fine. They are giving each other an easy ride, but it’s people in Scotland that will suffer as a result.

“The Tories and the SNP are out of touch. On the same morning that David Cameron was playing down the impact of the cuts, Alex Salmond was at a breakfast banquet with top Tory news executives. It’s clear that David Cameron wants the SNP to win in Scotland.

“The Tories and the SNP are out of touch. On the same morning that David Cameron was playing down the impact of the cuts, Alex Salmond was at a breakfast banquet with top Tory news executives. It’s clear that David Cameron wants the SNP to win in Scotland. “Meanwhile, I was in Fife campaigning with Gordon Brown and talking to people about the things that really matter. We were talking to people that were concerned about jobs and we explained how Labour would abolish youth unemployment and create a quarter of a million jobs.

“People in Scotland will be very suspicious of an out of touch SNP that seems to be getting closer and closer to David Cameron’s Tories as each day in this campaign goes by.”

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scotcon2 Scottish Conservatives

A poll in yesterday’s Scotsman has shown that two-thirds of Scots back a graduate contribution of up to £4,000 to the cost of their university education. The poll came on the on the same day that NUS Scotland attacked Scottish Conservative proposals for a graduate contribution towards the cost of their degree.

David McLetchie, Scottish Conservative campaign manager for the Scottish parliament election, said of the poll: “This is more evidence, after last year’s Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, that Scots are fair minded and accept that it is fair for graduates to make a contribution towards the cost of their university education. It is clear that, regardless of which party they support, people are in favour of this.

“In a perfect world everything would be free. But in the real world, voters accept that the costs have to be spread.

“Recent figures from the Office of National Statistics showed that, on average, a university graduate will earn £12,000 a year more than those who have not gone to university. Over a working life, that is a pay boost of half a million pounds.

“Despite all the evidence, Labour, Lib Dems and the SNP refuse to find the money needed to bridge the real funding gap. Scottish Conservative proposals for a graduate contribution, paid from future earning, at an affordable rate will mean that Scotland’s universities can retain their excellence, retain their student numbers and we can also boost bursary support for students from poorer backgrounds by £55 million a year.

“By contrast, the deficit deniers in the other parties threaten our universities’ standing, threaten up to 13,000 student places and are out of tune with public opinion.”

On the statement yesterday by the NUS Scotland, Mr Brownlee said: “This attack from NUS Scotland is just not credible. On this evidence, NUS Scotland appears happy to sit by and see student numbers reduced and Scottish universities enter into a spiral of decline. If we listen to NUS Scotland, then universities will face a black hole in their funding.

“We have made clear that for the lifetime of the parliament, we would cap the graduate contribution at £4,000. NUS Scotland has got so many assumptions wrong in their haste to attack Scottish Conservative plans to safeguard student numbers and increase bursary support, that their claims cannot be taken seriously.

“Only yesterday, the independent CPPR (Centre for Public Policy for Regions) report from Glasgow University said that alone of the parties only the Scottish Conservatives were looking at plans to secure the necessary support for higher and further education without ‘accepting a slow, gradual, decline in the standard of Scottish post school education and research’.”

snp1 SNP

First minister and Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond attacked David Cameron over Scotland’s near-£200 million fossil fuel levy, in an article in the Courier during his visit north of the border, where he said that the UK government are giving Scotland £250 million of resources for the Green Investment Bank.

Mr Salmond pointed out that the UK government are refusing to hand over the Fossil Fuel Fund without deducting the same amount from the Scottish budget, and that Scotland would be due far more than £250 million from the Green Investment Bank given the advanced nature of our renewables industry in Scotland.

Mr Salmond said: “It is typically Tory to try to short-change Scotland with our own money.

“The Con/Dem coalition are refusing to hand over Scotland’s fossil fuel levy – worth nearly £200 million – without clawing the cash back from the Scottish budget. This money could and should be used to power forward the renewable energy sector in Scotland, helping to reindustrialise the nation, including developing ports around Scotland such as Dundee.

“Pro-rata, Scotland has ten times the renewable energy capacity as England, and we are due far more than £250 million from the Green Investment Bank – regardless of the fossil fuel levy, which should be wholly additional to the Scottish budget.

“The SNP will fight for Scotland’s resources – Labour failed to deliver the fossil fuel levy, the Con/Dems are also pauchling the money, and a re-elected SNP government would have a mandate to get it handed over at long last.”

The Scottish National Party welcomed an Ipsos MORI poll in the Times and the Scottish Sun which puts the SNP ahead on 45 per cent in the constituency vote to 34 per cent for Labour, and shows 42 per cent of Scots backing Alex Salmond for first minister on the list vote with only 32 per cent backing Labour.

The poll shows a 5 per cent swing to the SNP since the last Mori poll in February, and gives the SNP its highest poll rating in this campaign, whilst Labour’s rating is at its lowest since May 2010 (31 per cent, YouGov 3-4 May).

Commenting on the poll, SNP campaign director Angus Robertson said: “This is an excellent poll, and confirms that more and more people are considering voting SNP – many for the first time – because they want to re-elect the SNP government and Alex Salmond for first minister.

“We are taking nothing for granted, and will contest the remaining two weeks of the campaign as a close two-horse race. We will continue working hard to earn the trust and support of the people for the SNP’s record, team and vision for Scotland.”

The poll result comes as Tommy Brennan, one of Scotland’s trade union leaders, has endorsed Alex Salmond’s re-election as first minister – citing Mr Salmond’s “inspiring goal” to re-industrialise Scotland by leading the world in renewable energy technology.

Mr Brennan was works convener of the Ravenscraig shop stewards, and the man who led the fight to save the Scottish steel industry in the 1980s and 1990s. He worked at the Lanarkshire steel plant for 31 years until 1991.

Mr Brennan said: “Alex Salmond’s vision for Scotland is one all Scots should support. I’m delighted to endorse him for a second term as first minister.

“I remember only too well the pain caused by the de-industrialisation of Scotland under the Tories in the 1980s and 1990s, and believe that Alex Salmond’s ambition to re-industrialise Scotland by leading the renewables energy revolution is an insipring goal for young Scots and for jobs and industry in the 21st century.”

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<em>Picture: Ben Coulson</em>

Picture: Ben Coulson

At a time when pressure groups, local authorities and others are calling for a massive increase in social housing, it’s astonishing to discover that the number of vacant properties in Scotland is almost at record levels. The latest “vacant property report” from the Bank of Scotland shows that the numbers are at their highest level for six years.

The figures are historic, dating back to September 2009 when the recession was at its height and the housing market seriously depressed. But even so, there were 106,239 empty homes around the country, up from 103,433 the year before. Between them, they account for over 4 per cent of all homes in Scotland.

The information also tells us something about the relative state of the local economic environment around the country. The Western Isles for instance has the largest proportion of vacant homes in Scotland (13.3 per cent); that’s over three times the national average. Argyll and Bute (11.4 per cent) is not far behind with Orkney (8.9 per cent) coming third.

The authorities with the lowest rates however are not necessarily obvious. North Lanarkshire and East Renfrewshire have the smallest proportion of vacant homes (both 1.9 per cent) followed by Midlothian (2.1 per cent). The four main cities are all clustered together around the 4 per cent mark. It’s worth bearing in mind however that North Lanarkshire also saw the largest percentage increase – 23 per cent – in vacant properties.

The report says that house prices are lower in the local authorities with the largest proportion of vacant homes. Earnings, too, are lower. Nine out of the 10 local authorities with the highest proportions of vacant homes have levels of average earnings up to 9 per cent below the Scottish average.

Suren Thiru, Bank of Scotland’s housing economist, is concerned “that the number of vacant homes has increased for the second successive year following several years of decline. This is a trend that needs to be reversed, particularly within the context of Scotland’s longer term housing needs. Areas with high levels of vacant properties are often areas with lower than average earnings and property values.”

The report prompted Gordon MacRae, the head of communications and policy at Shelter Scotland, to note that there was “a significant level of vacant homes across Scotland with the potential to help in the fight to solve Scotland’s housing crisis. It also adds weight to our drive to bring Scotland’s empty homes back into use through The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership – launched last month and funded by the Scottish Government.

“At a time when there is a shortage of funding for affordable homes and more people in need, local authorities need to use all means available to them and show innovation in encouraging owners to bring empty properties back into use. Whilst bringing good standard empty homes back into use can play its part, let’s not forget there is a housing crisis in Scotland and that many more social homes need to be built.”

That’s a view shared by Andrew Field, deputy chief executive of the SFHA, who added that “anything which helps bring empty houses back into use is a good thing. But the country faces such a major housing shortage that the crucial issue is ensuring that the Scottish Government puts adequate capital investment into building new homes for affordable rent.”

Shelter’s latest report on “Evictions by Social Landlords in Scotland” shows that the number has been cut by a third in the last year. Their figures suggest that the situation’s been improving on an increasing scale since the organisation started monitoring this three years ago. Over that period, the total number of evictions in Scotland has dropped by 38 per cent.

That still means there were 2,204 evictions during 2009/2010 – 1,262 by local authorities and 942 by Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) such as Housing Associations. The majority of these were for rent arrears, with a small number for antisocial behaviour of various kinds.

Graeme Brown, the director of Shelter Scotland, said it was “…great news that evictions by social landlords are down by one third. We have been campaigning to make eviction the last resort for social landlords and these figures show that landlords are responding to our concerns. We congratulate those local authorities and RSLs who have made major progress in reducing evictions and urge those who are falling behind to look again at their policies and practices. The Scottish Government also needs to quickly implement the new requirements all landlords must take before starting court action.”

Responding to the report, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) pointed out that evictions by housing associations across Scotland have fallen by more than a third over the last 12 months. Figures from the Scottish Housing Regulator showed a 38% reduction in evictions by housing associations, down from 1,524 in 2008-9 to 942 in 2009-10 (1).

In the view of the SFHA’s chief executive, Mary Taylor: “A tiny proportion of the 250,000 tenancies managed by Scotland’s housing associations and co-operatives end in eviction. Not only that but the excellent support which associations provide, including financial advice and flexible payment options in order to help people maintain their tenancies, has seen this number continue to drop.”

She was keen to stress that this reduction has been achieved by the sharing of good practice in relation to prevention and not by the Scottish Government introducing legislation. She pointed to the organisation’s own guidance document, Preventing Eviction and Alleviating Homelessness, which says that eviction should only be used as a last resort and then only as an ultimate and sparingly-used sanction in extreme cases.

However, Ms Taylor is concerned about the proposals by the coalition Westminster government to restrict the Housing Benefit of some of the most vulnerable tenants. She argues this “…will make it difficult for them to fulfil their obligation to pay their rent. This will increase the pressure on landlords to take action against them to enforce payment to enable them to continue to maintain their properties and run their social businesses.”

Graeme Brown adds that SHELTER’s analysis “…shows that progressive landlords are reducing evictions and arrears at the same time. However, with 75,000 threats of eviction issued last year, too many social landlords are still using the threat of eviction as a rent collection tool rather than a real last resort. At a time when unemployment is rising and more people are struggling with household budgets, this report is clear evidence that by working with tenants, social landlords can ensure that eviction truly is a last resort.”