The Scottish Government have announced a consultation on their intention to scrap the right to buy for all new council and housing association builds. It's estimated that between 2012 and 2022 such a move would retain between 10,000 and 18,000 homes in the low cost rent sector that would otherwise have been lost. The Tories introduced the right to buy back in 1980 and since then nearly half a million public sector homes have been sold, and only 42,000 built. The Government is also consulting on plans to make it easier to suspend the right to buy in areas where there is a shortage of affordable homes - something that is already in force here in Badenoch and Strathspey. Housing Minister Alex Neil has said that "ending the right to buy for new build houses will safeguard social housing for future generations across Scotland. "These changes, alongside our efforts to reverse the decades of decline in council house building, backed by £50M in finding, will support councils to begin building homes again."
Shelter Scotland have welcomed the move. Director Graeme Brown said "There's no point in running a bath with the plug out the other end and that's what we continue to do when we build good quality affordable rented homes and then sell them off at a discounted price." The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations has welcomed the move. The Liberal Democrats have welcomed the move - Jamie Stone is quoted as saying "There is now an overwhelming case to abolish right to buy for new build council and social landlord houses."
So who, I wonder, might think it not such a good idea? I'll give you two guesses .... Yes, that's right, New Labour (Old Tory) and New Tory (Old Tory). Extraordinarily, Labour spokesperson Mary Mulligan described it as a cynical attempt to divert attention from the Government's failure to help housing associations build more affordable homes. That would be £50M worth of failure then would it? And whose economic situation might it be that makes it difficult to build in the first place? Tory spokesperson Mary Scanlon said that right to buy was "One of the great successes" of the last Tory Government. What kind of rose-tinted spectacles are you wearing Mary? Sure, every council house sold off is one more opportunity for a family to get a heavily discounted hutch up onto the housing ladder, but it's also another lost affordable home for a young family just setting out and flying the nest. Why should people start on the personal profit trail if it's at the expense of those who, as a result, can't even get a roof over their heads at a sensible price when they most need it, at the start of their working lives. Perhaps a better way might be to come up with some kind of scheme that incentivises those who are considering the first rung of the ownership ladder to take the step and move out of their social housing, freeing it up for someone who needs it.
But the real iniquity of it all lies inextricably with this discredited and tired Westminster Government. Labour spokespeople in Scotland can bleat all they like about 'failure to help housing associations' - but their masters in Westminster created a spurious scheme to persuade Local Authorities to get their tenants to agree to transfer of council stock to housing associations or trusts, in return for writing off council house debt. If, as in Highland, council tenants were very happy with their councils - even if it was on a 'better the devil you know' basis - the vote was an emphatic NO to the big Westminster bribe, then tough luck - other councils can have their housing debt written off, but you can't - you've been naughty boys and not gone along with what we want, and it's our ball, so we'll take it away. Meanwhile, I think it's some 43% of all council house receipts that go towards servicing our council house debt. So it's Westminster who are the main impediment to a resumption of council house building in Highland, and it's Westminster who are agin the idea of stopping the right to buy. And for the avoidance of doubt, no, it wouldn't be any better under Cameron's cronies.