John Swinney blames 'hostile' UK Government for housing budget cuts as five councils declare emergency

Nottingham, UK - March 26, 2014: Several property agency signs posted outside terraced houses in Beeston in the East Midlands city of Nottingham, England.
Scotland faces a severe lack of affordable accommodation in some parts of the country -Credit:Getty Images

John Swinney has blamed a "hostile" UK Government for SNP ministers slashing spending on affordable housing in Scotland.

The former deputy minister today launched his campaign to succeed Humza Yousaf and become the next First Minister.

His speech in Edinburgh came just hours after West Dunbartonshire became the fifth local authority north of the Border to declare a housing emergency - meaning the council can't meet demand for affordable accommodation.

The Scottish Government has faced a backlash from charities and anti-poverty campaigners since it cut the housing budget for the year ahead by £196m.

Yousaf subsequently announced a further £80m would be found to bring long-term empty properties back into use as affordable accommodation.

Asked by the Record what a government led by him would do differently when it came to housing, Swinney said the issue was a "big priority".

He continued: "The challenge for the housing budget is the fact the Scottish Government's capital budget has been slashed by the UK Government.

"There are consequences of that. We've got to find money to make it go as far as it possibly can

"Since the Budget was formulated the First Minister announced, just last week, additional housing investment. Housing is a big priority.

"But we've also got to face up to some hard realities. We have a hostile UK Government that is cutting the funding available to Scotland. We can't magic money out of thin air.

"The answer to that, for me, is for Scotland to become an independent country."

West Dunbartonshire Council said yesterday its housing funding from the Scottish Government had been cut by 27 per cent.

Councillor Gurpreet Singh Johal, the local authority's housing convener, said: "It is devastating that the circumstances we find ourselves in mean that we now have to declare a housing emergency.

"Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the staff in our Housing department, our tenant representatives in the community and external partners, the reduction in funding for affordable housing along with pressures on meeting the needs of current tenants has given us no option.

"This decision has not been taken lightly but I sincerely hope that this can help lead us on the path of greater stability for everyone in our communities, especially those who are facing homelessness and unstable accommodation."

Carolyn Lochhead, of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, said that the next First Minister must take the housing emergency seriously.

"Last week’s funding announcement, though welcome, represented little more than a sticking plaster during a national housing emergency.

"The Scottish Government cut the affordable housing supply programme by £196million last year, so £80million over two years pales in comparison to what’s been lost. And because it’s targeted at existing buildings, it won’t build a single new social home.

"Amid record homelessness, with 10,000 children growing up in temporary accommodation, the next First Minister has to make public investment in affordable rented homes an absolute priority."

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