Housing underspend claim rejected
Housing committee chair says he does not 'recognise' figure claimed v.1
by Peter Urpeth
Local Democracy Reporter
Claims by the SNP group of councillors on Comhairle nan Eilean Siar that the budget for building social housing in the Western Isles was underspent by £1.7m in the last year, have been rejected by the chair of the authority’s Communities and Housing Committee, Cllr Kenny John Macleod.
In a letter to Cllr Macleod, SNP group leader, Cllr Gordon Murray had claimed that the sum was part of the funding from the Scottish Government “directed by Comhairle to Hebridean Housing Partnership” and called for the unspent monies to be “reallocated” to address a shortage of social housing in rural areas of the islands.
Cllr Murray said in his letter: “In order to ensure equity of housing provision across our islands and deliver the Comhairle commitment to housing in rural areas, we strongly urge that the Comhairle reallocate the £1.7 million of Scottish Government money to housing organisations such as the Uist and Barra Housing Group. The £1.7 million can then used to deliver desperately needed housing throughout Uist and Barra as required.”
But, in an e-mailed response to Cllr Murray, Cllr Kenny John Macleod stated that he doesn’t “recognise” the figure of £1.7m claimed, and that the underspend “has not been reported in any forum I have attended”.
Cllr Macleod stated in his reply that the “Resource Planning Assumption” (RPA) for the budget in 2020/21 was just over £11m – £1.3m above the original figure for the year.
Cllr Macleod said in his e-mail: “For 2021/22 the Comhairle has a similar RPA of £9.709m and programme planning is currently underway with HHP and the Scottish Government to see how we can maximise this allocation.
“It is much too soon to be able to estimate the likely out-turn for this financial year, particularly with the on-going Covid-19 situation but I am pleased that our local contractors continue to deliver quality homes throughout our rural communities.
“The nature of the Affordable Housing Programme means that funding allocated to a particular housing development might not be fully drawn down in the financial year in which the work started, and so it is quite common for funding to run over two years and for anticipated under or over spends to change as the programme progresses.”
Cllr Macleod added in his response that the Scottish Government’s funding for social Housing does not go to the Comhairle but is “drawn down” by Hebridean Housing Partnership (HHP) directly from the Scottish Government “on a project by project basis”.
Cllr Macleod concluded in his e-mail: “The Affordable Housing funding can only be used by a Registered Social Landlord (RSL) and cannot be used by any other bodies. The Comhairle does not have the powers to allocate this funding other than within the framework of the [Strategic Housing Investment Plan] SHIP. HHP is the only RSL actively developing housing in the Outer Hebrides.
“In recent years we have made a number of approaches to Housing Ministers and senior Government officials about the possibility of getting more local flexibility for the use of Affordable Housing funding, but these have all been unsuccessful”, Cllr Macleod added, stating:
“We, however, continue to make representations to the Government around local flexibilities. I am convinced that with greater local flexibility we could build more homes, more quickly and more economically than the Government’s present framework allows.
“Meanwhile, I am sure we will continue to respond to emerging housing needs insofar as we are able and empowered and I look forward to your support in our endeavours as we work our way through the Strategic Housing Investment Plan.”