Building more homes
Scotland's Communities Minister today called on the housing sector to embrace Scottish Government plans to deliver more houses for the thousands of Scots in need of a home.
Mr Maxwell, speaking at the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) Conference in Aberdeen, said it was essential to see greater numbers of homes for the significant amount of money invested in social housing in particular.
Mr Maxwell welcomed the large number of responses to the Scottish Government's discussion paper on the future of housing, Firm Foundations, and called on delegates to engage with the Government's National Conversation, to consider how greater powers could help Scotland achieve even more.
Nearly 400 organisations and individuals have responded to Firm Foundations and he said the feedback would be analysed to produce a report by the end of March. He announced his intention to outline the Scottish Government's housing policy direction by the end of June.
Mr Maxwell said: "Firm Foundations recognised that housing is absolutely crucial to many of the Scottish Government's overarching aims - because giving people access to a decent home in a sustainable community provides the foundations for stable and fulfilling lives.
"But it also acknowledged that to realise our very ambitious plans to build at least 35,000 new homes every year by the middle of the next decade, we need to make the system work more efficiently.
"The social rented sector is a key part of our approach and we have proposed changes to the way housing subsidies are distributed, because we want the sector to deliver more homes for the significant sums of taxpayers' cash it receives.
"Chiefly, we think introducing a more strategic approach to housebuilding will deliver more houses for the thousands of Scots who badly need an affordable home.
"We're proposing that lead developers would provide other housing associations with new stock through a partnership agreement which would still leave the other associations in control of the management of the properties built for them.
"I want to reassure housing associations that what we're proposing will not mean the end to small-scale and local providers. Indeed, what matters is an organisation's ability to meet need and deliver services effectively and efficiently, not its shape or size."
The Minister also pointed to recent successes in the private rented housing sector designed to improve the image of the sector.
"In tandem with our proposals for social renting, we've also been focussing on the private rented sector and I'm very pleased to say that significant progress is now being made in the mandatory private landlord registration scheme, with approval rates now up to 62 per cent.
"In addition, with the introduction of the new Repairing Standard and the Private Rented Housing Panel last September, tenants now have an independent body to enforce national standards for the condition of the properties they rent.
"Together, these measures give tenants the reassurance they need to make informed choices and a point of redress when needed. Of course, the great majority of private landlords already operate to acceptable standards and these measures are good for them too, as they help to improve the image of the sector as a whole."
But he also said that the current devolution settlement constrained the ability of the Scottish Government to fashion a fully bespoke set of housing policies.
As part of the Scottish Government's National Conversation, he urged everyone with an interest in the future of housing - tenants, housing associations, local authorities, housing developers and others - to bring to bear their expertise and knowledge to reflect on areas where Scotland might be able to develop distinctive policies to suit our circumstances.
Mr Maxwell said: "Scotland has a particular set of housing challenges and opportunities which require a Scotland-specific response.
"That's why I'd like to spark a debate among everyone with an interest to consider how we might move forward and to offer their thoughts - through the National Conversation - on how greater powers could enable us to make an even bigger impact on the future direction of housing in our country."
The Firm Foundations consultation ended on January 25. The Scottish Governmnet hopes to publish an analysis of the responses by the end of March 2008.
A National Conversation on Scotland's constitutional future was launched by the First Minister on August 14, 2007, alongside the publication of a paper outlining different options for public debate and proposals for a referendum.
Mr Salmond said the National Conversation was based on the premise that the people of Scotland are sovereign and should decide on the way they are governed.
Choosing Scotland's Future examines the options for constitutional change and addresses the arguments for and against each, such as independence or enhanced powers of devolution.
The Scottish Government believes the principal choices are: Small extension of devolved powers; Radical redesign of devolution and greatly enhanced powers; Independence
The public are invited to join the National Conversation by logging onto a dedicated website where they can add comments.