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It has been just over twelve months since the Commission on Housing and Wellbeing published its landmark final report in June 2015. The report, entitled “A blueprint for Scotland’s future”, aimed to provide an independent, evidenced based review of housing policy in Scotland and to develop a series of recommendations for action across local and national government – as well as the broader housing sector itself – to improve the future of housing in Scotland.

The Commission structured its findings around the following five thematic areas of wellbeing: Housing as ‘Home’; Neighbourhood and Community; Economic Wellbeing; Health and Education and Environmental Sustainability. From these, the Commission then produced a total of 47 recommendations for action, with 18 being identified as priority actions.
 
Since the report’s publication, Shelter Scotland has taken on the role of promoting it and its findings to a broad range of stakeholders across the country. To date, the Commission’s impact has been significant and the final report has been a central topic of discussion at many high profile debates (including in the Scottish Parliament), speaking opportunities and policy sessions across the housing and public policy sectors in Scotland. Most notably, the Commission’s work was both referenced by the First Minister’s independent poverty advisor, Naomi Eisenstadt, in her first report to Government and also generated a formal response from the Scottish Government in March 2016. This official response directly addressed all 47 of the Commission’s recommendations – to a greater or lesser extent.
 
It is also apparent that the Commission played an important role in raising the political profile of key housing issues in the run up to the recent Holyrood elections in May. All of Scotland’s political parties gave a greater focus to core housing issues in their manifestos than has been the case in other recent elections.
 
Building on this good work, this week Shelter Scotland is pleased to help disseminate a One Year On report from the Commission’s Chair, Robert Black – the former Auditor General in Scotland.
 
The One Year On report summarises the Commissions impact to date, highlighting in particular the good progress that has been made by Ministers on raising targets for the supply of affordable housing in Scotland – in line with the Commission’s original recommendation of delivering 35,000 more homes for social rent over the lifetime of this parliament. It also reflects on the progress that has been made in reforming the private rented sector tenancy in Scotland, which will deliver a fundamental rebalancing of rights between tenants and landlords,  and the welcome commitment to the introduction of a Warm Homes Bill in the coming months, to address issues of household energy efficiency and fuel poverty across the country.
 
The One Year On report also shines a light on those areas where progress has been slower or less clear, and identifies three areas for further action under each of its original five wellbeing headings. Some notable points from these include:
  •  The need for the Scottish Government to implement a cross-tenure Common Housing Quality Standard to help improve and maintain the quality of Scotland’s existing housing stock
  •  Asking the Scottish Parliament’s new Local Government and Communities Committee to review current powers available for regulating the private rented sector – including landlord registration – to identify whether the regulations are delivering against their intended objectives
  • That the Scottish Government should ensure adequate resources and training are available so that communities are genuinely equipped with the awareness, skills and knowledge required to make the most of new powers under the Community Empowerment Act
  • That Ministers should review their position and take seriously the Commission on Local Tax Reform’s recommendation that the current council tax system in Scotland ‘must end’
  • The need for better enforcement of minimum standards in temporary accommodation
  • The potential for a new  National Homelessness Strategy to ensure the health needs of all homeless people are adequately assessed and met
  •  And that by 2025, all housing in Scotland should reach the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) band C.
The report makes clear that in the last twelve months, good progress has been made across a number of the fronts set out in the Commission’s initial publication. Most usefully, it also provides a focus for further action and next steps across a range of interconnected policy areas in the months and years ahead.
 
To my mind, however, the real challenge this report lays down for our new Parliament and new Scottish Government, is to keep up the strong focus on housing and wellbeing issues, at a time of many competing demands in Ministerial inboxes, and to continue to develop and deliver ambitious, progressive and evidencebased housing policy in Scotland.
 
The risk is that if housing policy slips off the political agenda again, as it has done in the past, then we will lose the great momentum that has built up in recent months on some of these essential issues. And as we know all too well here at Shelter Scotland, while we are all affected by Scotland’s housing crisis, it will be the most vulnerable in our society that will end up feeling the brunt of this.
 

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