Chair a debate on Housing between the four main political parties in Scotland at our Peebles conference. Livingston MSP, Angela Constance opens on behalf of the SNP Government, Derek Brownlee MSP responds on behalf of the Conservatives, Jeremy Purvis MSP on behalf of the Liberal Democrats and Cllr Jim McCabe, Labour Group Leader on CoSLA on behalf of the Scottish Labour Party.
The main focus is on the state of the economy but also on the fact that the public sector has a huge roll in helping in the recovery from recession. Having said that Derek and Jeremy provide a fairly forensic analysis of the depressing state of public finances between now and 2015.
All of the panelists and audience agree however that we need to build more council housing and a general mood exists that suggests a lack of balance between the £25m pot available for council new build in Scotland and the £100m available to Housing Associations. Especially when the Housing Associations appear slow of the mark with new build and ongoing rumours about their ability to secure additional borrowing from the banks. I think this is something that needs to be revisited quickly if the fiscal stimulus is to have any immediate impact.
A point made by Jeremy shed some new light on how public finances operate for me. Jeremy stated that he had taken a lot of flak in Parliament for speaking out against the Bill to introduce free school meals. He pointed out that the £40m per annum transferred to revenue spending to cover this could have been used to borrow up to £1B of capital infrastructure spending over the period. He made a compelling case as to how this may be a more important priority for the economy at this present moment in time!