Scottish Government ‘unable to take forward’ work on empty homes
The Scottish Government’s work to tackle empty homes has been put on hold due to “changed priorities” and the implications of the coronavirus crisis, housing minister Kevin Stewart has admitted.
The Scottish Parliament’s local government and communities committee issued a report last year as part of its inquiry into empty homes in Scotland.
Among a series of recommendations, the report called on the Scottish Government to fulfil its commitment to introduce compulsory sales orders.
Last week, Mr Stewart wrote to committee convener James Dornan MSP to provide an update to on what the government is doing as a result of changed priorities and in reacting to COVID-19 and its implications.
The letter stated that the current circumstances “limit the degree” to which the empty homes work can be further developed.
“Prioritising COVID-19 crisis and recovery work means that we are currently unable to take forward our work on empty homes as we had intended,” the minister wrote.
Mr Stewart sought to reassure the committee that the work of the Empty Homes Partnership will continue and that the government will continue to provide financial and oversight support.
He added: “Firstly, we are working with Shelter, who deliver the Partnership, to maintain the capacity of the empty homes officer network by looking to reallocate funds previously earmarked to support new officers. This work is affected by changed priorities at local level and we are unlikely to make the progress we had hoped this year.
“Meantime, some officers who would be moving to permanent adoption and employment are at risk of being lost to the network as contracts come to an end and the organisations that support them are engaged on other vital work.
“We are changing our existing financial support, within the existing budget, to make funds available to support their continued employment, maintain certainty for the individuals involved and also to maintain skills and capacity in the network to ensure we are best placed to support the recovery phase.
“I hope that the committee agrees this is a sensible approach to supporting the key asset for empty homes work –the skilled people who deliver for us at local level. This makes use of funds which might otherwise go unused as other work cannot be taken forward as planned.
“Secondly, I remain strongly committed to our empty homes work and would intend, as soon as we are able and as we emerge from the current crisis, to return to our development of this work, including revisiting commitments made to the committee and to consider any changes required to meet the new priorities we will all face as Scotland recovers.”
In April, the local government and communities committee also pressed the Scottish Government on its response to COVID-19 and how it has impacted on issues such as homelessness, housebuilding, energy efficiency and short-term lets.
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