Leaders: Boost in housing builds faint hope for recovery
The triumphant spectacle of the Olympics and the extraordinary spirit of the Paralympics has lifted the national mood but these great events have also served as a welcome diversion from the economic woes that have afflicted the country since the banking crash of 2008.
Although some economists warned at the time that the near collapse of the global economy would cast a decade-long shadow, they were in the minority. Others blithely predicted that capitalism would do what it had always done, rebound quickly from the slump and begin to grow again.
Such optimism turned out to be misplaced and there has been an increasingly desperate search for a sign – any sign – that we are at least moving out of recession towards even the modest growth needed to kick-start the economy and, perhaps more importantly, bring back that illusive ingredient for further prosperity: confidence.
It is in that context that we must view the news from the Scottish Government yesterday that 10,732 new homes were started north of the Border in the year to 31 March 2012 compared to 8,731 in the year to 31 March 2011, an increase of some 23 per cent – a figure hailed as “encouraging” by housing minister Keith Brown.
While it is true that Mr Brown, or more accurately his civil servants, had to look long and hard at the latest housing statistics to find this positive news, this figure does give a glimmer of hope that confidence may be beginning to return to the beleaguered housing market, a vital part of the Scottish economy.
To be fair to the minister, he did accept that these remain “very challenging times for the house-building industry”, and his wise note of caution was underlined by the Scottish Building Federation’s far more pessimistic analysis of the figures.
According to the SBF, new home completions have fallen by a further 3 per cent in the last financial year and by 38 per cent since 2007-08. Overall, the SBF says construction of new homes in Scotland is at its lowest ebb since current records began some 16 years ago.
Oddly enough, these two views may not be incompatible. There is no doubt we are a long way from the halcyon days of the housing boom of the economic good years but, as the news that building firms are moving back into profits shows, there is evidence the corner is being turned.
Yesterday’s figures are just one small sign, but they are welcome nonetheless, with the Scottish Government due some credit for helping by building more social housing and introducing a mortgage indemnity scheme, though there is a strong argument that they – and their UK counterparts – could do more.
Just as one swallow does not a summer make, so one set of statistics that contain a glimmer of hope do not a full-scale economic recovery foreshadow. But where there is hope, there may just be some economic life. The nation is holding its breath.
Elderly need carers, not complainers
Where does health care, provided by the National Health Service, end and social care, the responsibility of local authorities, begin? The answer is that it is very hard to tell.
Which is why the SNP government, supported by Labour as the main opposition party, believes it is right to bring health and social care together to deliver that holy grail of policy-makers “joined up government.”
Yesterday the councils’ umbrella body, Cosla, heard complaints from Labour councillors that there had been a lack of consultation over the moves to unite these services and claims the SNP was further centralising power.
Given that their party supports the idea, the complaints were
bizarre to say the least, and, in the end, the councils decided to back the scheme, while taking concerns to health secretary, Nicola Sturgeon.
It is true, of course, that the government hopes that these reforms – which have been long discussed but have been slow to actually materialise – will save money.
However, there is nothing wrong with providing services cost-effectively, provided the aim of this plan – to improve care for older people in particular who need of both social care and health care – is delivered.
The Scottish Government has promised to put individuals at the centre of services, extend democratic accountability, reduce bureaucracy, and ensure resources are used properly for patients, carers and their families.
Those who depend on these services would be better served if councillors spent less time grandstanding and devoted themselves to making sure the government sticks to this commitment.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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