The General Principles of the Regulation of Registered Social Landlords (Wales) Bill
To propose that the National Assembly for Wales in accordance with Standing Order 26.11:
Agrees to the general principles of the Regulation of Registered Social Landlords (Wales) Bill.
Gareth Bennett AM
Party: United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)
Thanks to the Minister for bringing forward today’s debate on the Regulation of Registered Social Landlords (Wales) Bill. We agree with the need to reclassify RSLs, and we therefore support today’s motion. We do need to do this because we need to protect the provision of affordable housing. Wales is simply not building enough homes. We know that the Welsh Government has set a target of building 20,000 affordable new homes in this Assembly term, with 12,500 of them to be built by RSLs. However, there is also research, notably by the late Dr Alan Holmans, which suggests that Wales could need as many as 12,000 new homes each year. This is largely due to an expected increase in the number of single-person households. So, we are facing problems to come in meeting demand for housing, and particularly affordable housing.
When we debated previous legislation from the Welsh Government, which was the abolition of the right to buy, we talked about that in the UKIP group and came to our own conclusion that we thought it was a bit of a sticking plaster, because of the relatively small numbers of social properties that were ending up in the private sector as a result of the right to buy. But if that Bill was a sticking plaster then this Bill is perhaps more of a tourniquet, because the risk to funding for affordable social housing is very grave. If we don’t act, there would be serious funding consequences, as has been outlined by previous contributors today, and the delivery of new homes in the sorts of numbers that Wales needs would simply not be possible.
We will, of course, look forward to scrutiny of the Bill at committee stage and, as others have stated, it’s important that the Welsh Government works closely with the ONS to ensure that the technical details really do support the aims of the legislation, which is to ensure that housing association debt is taken off the public sector borrowing figures.
I note that, following the passage of equivalent regulations in England, the ONS has now completed an assessment of the housing association sector there, and the result has been that the situation has been reversed, with registered providers of social housing in England reclassified as private market producers. And, of course, that is—. That could be moving towards providing greater stability to the housing market, which is what we want to achieve here in Wales.
The Bill does possibly allow the Welsh Government to act if it feels that a housing association is not acting in compliance with the law—this is dealing with the issue of deregulation, which many have mentioned. But I think that it’s important that tenants continue to have a say in how a housing association is run. Of course, many have raised the issue of the tenant’s voice today, and David Melding has made a strong case for it to be included on the face of the Bill, which we would certainly consider, and we may well end up supporting any amendment that he might bring forward to that end if the Welsh Government don’t take his advice, but the Welsh Government doing that would be the best course, perhaps.
The changes will be of particular importance to tenants who may be affected by stock transfers from local authorities to RSLs. I’m hopeful that we could explore this through committee scrutiny, but it would be interesting if the Minister could add anything to that today.
We’re also interested in the way in which housing associations will continue to be funded in future and we still, of course, need to find new and innovative finance models to continue to provide the flow of affordable housing.
So, in conclusion, Llywydd, we in UKIP do support the general principles of the Bill. We feel that this is the right course of action, although we must bear in mind that this in itself will not solve the looming housing shortage. We look forward to continuing to hear what the Government has to say about this and to, perhaps, scrutinising if it comes to the local government committee, or in any other relevant committee, their future plans to deliver the housing that Wales so desperately needs. Diolch yn fawr iawn.