East Lothian: Labour ally with Tories to restore flagship Thatcher policy


By a Newsnet reporter

The new Labour-Tory administration in East Lothian is to try and reintroduce Margaret Thatcher’s Right-to-Buy policy, despite it having been abolished under the Housing (Scotland) Act in 2010.

On Monday, the new administration voted on its priorities for the next five years, the priorities included a commitment to “reintroduce a ‘modernised right to buy’, giving people a greater stake in their community through home ownership”.

However, modernised Right-to-Buy for new-build social housing was abolished in the Housing (Scotland) Act 2010, after the policy had caused council housebuilding in Scotland to dry up completely and had led to housing shortages and long waiting lists for council tenants.  The Act permits existing council tenants to retain the right to buy, but removed it from new tenants and from those living in new-build social housing.

In East Lothian, the Tory Right-to-Buy policy had been so damaging that the previous SNP administration were in the process of buying back 200 houses in order to compensate for the policy’s legacy of affordable housing shortages.

It is understood that the Labour group on the council agreed to the new policy as a way of securing the support of the three Conservative councillors on the council.  The Conservative led Coalition government in Westminster recently announced plans to extend the Right-to-Buy.  The housing group Shelter criticised the plans, saying that the net result will be a reduction in the number of genuinely affordable homes for families on modest incomes.

The Thatcherite policy transformed the Scottish housing sector during the 80s and 90s, as thousands of tenants in better quality council houses took advantage of the scheme while councils faced severe restrictions on their ability to replace lost housing stock.  The policy transformed Scotland from a nation where most people lived in rented properties into a country where the majority are home owners.  

Critics allege that this shift has deformed the Scottish housing sector and has led to many people who would otherwise have rented, getting into unsustainable debt in order to obtain mortgages.  According to figures from Shelter, statistically, right-to-buy mortgage holders are far more likely than other purchasers to have their homes repossessed.

SNP MSP Paul Wheelhouse has laid down a motion condemning the East Lothian administration for pursuing a policy which flies in the face of the Housing (Scotland) Act and will be a disaster for housing in the county, and called on Labour to distance themselves nationally from this discredited Tory policy.

Commenting, the South Scotland MSP said:

“This is an inexplicably bad decision from the new Labour-Tory administration.  Not only does it fly in the face of the Housing (Scotland) Act – it will undo all of the good work that has been done to tackling the affordable housing shortage.

“Right-to-Buy left a dreadful legacy of affordable housing shortages all over the country – it was only when the Scottish Government indicated it was planning to abolish it that councils started building houses again.

“Along with the generous financial support given to us by the Scottish Government, it helped East Lothian build the first council houses in decades, and the SNP were planning to build 500 more over the next term.

“But now Labour and the Tories want to turn the clock back and put all of this under threat – with a Thatcherite policy which has already been abolished by the Scottish Parliament.

“For the new Labour administration to try and get round national legislation so soon sets a terrible precedent for how they intend to run the council.
“Johann Lamont and her parliamentary colleagues must intervene and put a stop to this madness – in East Lothian and anywhere else in Scotland.”