Presiding Officer, I want to provide members with an update on the work the Scottish Government is carrying out to identify and remediate unsafe cladding, and specifically, our Single Building Assessment pilot that we introduced in 2021.
This has not been an easy process for anyone. The Grenfell Tower tragedy shocked us all, it highlighted that many could be living in buildings that pose a clear risk to their safety. That risk was never commonly understood by developers, lenders, buildings insurance firms and even surveyors and fire engineers.
Overcoming this breakdown in shared knowledge and systems about what safety means has been central to our learning – and I want to share today how we plan to use that learning to help homeowners.
I understand how stressful and frustrating a time this has been for homeowners and I am grateful to them for their involvement with us. I also want to reassure people that I expect the vast majority of buildings to be found safe.
I know that for many homeowners progress has not been quick enough but we have to understand the extent of the problem in order to fix it.
The purpose and approach of the Single Building Assessment, which was a recommendation of our expert Building and Fire Safety Ministerial Working Group, is to carry out a comprehensive inspection of whole blocks of domestic residential buildings – looking at fire safety and suitability for mortgage lending. This is a free assessment with no cost to property owners.
Single Building Assessments - or SBAs - identify what needs to be mitigated or remediated on a building-by-building basis and in-line with the most current Building Standards. This includes the more stringent requirements laid last month that effectively ban all combustible cladding on relevant buildings.
Our initial approach for the SBA pilot involved giving grants to homeowners typically through an intermediary such as a property factor. While this has worked, it came at a high cost in terms of time and demands, particularly on homeowners. It was slower than we would like and is complex. The spend on surveys last year as part of the pilot amounted to £241,000. Through assessing the pilot we have concluded that this method requires to be changed as we scale up to a national programme.
I wish to thank specifically the residents in the 26 buildings which are participating in the pilot surveys and also the homeowners associations, factors, and others who have helped shape the process and understanding of how best to deliver at scale.
I am clear that the pilot has been necessary – but as I have said, the timescales inherent in the initial method were proving too long and onerous for those not familiar with such a technical process.
Therefore, I can inform Parliament that I have taken the decision to alter our method to allow us to scale up and expand the programme. Using powers and procurement tools available to the Scottish Government, we will now begin offering SBAs directly.
This means, that it is the government which will take on the role of procuring surveyors and fire engineers to carry out assessments on behalf of buildings. This takes away the burden on homeowners or the need for factors to move beyond their traditional role managing common parts.
This will remove several months from the process of completing a lengthy and technical application and simplify the commissioning of survey work.
Importantly, this will also allow many more buildings to be brought into the programme at the same time, so allowing us to scale up our programme.
As a result of this change, I can confirm every block in the Pilot which has not yet submitted a full application under the previous approach has been written to with the offer of a directly procured SBA.
I can also confirm that from today we will begin writing to more than 80 unique blocks that submitted an expression of interest last year to invite them onto programme through a new simplified application process.
To achieve this increase in pace I encourage qualified fire engineers and surveyors to be ready to meet the demands of this programme of work. We have already begun the process of placing tenders for Single Building Assessments onto Procurement Contracts Scotland and ask them to register and be prepared to bid.
From 2023 we will invite all remaining privately owned high-rise buildings – about another 100 buildings – into the survey programme. We will contact them shortly to explain the timescales and process.
Our programme of surveys is important for today’s homeowners and for tomorrow’s too. As set out in our Programme for Government, by the end of this Parliament, we will introduce a Register of Safe Buildings.
We are already working with the key institutions that will need to have access, such as insurers, mortgage lenders, the fire service and homeowners themselves. This measure will help overcome a key difference between our tenure system and that in the rest of the UK – the absence of a single building owner. Vitally it will offer assurance to those who need it that a building is safe.
I want to turn now to the UK Government’s recent announcement on a Developer Fund.
The Scottish Government has engaged in good faith with UK Government, right from the start, on its approach to the Building Safety Programme.
I have written a number of times with my Welsh counterpart who I have worked closely with on this issue, to UK Government Ministers and only last week met Lord Greenhalgh to raise my concerns about the way the UK Government has fallen short when it comes to basic commitments like collaboration and transparency after saying from the outset they wanted a four nation approach.
Instead, we have had little information and sudden announcements – with those announcements increasingly focusing on fixing problems in England only.
It remains the case that the UK Government’s approach to tackling key issues in England only, benefits from powers only available at UK level – such as corporation tax which has been used to tax UK-wide residential property developers.
However, we are continuing to explore whether any elements of the UK Developer fund might still be applicable on a four nations level – for example – extending the scope of any legal agreement entered into between the Department for Levelling Up and the big Scottish developers of Scotland’s buildings.
The terrible tragedy of Grenfell Tower exposed the risk that many tall buildings were clad in materials that made the consequences of fire much worse and the cost of remediation huge.
Presiding Officer, let me therefore move to the issue of funding. We received £97.1 million in consequentials in 2021-22 and this government is committed to ensuring every penny of this and any additional funding received for this programme will be invested in assessing buildings and making unsafe buildings safe.
However, further changes in UK Government policy mean we cannot be 100% sure what further funding might be received in future. The UK Government face the same issues as we do in assessment and remediation, yet the scale of cladding issues in England is not matched by the funding identified or committed from the UK Government. This of course creates an issue for Scotland because we only get Barnett consequentials when the UK Government actually spend money. So by short-changing England itself, the UK Government is therefore also short changing the devolved governments.
We have estimated that we may get associated funding of around £300 million as a share of already committed UK spending on cladding – set out in the HM Treasury Spending Review published last year. And I will reiterate that our intention is to spend any associated funding we receive on assessment, safety and remediation so we are adequately ensuring the safety of residents and supporting homeowners over the lifetime of this programme.
However, given the complexity and scale of this issue those resources may not be enough. Which is why that will not stop us from doing what is right and necessary. We will make our resources go further by working collaboratively with housing developers, the finance industry and homeowners – to fix the issue properly and fully from the outset.
I now wish to turn to our engagement with the house building sector.
It has become clear that even with the possible joint approach with UK Government on the legal contract behind the ‘pledges’ – this would practically only impact on around 12 developers operating in Scotland. A fraction of the total, most of whom are small and medium sized.
I am therefore pleased to inform Parliament today that Homes for Scotland, the house building members body, has agreed to work with the Scottish Government to develop a Scottish Safer Buildings Accord with their members and the broader sector. Together we will identify fair and workable solutions for all.
I see no reason why a developer would not commit to doing in Scotland exactly the same as it has agreed to do in England as part of the UK Government’s ‘pledge’. Developers must play their part in making unsafe buildings safe wherever they are.
I have met a number of developers in the last few days with more meetings to come as we reach out widely to build our Accord with those affected by unsafe cladding. I am pleased to say many major developers want to do what’s right and discussions have been cooperative and collaborative. We will be working together on the fine detail of the Accord in the coming weeks and will be involving homeowners in this work.
It is my clear expectation that developers linked to buildings with problematic cladding will fund remediation where this is identified. That will ensure that when public funds are needed to be spent, we can use them to focus on buildings and works where a developer cannot be identified or no parent developer exists.
The creation of our Accord with the housebuilding sector and homeowners will form the basis of a way to address each building’s needs. However I want to also make clear that if required, I will make full use of the powers available to us to bring parties to the table, including if necessary, using legislation to do so.
Presiding Officer, I hope this update has been helpful to members and to those affected by this issue. I look forward to continuing to update Parliament as we make further progress with this important programme of work.
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