IT is a “no brainer” that Scotland could build more affordable homes if it had more borrowing powers with independence, the Housing Minister has said.

Paul McLennan told The National's Holyrood Weekly podcast that due to a lack of financial levers, the Scottish Government is limited in how far it can go in building homes.

It comes after figures showed that more affordable housing has been built in Scotland per head of population than in England and Wales.

However, it also emerged this year that Scotland’s homelessness figures saw a large increase, with a record number of children living in temporary accommodation.

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McLennan said the figures were “concerning” amid a perfect storm of the cost of living crisis and the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking on our podcast, McLennan said the £3.5 billion made available towards affordable housing this parliamentary term was the limit amid a tight budget.

He added that “without a doubt” independence would allow Scotland to go further in achieving its affordable housing goals.

“Now if we were an independent country, we would have additional borrowing powers,” McLennan said.

The National: MSP Paul McLennan

“And when you look at the fundamentals round about borrowing for house building, it's a complete no brainer.

“Because if we had more money, we could build more houses.”

McLennan insisted there was “capacity” in Scotland to build more homes, adding: “But the key thing I think, for me, is if we had that additional borrowing power, the business case for building more houses is incredibly strong.

“And we could go out and build more houses in terms of that but we're restricted because the £3.5bn that we have can't go any higher, and that's frustrating.

“And yet we're successful in terms of what we're building in comparison with England and Wales.

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“If we were an independent country, we could be borrowing more money, building more houses, more construction jobs, saving money in homelessness costs, and making Scotland a healthier – a much healthier – place to live.”

Figures released earlier this month showed that since 2007, Scotland has seen more than 40% more affordable homes built per head of population than England, and 70% more than in Wales.

Almost 11,000 homes were delivered in the year to the end of June, according to quarterly data from the Scottish Government. This is the highest annual figure since 2000.

McLennan added that there were other issues, such as Discretionary Housing Payments, the housing benefit provided by the UK Government to support people to pay their rent or housing costs.

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He also pointed to the Local Housing Allowance, rates used to calculate housing benefits for tenants renting for private landlords, and the low rate it is currently set at.

“One of the key things that we kind of touched on with local government is Discretionary Housing Payments. We are spending millions of pounds on that every single year,” the Housing Minister said.

“The Local Housing Allowance which the UK Government controls has been frozen for three years.

“We wrote to the UK Government two or three months ago, we're still to get a reply.

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“I raised it with my UK Government equivalent ... still to get that reply.

“We get that from local authorities all across Scotland about the local housing allowance. So that would make a massive difference in terms of that. And as I said the money we're spending on Discretionary Housing Payments, we could be spending that on homes or building more homes. It just defeats the purpose.

“And it comes back to the point about additional borrowing powers – if we had that, we could be building more houses, saving more money and more importantly, giving people a roof over their head.”

The National’s Holyrood Weekly podcast is available to listen to on our website here, on Spotify and the Omny streaming platform.