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Date: Mon 25 March 2013

Innovative pensions fund plan for new social housing in Scotland

UNISON today launched a proposal to use Scottish council pension funds to invest in much needed affordable social housing.

Preliminary discussions with housing associations have shown keen interest in the plan which could potentially unlock many millions of pounds for building new homes.

UNISON’s head of bargaining and campaigns Dave Watson will set out the innovative proposal at the Scottish Federation of Housing Association (SFHA) Development and Investment Conference in Crieff today. (Monday)

He said that at a time of tight public finances, with £11 billion of Scottish Local Government Pension Fund (LGPS) assets currently invested overseas, it makes sense to switch investment to socially useful projects like housing.

Dave added: “Scotland is crying out for new social homes. Shelter Scotland estimates we need 10,000 every year but last year only 4,295 were completed.

“The housing crisis is also set to get worse with welfare reform changes, including the bedroom tax, direct payment of housing benefit and other cuts affecting our most vulnerable families.

“The LGPS currently invests a massive 45% of its £24 billion funds in overseas equities.

“We believe that scheme members, many of whom are UNISON members, want to see money invested ethically and to benefit local communities.

“Pension funds invest in arms and tobacco companies. We are sure public sector workers would much prefer their money being used to build new homes. Many of our members find it difficult to access housing in the current property market.”

UNISON Scotland is involved in discussions about developing one or two initial projects to test the idea with one or more local authority pension funds.

Dave said: “Housing associations have always represented a very low risk to lenders. Public finances are under pressure. Commercial borrowing is difficult.

“We believe that this is stable, long term investment with a very low risk of failure. If we have success with initial projects it could potentially lead to many millions of pounds for housing at a time when it is desperately needed.”

ENDS

Notes for editors:

1. UNISON is Scotland’s largest trade union representing 160,000 members working mainly in the public sector in Scotland and represents a range of staff delivering important services in housing.

2. The proposal is online at http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/housing/FundingAndBuildingTheHomesScotland
Needs_Mar2013.pdf


3. The Future Homes Commission argued last year that Britain needs a revolution in the scale, quality and funding of home building, recommending a kick-start from an independent Local Housing Development Fund, financed and owned by local authority pension funds.

4. Richard Murphy, of Tax Research, said: “At a time when conventional pension fund investment policy is simply guaranteed to lose people money in the UK because of inept management, market corruption and excessive charges why aren’t pension funds being invested in things that we really need, like housing, where the payback over a period of, say, 25 years is exactly the sort of return a pension fund needs?" http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2012/11/02/the-time-for-pension-funds-to-invest-directly-in-regeneration-and-housing-has-arrived/

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