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Pressure is growing for a major initiative to spur the house building sector.Housing offers the quickest form of construction stimulus to help revive the economy. And support is badly needed. Home completion targets both north and south of the border are being woefully missed.I expect a joint announcement from the Scottish government and Homes for Scotland in the next couple of days. This may go some way to ease some of the huge difficulties now facing the sector which is stuck in a deep downturn and with little improvement in sight.

The announcement had better be substantial, not least because I detect serious unhappiness across the building lobby in Scotland over last week’s Scottish government reshuffle.The replacement of Alex Neil, the previous minister responsible for infrastructure and housing, by Nicola Sturgeon might have been seen in the normal run of things a promotion for those sectors.Unfortunately, the building industry now has to share the minister’s time with responsibility for government strategy and the constitution. And as constitutional matters are set to take centre stage over the next two years, that has left builders worrying about just how much attention the Deputy First Minister will have to spare for housing issues. Not much, they fear.Despite house price surveys pointing to stable conditions, the market is not in good shape at all.

Latest government figures for 2011-12 focused on an increase in housing starts. But completions are still down and the picture as seen by house builders is not as sanguine as the official numbers suggest.Calendar 2011 showed just 15,000 new homes built across Scotland. This is a plunge of more than 40 per cent on pre-downturn levels and the lowest number recorded since the second world war.Homes for Scotland chief executive Philip Hogg lost no time last week reminding Nicola Sturgeon of her announcement in 2007 of the target to build 35,000 new homes each year by the middle of this decade. “I hope that her heavy responsibilities for Government Strategy and the Constitution”, he added, “will not divert her from the important tasks of ensuring more homes are built and more jobs created.”

Her full title is Deputy First Minister (Government strategy and the Constitution) and Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities. And her listed responsibilities span “infrastructure & capital investment, transport, housing, Scottish Water, procurement, European Structural Funds, Scottish Futures Trust, cities strategy, welfare reform; Government strategy & co-ordinating policy delivery across portfolios; Constitution policy, including preparations for the Referendum, UK relations, Freedom of Information.”

That is an astonishing workload by any standards. It recalls the crisis faced by Wendy Alexander ten years ago when other responsibilities were added to her enterprise brief.  When so much is stacked on one person, can each responsibility be discharged well? 

As for house builders, the biggest problem they face is not planning – though the requirement to build extra amenities to secure approval has not helped. It is shortage of mortgage finance.Scottish figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders show that first time buyers in Scotland have to find an average deposit of 20 per cent and home movers an average of 30 per cent. This marks a fourfold rise in the average home mover deposit since 2002.While there can be no going back to the crazy lending practices that preceded the financial crash, the inability of would-be  second-time buyers to  move up the housing ladder is creating much wider problems.Homes for Scotland has called for “bold brave urgent action” to arrest the decline and address Scotland’s housing crisis.There is certainly growing support for house building to be boosted as an immediate stimulus lever.  Conservatives think back to the days of the Harold Macmillan building boom. The Left is urging substantially more spending on “affordable homes”. 

The greatest assistance that could be provided now is some form of guarantee to lenders or borrowers to inject confidence into a market that today is as good as moribund.