SCOTTISH Labour's deputy leader Alex Rowley has urged the Scottish Government to empower local authorities to take the lead on housebuilding.

Speaking at a business breakfast in Dunfermline, the MSP indicated that he backed the SNP's commitment to ensure 50,000 homes are built for rent over the course of the next parliament.

However, the former Fife Council leader admitted he recognised the challenge the pledge presents and announced a series of steps which he believes would smooth the way.

Before setting out his plan Mr Rowley pointed to statistics which show that Scottish councils received more than 35,000 homelessness applications between April 2014 and March 2015, while 150,000 households were on local authority housing waiting lists on March 31 this year.

Mr Rowley said: "This morning I have written to the housing minster in Scotland setting out a number of steps that need to be taken sooner rather than later to ensure that we move house building forward at a pace that is needed to address the housing shortage whilst at the same time provide training, much needed skills and jobs.

"Nicola Sturgeon confirmed to Parliament last week that her party is committed to building 50,000 houses for rent in the life of the next Parliament. My own party supports this but as I found out in Fife when the council committed to building 2,700 houses over 5 years there are many barriers such as planning, supply of land and a the gap in skills and supply of materials.

"I am therefore asking the government to set up a partnership with local government to drive a national plan for house building into each local authority area; carry out an audit of all land within the public sector in Scotland; and require each local authority area to establish a 'Housing Board' that will work with developers to oversee and deliver new house building in each area, will consult with local communities, and will begin the planning process for establishing mixed housing developments that will deliver both public and private sector housing across Scotland.

"Housing is one area which we can and should address now for the gap between housing need and supply is bad for people and bad for our economy. It drive up prices and inflate rents in the private sector."

In his speech delivered to Fife business leaders this morning, Mr Rowley, who is MSP for Cowdenbeath, said housebuilding brings huge economic benefits.

"15,562 new homes were built in Scotland in 2014 which created £3.2billion gross value added to the economy, supported 63,260 jobs in the industry including 380 apprenticeships, 200 graduates and over 1000 12 to 24-year-olds employed," he told an audience at CR Smith in Dunfermline.

"If we can increase the supply to pre-recession levels of 25,000 homes per year, this would generate a £1.9billion increase in economic output with 38,000 extra jobs, £84million more tax paid nationally and over £50million investment in local infrastructure."

Director of housing charity Shelter Scotland, Graeme Brown, said: “Whatever party is elected next May, Shelter Scotland will continue to work constructively with ministers, politicians and stakeholders to ensure that an affordable house building programme on this scale becomes a reality.

“It is only by delivering a real step change in the supply of affordable housing that we can bring hope to the 150,000 households currently on waiting lists for a home in Scotland and the almost 5,000 children who will wake up homeless across the country tomorrow.”

The Scottish Labour deputy leader also used the address to underline his party's ambition for full employment which he said could only be achieved by halting the decline in manufacturing.

In June 1999, 320,000 people worked in manufacturing,13.1% of the Scottish workforce. The most recent figures, for 2013, show a drop of 124,000 jobs to just 7.3 per cent of the workforce.

The most recent blow to Scottish industry came last month when steel firm Tata confirmed that it is to close its two plants in Lanarkshire with the loss of 270 jobs.

Mr Rowley called on the Scottish Government to come up with an "anti-poverty strategy" which would involve employers, trade unions and the third sector.

He said: "The decline in manufacturing across the UK and particular in Scotland has been, and remains, an economic and social disaster as the latest Steelworks crisis highlights. Its erosion over the last 35 years has blighted Scottish communities and plunged generations of families below the breadline.

"However, it cannot be a case of exclusively blaming Westminster because the Scottish Parliament has had the opportunity to be strategic about supporting the sector over this last sixteen years - and all parties have fallen far short from offering a vision for the future of manufacturing."

He added: "Delivering a manufacturing strategy for Scotland will be essential if we are to truly achieve a balanced and integrated economy. Such a strategy must include looking at how we fairly award contracts and targeted investment in sectors such as construction, transport, general infrastructure, and the energy sector. This must also support companies of all sizes to access capital which is key for both sustainability and growth.

"If we look at European competitors, this is exactly what happens. Governments ensure that companies are supported and that supply chains are vertically integrated and not simply thrown to the mercy of globalisation whereby so many don’t play by the same rules. So, Scotland has an opportunity to act – and it must – or we will simply celebrate the ghosts of our manufacturing past rather than celebrate a new future."

Minister for Housing Margaret Burgess, said: "Our new target to deliver 50,000 affordable homes over the next five years is bold, credible and affordable. This is a 67% increase in completed homes over the next five year period and will require close partnership working with the sector to increase the pace and capacity of delivery.

"We are determined to increase and accelerate housing supply across all tenures and support the industry and local authorities to deliver their housing priorities with quality homes in mixed communities that fit local needs. 

"We will continue to work collaboratively with a wide range of partners across all sectors to promote the construction of new homes, support jobs in the construction industry and inclusive growth in the wider economy."