An allocation of over £4 billion of funding for infrastructure which includes a £756 million contribution to the Scottish Government’s target of delivering 50,000 affordable homes by 2021 were amongst a range of investment plans set out in the 2018-19 Draft Budget by finance secretary Derek Mackay.
The infrastructure investment, which is in line with the Programme for Government commitment to invest £20bn over the life of this parliament, also includes beginning the procurement of Scotland’s £600m universal superfast broadband programme to be delivered over the next four years; investing £60m in Low Carbon Innovation Fund to deliver innovative low carbon energy infrastructure solutions including for electric vehicles and investing £1.2bn in transport infrastructure, including key road projects and further electrification of the rail network.
Publishing the Draft Budget to parliament yesterday, Mr Mackay set out a programme that will also:
- Deliver the first £70m of a new £150m Building Scotland Fund to unlock new house building, develop new low carbon commercial property and support research and development
- Set aside £340m for initial capitalisation of the Scottish National Investment Bank
- Drive regional economic growth by more than doubling investment in city region deals.
- Deliver £18m as part of a £65m package of investment for the National Manufacturing Institute to make Scotland a global leader in advanced manufacturing
Responding to the announcement, David Melhuish, director of the Scottish Property Federation, said: “We welcome the creation of the Building Scotland Fund to support innovation in both housing and commercial property development as well as the capitalisation of the Scottish National Investment Bank. Access to finance remains challenging in a severely risk-averse environment for developers looking to innovate with real estate projects and with the economy set for subdued growth in the next few years, the real estate sector can act as a positive driver of growth that will support jobs and investment in places to work, live and relax.
“The decision to use CPI as the measure of inflation rather than RPI is welcome but we believe that Scottish Ministers should not become tied to increasing business rates by this measure annually as was once the case with the RPI measure. The economy is growing but only just and we feel that the freedom to increase rates by less than CPI should be considered in future budgets if the economy continues to struggle.
“New commercial development, or redevelopment has the potential to increase and to boost the economy and enhance the tax base. The confirmation of the support for new build is welcome though we remain concerned that the potential restriction of listed building rate relief will deter the regeneration of listed buildings for business purposes. This could have significant implications for struggling town centres and clear guidance to local authorities on restricting rate relief will be important.”
The country’s home builders said the Budget recognises economic importance of housing investment.
Chief executive of industry body Homes for Scotland, Nicola Barclay, said: “With home building in Scotland supporting over 60,000 jobs and contributing billions each year to the economy, we are pleased to see the Scottish Government confirming its ambition for the housing of all types our country needs.
“As well as a significant funding increase for affordable housing, the additional funding for skills bodies, colleges and universities that will help to plug the skills gap, is also welcome.
“The Land and Buildings Transaction Tax relief for First Time Buyers up to the first £175,000 of the purchase price could be a valuable boost for those aspiring to get on the property ladder, representing additional money towards their deposit or moving costs. However, given that this is not due to become effective until 2018/19, we are concerned that any delay may have a potential impact on purchasing decisions in the short term.
“Of particular note, however, is the establishment of the new £150m Building Scotland Fund which will have a prominent housing and infrastructure focus to support interventions that will further accelerate and scale up housing delivery. With the funding and delivery of infrastructure a major housing blocker, we keenly await further details in the new year.”
The Scottish Budget also followed Chancellor Phillip Hammond’s lead with a tax break for first-time buyers.
Under the plans, first-time buyers will be given a helping hand with a new land and business transaction tax (LBTT) relief for properties worth up to £175,000. As many as 80% of first-time buyers will now be exempt from paying any of the tax when buying a new home.
The move comes after Chancellor Philip Hammond exempted first time buyers from stamp duty – the equivalent tax in England – for homes up to the value of £300,000. Scottish ministers say lower house prices in Scotland means £175,000 is a roughly comparable figure north of the Border. Mr Mackay said the move will “make home ownership a reality for more of our young people.”
But the move does not go far enough according industry body the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors in Scotland (RICS Scotland).
Hew Edgar, RICS policy manager for Scotland, said: “Whilst this change has the potential to stimulate activity in the short term, it comes at a time when the market is subdued, and does not tackle the overarching problem of housing shortage supply across all tenures. This government must realise that prioritising demand side measures is not conducive to market fluidity and will do little to solve the chronic shortage of suitable accommodation across Scotland’s housing options.”
He added: “Once again, we call on Scottish Government to review the current LBTT as a priority going forward as this current framework is not only limiting market activity, but could ultimately bring the market to a standstill. That said, we hope that the ‘Building Scotland’ fund will provide the required support for alternative models of housing delivery.
“On a more positive note, the £600m investment in providing superfast broadband – ensuring the last 5% of Scotland’s ‘non-spot’ dwellings – will be connected to the fourth utility by 2021, will be greatly received.
“As part of £4bn investment in this budget – £1.2bn of which will be directed towards transport – tackling the infrastructure deficit is always welcome. But Mackay held back and gave little away as to where the funding will be directed. He also missed an opportunity to attract and retain top talent to Scotland by not building on Scotland’s infrastructure success of the Queensferry Crossing, with no addition of noteworthy projects to the infrastructure pipeline.”
Innes Smith, chief executive at Springfield Properties, said the announcement was “a positive step forward” for the housebuilding industry in Scotland and for people who need homes.
He added: “With its progressive outlook, the Scottish Government remains determined to improve the housing situation across Scotland. A greater proportion of first-time buyers will be exempt from paying LBTT, making buying a first home more attainable. We are pleased to see the ongoing commitment to funding affordable housing and the large investments in infrastructure and superfast broadband which support the development of new housing.
“We are confident today’s news on LBTT, the Scottish Government’s £756m commitment to affordable housing and funding for further action on homelessness represents real action for those in need.”
Claire Mack, chief executive of Scottish Renewables, said: “The Scottish Government’s continued commitment to renewable energy is of course to be welcomed, particularly as its final Energy Strategy will be published within days.
“It is encouraging that the Government recognises renewable energy as a key driver of Scotland’s economy.
“Of note are the funds allocated to support both low-carbon innovation and the decarbonisation of the heat sector – a task which is of critical importance if we are to tackle climate change.
“We also welcome the reaffirmation of the Government’s intention to follow the suggestions contained in the Barclay Review of business rates and to link increases to the Consumer Prices Index, both of which will benefit new and existing green energy generators. We are pleased that Scottish Renewables’ recommendations on these points have been heeded.
“We will continue to work to understand the full implications of the detail contained in the Budget document for our members and look forward to working with the Scottish Government as the measures outlined in the Budget and upcoming Energy Strategy are implemented.”