First minister plans £30m Help to Buy stimulus and major land reform

Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon

First minister Nicola Sturgeon has unveiled plans for a major crackdown on Scotland’s leading ­landowners and £30 million of funding for the Help to Buy (Scotland) shared equity scheme as she set out her first programme for government.

Presenting the ‘Programme for Government’ to the Scottish Parliament yesterday, Ms Sturgeon said a range of plans to be introduced over the next year will help to create a “new, fairer and more prosperous society”.

The policy and legislative priorities include a radical package of land reform, including the removal of tax breaks for shooting estates through the Land Reform Bill which will help expand the Land Fund to £10m a year.

New laws will be introduced giving the Scottish Government new powers to “intervene” where the scale of land ownership or the conduct of a landlord is acting as “a barrier to sustainable ­development”.

A land reform commission will be established, with measures to improve the “transparency and accountability” of land ownership and make information on its value and ownership more readily available.

A total of £30m will be funded to boost Help to Buy aimed specifically at small to medium sized house builders.

Trade body Homes for Scotland said by focusing on smaller developments, it hopes the money will address some of the problems facing SME builders who have been particularly affected by constrained development finance.

Philip Hogg, chief executive, said: “Nicola Sturgeon said today that the biggest investment Scotland can make is in its people. We therefore need to build the many thousands of warm, sustainable homes needed to properly house our population and provide the safety and security Scots need to develop their full potential.

“So having called for specific action to assist SME home builders who have a key role to play in achieving this, we welcome the additional £30m of Help to Buy (Scotland) investment announced today. We hope it will provide the confidence and encouragement banks and other lenders need to provide the development funding which will enable SMEs to play their full part in delivering much needed homes, creating jobs and boosting local economies.

“The potential success of this move, however, will depend on the detail so we look forward to an early meeting with officials to fully discuss the criteria.

“We also look forward to a further announcement regarding additional Help to Buy (Scotland) budget to support the wider industry given the impact caused by this year’s budget running out in July.”

Other measures set out yesterday include funding to more than double the number of organisations signed up to the Living Wage Accreditation Scheme and ensure more people are paid a fair wage; an independent commission to report on fairer alternatives to the council tax by Autumn 2015; an additional £10m for a new Empowering Communities Fund to make sure people can be more involved in the decisions that affect their lives; new target to increase the number of people from disadvantaged backgrounds accessing higher education; increased job opportunities by raising the number of Modern Apprenticeships to 30,000 a year by 2020; consultation on the introduction of a new specific offence for cases of domestic abuse and more power for carers over the services that affect them through the Carers Bill.

The first minister said: “These plans aim to build a sense of shared endeavour about how we create a wealthier and more equal society. And it is founded on three key priorities – participation, prosperity and fairness.

“I intend that we will be the most open and accessible government that Scotland has had – and these policies are the first step.”

She added: “Of course, the biggest investment we can make in Scotland’s future is in our people.

“It is well understood that a strong economy is essential to a fair society. But we need to recognise that the reverse is true too. A fair society also supports a strong economy.”

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