Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has outlined plans to invest £7bn in major building projects and create a non-domestic business rates bill as part of the Scottish government’s Programme for Scotland 2018/19.

Nicola Sturgeon

Source: Flickr/Scottish government/Creative Commons

The proposals would see the government invest £7bn over the next seven years into rebuilding schools and hospital as well investing in housebuilding through a combination of borrowing and private sector collaboration.

Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament that “this level of investment in our vital economic and social infrastructure will protect and create jobs in the short term, and support growth and productivity in the long term”.

The Scottish First Minister went on to outline plans to increase investment in affordable housing from £590m to more than £750m and “ensure that more than 50,000 affordable homes are delivered, including at least 35,000 for social rent, over this parliament”.

Opposition politicians described this year’s programme for government as “light on substance” but the focus on the Building Scotland Fund and the National Investment Bank gained support from the Scottish Property Federation.

David Melhuish, director of the SPF, said: “We welcome both these measures as a positive step to help Scotland’s real estate sector – an important driver of the Scottish economy and to allow our sector to continue to attract the investment to deliver places, employment and housing.”

Backing Barclay Review

Alongside investment in housing, Sturgeon announced was a non-domestic rates bill to implement the remaining recommendations from the Barclay Review on business rates, including a move to a three year valuation cycle. That will be one of 12 new bills introduced in the coming year according to the SNP leader.

On the non-domestic rates bill, Melhuish added “Since the completion of the Barclay Review we have strongly welcomed positive rates reform for economic development. The Bill offers Holyrood a chance to support these measures but also to make the rates system more relevant and responsive to our changing economy.”

However, the Scottish Retail Consortium argued that the reform of business rates did not go far enough.

SRC director David Lonsdale said: “The SRC has campaigned for a more flexible rates system that better reflects trading conditions, and the move to three-yearly rates revaluations is a significant and positive step forward. While the thrust of the legislative reforms on rates is encouraging, the proposed new extra tax on out of town and online ratepayers unfortunately heads firmly in the wrong direction.

“All industrial and commercial organisations – as well as many public bodies – with premises on the outskirts of our town and city centres look set to be in the cross hairs of this new tax, as does any type of business which operates predominantly online. Many will no doubt shudder at the prospect of forking out yet more in business rates, especially without any guarantee whatsoever over whether this new tax will be capped or even how the tax receipts will be used.”