Sturgeon opens new era for Scotland salvo aimed at shooting estates.

Scotland’s new first minister has taken aim at big landowners, calling for the power to intervene if they stand in the way of substantial development and revealing plans to impose business rates on shooting estates.

Nicola Sturgeon’s promise of radical land reform highlights the gulf between London and Edinburgh. It also burnishes the left wing credentials of Ms Sturgeon, Alex Salmond’s successor, who yesterday set out a programme focused on social issues such as poverty and childcare. “Scotland’s land must be an asset that benefits the many, not the few, “Ms Sturgeon told the Scottish parliament.

But the reform pledge will fuel complaints about increasing interventionism in Scotland, with many already outraged by the introduction of a more progressive land-transaction tax that will hit owners of expensive properties.

Land ownership has been a politically charged issue in Scotland at least since the 18th century “Clearances” of High-land populations. “The class war is alive and well in the Scottish parliament” said Murdo Fraser, a Conservative MSP.

Ms Sturgeon said that her Scottish National party government planned laws to give minister power “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 would be established and measures introduced to make land ownership more transparent and its owners more accountable, she said. Business-rate exemptions enjoyed by shooting and deerstalking estates would be removed, she added.

Retailers in Business Rates plea

Extra taxes handed to councils as a result of local business growth should be ring-fenced for town centre regeneration or local tax cuts, retailers have demanded.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney resuscitated the business rates incentivisation scheme (Bris) last month, which allows councils to keep a proportion of any extra non-domestic rates income generated by new businesses setting up shop in their areas.

The Scottish Retail Consortium believes this tax money should be reinvested into incentives which directly benefit businesses, rather than simply absorbed into the general council budget.

Data published last month by the SRC found that one in every 11 shop premises in Scotland’s town centres remains unoccupied.

SRC director David Lonsdale said: “The SRC championed a rejuvenated Bris in our recent submission on the devolved Budget and in our subsequent discussions with Scottish ministers, and so it is encouraging that government and councils have listened and acted to reinstate the scheme.

“It should encourage a more business-friendly approach from councils towards local development, particularly over the consenting and approval of new and refurbished business premises.

“However, we want to see the revenues accruing to councils from it transparently re-invested in town centre regeneration, or used to fund the new local discretionary rates relief, rather than simply diverted into councils’ general funds.”

Combined authorities would retain 100% business rates growth under Labour

Combined authorities would be able to retain 100% of business rates growth under a Labour government, according to shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn.

Addressing delegates at the LGA’s annual local government finance conference in London yesterday, Mr Benn reinforced the commitments made by the party in its zero based review.

These included the formation of local public accounts committees and plans to transfer £30bn savings from Whitehall which Mr Benn said would go “to combined authorities in city and county regions”.

Mr Benn said Labour would provide local authorities with “longer-term funding settlements”. He said: “It seems to me unarguable that if you are trying to plan ahead it helps to know what the funding settlement is going to be in the years ahead through multi-year budgets so you can plan ahead in so far as you’re able to do so, push ahead with the reform you’re undertaking and try to shift from the higher cost of doing things towards investment in preventing problems.

“And in the case of combined authorities we will enable them to retain 100% of business rate income growth.”

Mr Benn said it was up to local authorities to decide on the composition of combined authorities.

“I think when local authorities see there is a real and substantial deal on offer on the table for those that do come together to co-operate then we will see a further explosion in the creation of combined authorities around the country,” he said.

Mr Benn said combined authorities would be put in control of “19-plus further education funding”, as well as “co-commissioning of the work programme”.

He said combined authorities would receive “devolved funding on transport infrastructure decisions” under Labour.

Posted on: 12/01/2015