New policies from the Scottish government and changes at the top of the party took the Builders Merchants Federation (BMF) to the Scottish National Party Conference in Glasgow last week.
Graham Bolton, BMF Scottish regional manager, and Brett Amphlett, BMF policy manager, met elected members of the Scottish, United Kingdom and European Parliaments - and spoke to SNP government ministers about their ideas and policies.
The Minister for Employment, Jamie Hepburn MSP, thanked the BMF for contributing to policy on the funding, eligibility and administration of Scottish apprenticeships that are due to change next April. While his government is not responsible for the Apprenticeships’ Levy, Mr Hepburn said he saw no need for a fundamental shift in the way apprenticeships are currently delivered in Scotland.
Brett Amphlett explained why the BMF is lobbying for members to be free to spend Levy payments to train apprentices that are not their own staff in firms up or down the supply chain. Cross-border rules were raised with the Minister on behalf of members who trade across the England-Scotland border. Mr Hepburn noted the concern and asked the BMF to wait for an announcement shortly.
The Minister for Housing, Kevin Stewart MSP, re-iterated the government’s pledge to build 50,000 new affordable homes in this parliamentary term - including 35,000 homes for social rent. On a smaller scale, Mr Stewart outlined trials for self- and custom-build in the Highlands to help people who want to stay in their community. The Minister told the BMF that in August, he increased the cap on the available loan funding to £175,000 per home.
Mr Stewart MSP said: “The Scottish government has set ambitious housing targets which will see the delivery of 50,000 affordable homes during this parliamentary term. We have also designated energy efficiency as a National Infrastructure Priority. The cornerstone of this will be Scotland's Energy Efficiency Programme, which will provide an offer of support to buildings across Scotland, domestic and non-domestic, to improve their energy-efficiency rating over a 15-20 year period."
Mr Stewart gave details of a new equity loan pilot scheme for energy-efficient improvements and associated essential repairs being conducted with Glasgow, Argyll & Bute, and Perth & Kinross councils that relates to merchants. To qualify, the work carried out must include having certain energy-efficient improvements done - but funding for external housing repairs is also available.
Mr Bolton, BMF regional manager, said: “Coming to the Conference was about two objectives. First and foremost, I wanted to explain to SNP representatives who and what BMF members are and their role, value and importance to Scotland’s economy. My aim was to update them on the BMF’s regional activity and to explain how membership is steadily growing.
“Secondly, Brett and I wanted to discuss some of the issues merchants face with ministers. I am grateful to Jamie Hepburn and Kevin Stewart for taking time to talk to us today. We have a better understanding of their thinking and the insight gained will be shared with merchants.”
The BMF also talked to Angus Robertson, MP for Moray, who a few hours’ earlier had been elected Deputy Party Leader. Mr Robertson has met the BMF before, in London, where he leads the SNP group of 54 MPs in the House of Commons.
Mr Amphlett also talked to elected members who represent constituencies in Aberdeenshire, Ayrshire, West Lothian and Glasgow. Among other topics covered were:
2016 is the fourth consecutive year that the BMF has attended the SNP’s annual gathering to explain the role of merchants and the Federation itself in the building materials’ supply chain. The event at the Glasgow’s SECC was the first since the Scottish Parliament election earlier this year.