Fresh initiatives on new housing, existing homes and property taxes were on the agenda when the Builders Merchants Federation (BMF) was in Aberdeen last week.

The BMF met the Scottish National Party at its Annual Conference to hear first-hand from government ministers and party officials about their ideas and policies - and to explain the role, value and importance of merchants and the Federation itself to the Scottish economy.

Graham Bolton, BMF Scottish regional manager, and Brett Amphlett, BMF policy manager, met representatives from the Scottish, United Kingdom and European Parliaments. Mr Bolton outlined the BMF’s regional activity and explained how membership is steadily growing. He was able to update the SNP having canvassed BMF members prior to going to Aberdeen.

The pivotal meeting was with Dr Aileen McLeod MSP, Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, to discuss improving the thermal and energy performance of existing buildings. The BMF heard direct from the Minister how she wants more homes treated under Scotland’s Energy Efficiency Programme to make them warmer. Her government has designated work to boost the energy-efficiency rating of residential and commercial buildings in Scotland as a National Infrastructure Priority. This is distinctly different to the situation in England.

In common with other political parties, building more affordable and warm homes is a core SNP policy. The Conference began with the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, pledging that if her party is re-elected, her government will oversee the building of 50,000 new affordable homes, costing £3bn, over the next five years. Ministers say they are on track to exceed their current five-year target of 30,000 affordable homes by March 2016.

In his platform speech, Finance Minister John Swinney MSP made a surprise move on reform of business rates. Using new legal powers available to his government, he announced that Scottish local authorities will be allowed to reduce business rates from the end of this month. Mr Swinney stopped to talk to the BMF afterwards to explain that from 31 October 2015, councils can set their own business rate, in addition to keeping the money they raise from rates to promote local growth.

Mr Amphlett told Mr Swinney that many merchants are currently disadvantaged by business rating because they tend to be small firms with a large trading footprint. By the very nature of the trade, merchants need a lot of space to stock a wide range of materials in their yards. BMF members tend not to qualify for rate relief because they occupy large premises with a rateable value well above the applicable thresholds.

Summing up, Mr Bolton said: “I was glad to have the chance to outline the role, value and importance of merchants to the Scottish economy. We went to brief the SNP about our supply chain and the role of BMF members in helping to build and improve homes and workplaces.

“I can share the insight we gained about what BMF members might expect from the SNP before and after next May’s Scottish Parliament election at our BMF Regional Meeting on 10 November.”

Mr Amphlett talked to MPs and MSPs who represent constituencies in Aberdeen, Angus, Caithness, Clydesdale, Dundee, Perth and the Borders. Among other topics covered were:

  • Rural mobile phone and broadband reception
  • Devolving VAT from London to Scotland to allow reduced rates to be set for Scottish islands
  • Retirement and assisted living properties. This is because official forecasts say that by 2037, the number of people aged over 70 will increase by 50% and those aged 75 plus by almost 80%.

Picture caption: Brett Amphlett (BMF policy manager), First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP, and Graham Bolton (BMF regional manager).