Page last updated at 17:04 GMT, Saturday, 19 April 2008 18:04 UK

£25m to kick-start house building

Nicola Sturgeon
Ms Sturgeon told delegates homelessness needed urgent action

Scots local authorities will be given a £25m package to build new council houses over the next three years.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made the announcement as she addressed the SNP spring conference.

She said, with homelessness on the rise, housing was one of the biggest challenges facing Scotland.

As her party prepared to enter a second year of power at Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon said the government had so far built a solid record of achievement.

Ms Sturgeon also said ministers were working on a pilot programme of free health screening for amateur athletes, following the death of Motherwell captain Phil O'Donnell from heart failure during a match in December.

She told a packed conference hall in Edinburgh that the Scottish Government's goal to build 35,000 new houses every year by 2015 would need "all hands on deck" to be met.

An SNP government has not led to the end of the world as we know it
Nicola Sturgeon
Deputy first minister of Scotland

And she claimed the previous Labour/Liberal Democrat government had presided over the building of just six council houses in four years.

The deputy SNP leader said councils had a big role to play in house building, along with housing associations and private developers.

"As we move now into our second year of government, it is vital that we take on the big challenges facing our country," she told delegates, some of whom had to stand in the aisles of the Herriot Watt University auditorium.

"There's no doubt that one of the biggest of these challenges is housing. In the last 10 years, homelessness in Scotland has been on the rise."

Ms Sturgeon said the £25m injection would kick-start a new generation of council homes, while confirming the government's commitment to ending right to buy for newly built social housing.

READ Ms STURGEON'S SPEECH

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There have been repeated calls, since Mr O'Donnell's death, to introduce heart screening for young athletes, although opinion about the effectiveness of such a move has been mixed.

Ms Sturgeon, also Scotland's health secretary, said there was a need to look at the evidence - but pointed out amateur sports people had no access to screening tests, as their professional counterparts did.

"Sudden cardiac death is rare - very rare," she said, "but it does claim too many fit, active young lives.

The Scottish Government has now agreed to invest in Hampden Stadium's sports medicine centre to provide free screening to non-professional sports people over the age of 16.

Phil O'Donnell
Sports screening moves follow the death of Phil O'Donnell

Turning to her opponents, Ms Sturgeon said the SNP had to "earn and re-earn" the Scottish peoples' trust, but added: "We have replaced the timidity of the Labour-led coalition with a can-do spirit that says our size as a country is no barrier to our success.

"We fight Scotland's corner. We have - and let me tell you we will continue - to stand up to the Westminster bullies."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's axing of the 10p tax rate, Ms Sturgeon said, had left more than half a million Scots households worse off, declaring: "Delegates, that's not socialist. That is scandalous."

She went on: "Our first year in government has been one of solid achievement - delivering on health and education, stepping up the fight against crime, freezing council tax and helping our small businesses grow.

"Over the past year, the people of Scotland have discovered that an SNP government has not led to the end of the world as we know it. The sky did not fall in. The four horsemen of the apocalypse are not stalking the land."


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