Page last updated at 20:09 GMT, Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Unoccupied Properties Bill debate

MSPs passed the Local Government Finance (Unoccupied Properties etc.) (Scotland) Bill at decision time, after a heated debate, on 31 October 2012.

Local government minister Derek Mackay said the government can no longer continue to subsidise empty properties across Scotland and believes the move will incentivise business to open up and boost local economies.

The aim of the bill is to cut tax discounts on empty properties from 50 per cent to 10 per cent.

Both Labour and the Conservatives said the move would mean businesses paying more tax and would damage a vital sector at the worst possible time.

Labour MSP Sarah Boyack branded the bill as "deeply flawed".

Ms Boyack said there had been not been proper consultation on the plans and the Scottish government's refusal to put a 'sunset clause' in may mean "deeply damaging" legislation could not be scrapped easily.

She said: "This will remain unfinished business for us, we do not believe the Minister's figures, we don't believe his proposals and we don't believe this bill will bring empty properties back into use".

From the Conservatives there was also a barrage of criticism.

Margaret Mitchell MSP slammed the plans as: "a bad bill which should never have seen the light of day".

She went on to say that owners were not wilfully leaving their properties empty, in her opinion it was a "lethal combo" of lack of demand and the current economic climate. The Tories believe the the tax hike for those with empty properties could tip businesses over the edge and make them go bust.

Closing the debate, the Minister Derek Mackay hit out at the opposition benches saying empty properties were "a blight" on towns and cities.

Mr MacKay said he was "at a loss to understand" why Labour and the Tories wanted to scrap free prescriptions but were happy to retain reduced council tax for owners of empty properties.

The bill has two other main provisions:

• Enable the Scottish Government to bring forward regulations to allow Scottish local authorities to increase council tax charges on certain long-term empty homes

• Abolish the requirement on the Scottish government to pay Housing Support Grant, currently only paid to the Shetland Islands Council.


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