Ministers and officials regularly meet representatives of all Scottish local authorities, including Dumfries and Galloway Council, to discuss a range of issues as part of our commitment to working in partnership with local government to improve outcomes for the people of Scotland. On 13 September, the Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work met the South of Scotland alliance, including the leader of Dumfries and Galloway Council, to discuss the establishment of the South of Scotland enterprise agency.
It was announced this month that a number of regeneration projects are looking to receive financial support from Dumfries and Galloway Council’s town centre living fund. What support is the Government providing to encourage people to move back into town centres in Dumfries and Galloway in order to reverse decline and boost much-needed economic development?
The Government is very supportive of the town centre first principle, which is a matter for local authorities to bring forward. I expect local authorities to look at their local planning to ensure that the town centre first principle applies.
Mr Carson is probably aware that I was recently in Dumfries to discuss the town centre with citizens and stakeholders. I was pleased to hear of that citizen-led approach, which has led
Dumfries and Galloway Council to create that fund and invest in town centres. I encourage the council to continue to do so; the Government will continue to support it through the town centre first principle.
I commend the Dumfries town centre initiative—it is indeed citizen led, as the minister has said—and I thank the minister for the great interest that he has shown in it. Does he agree that a big barrier to developing town centres for housing and other purposes is the VAT that is levied on the restoration of buildings, compared with the zero-VAT status of new out-of-town developments?
I am sure that Ms McAlpine and other members will have heard me in the chamber on a number of occasions calling on the United Kingdom Government to get rid of VAT on repairing houses. That would go a long way towards bringing lots of buildings back into use. It seems a bit of an anomaly that there is no VAT on new build but there is VAT on repairs to existing properties. I hope that at some point the UK Government will listen to what we have said and eradicate that VAT, so that we can bring more properties back into use in Dumfries and other parts of Scotland.