Swinney Outlines Budget Plan

Finance Secretary John Swinney has outlined his budget plan for 2015-16, with a pledge to make Scotland a more prosperous country and tackle inequality.

Homeowners in Scotland will pay no tax on the first £135,000 they spend on their property, the Finance Secretary has announced.

John Swinney has raised the tax threshold on the replacement for Stamp Duty from £125,000, bringing in what he described as a "more progressive and fairer'' system.

He said 90% of homebuyers would be better or no worse off, although those purchasing a property for more than £325,000 will pay more under the new tax than they would have done in Stamp Duty.

The tax rates for the new Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT) were revealed in the 2015/16 draft Budget unveiled at Holyrood today.

The spending plans also include a boost to the NHS budget, and money for affordable homes, further education, apprenticeships and childcare.

The rates for LBTT and the new Scottish Landfill Tax mark the first time the Scottish Parliament has levied taxation since the Union in 1707, made possible after new powers were devolved to Holyrood.

The threshold for paying LBTT will be increased from £125,000 to £135,000, with a rate of 2% on the proportion of the transaction between £135,000 and £250,000.

A further 10% rate will be applied to the proportion of the transaction above £250,000 and up to £1 million, while 12% will be applied to the proportion above £1 million.

For example, LBTT on a house bought for £275,000 is charged at 0% for the first £135,000, 2% for the next £115,000 and 10% for the remaining £25,000, therefore £4,800 must be paid in tax.

Some 5,000 more transactions will be taken out of tax "supporting first-time buyers and those buying properties in the affordable market'', while tax will be reduced for a further 44,000 house sales up to the value of £325,000, the Finance Secretary said.

"Average house prices in Scotland in general were at a level that was under the level at which people would pay more tax under LBTT, and that level is £325,000,'' he said.

"What we are setting out is a progressive approach to LBTT which is definitely not what Stamp Duty is.''

Mr Swinney said he had made "cautious'' estimates of property sales, and did not expect the number of transactions to vary from the current figure which stands at around 100,000 sales annually.

Elsewhere, the Finance Secretary announced an increase in the NHS budget beyond what had previously been planned for 2015-16.

"In addition to allocating over £400 million in Non-Profit Distribution funding for capital projects, I have decided to increase the health budget from this year to next, not by £202 million but, in total, by £288 million, an additional £86 million - bringing the health budget to over £12 billion for the first time ever,'' he told MSPs.

He also announced £16.6 million of investment to expand apprenticeships and other measures to help young people into work, and £300 million over two years to extend childcare to 600 hours for all three and four-year-olds and vulnerable two-year-olds.

The Government will also maintain its plan to increase funding for further education to £526 million.

Meanwhile, £390 million will be spent in 2015/16 to provide 6,000 new affordable homes, with an extra £125 million to further support the housing sector.

On infrastructure projects, which covers major investment in areas such as roads, schools and hospitals, Mr Swinney said the Government would secure £4.5 billion of infrastructure investment, including through the use of new borrowing powers now available to Holyrood.

In setting rates for the newly devolved landfill tax, Mr Swinney said he was seeking to avoid "any potential for waste tourism'' through material differences between the tax rates north and south of the border.

He concluded: "This Budget embraces new tax responsibilities for the Scottish Parliament, and within our current powers deals with the challenges created by austerity from the UK. It harnesses the positive engagement we saw in the referendum and provides a response anchored in the approach this Government has pursued since 2007.''

Labour MSP Iain Gray welcomed the move to make the replacement stamp duty tax more related to property costs, but he attacked Mr Swinney on the NHS.

"During the referendum campaign it emerged that the Cabinet Secretary's successive budgets... have failed to protect the NHS,'' he said.

"Health spending here has not kept up with increases, even compared to the Tory-run English NHS. Our NHS has had some £700 million less than it should have had, had he kept his promises.

"Use of the private sector in our health service has spiralled. Plans are being made for around #450 million of cuts to accommodate the resulting financial pressure.''

Conservative finance spokesman Gavin Brown also pressed Mr Swinney on whether the £288 million announced for the health service met the SNP manifesto commitment to protect the NHS budget in Scotland.

Mr Brown also attacked the 10% tax rate set on properties above £250,000 under the land and buildings transaction tax.

He said: "How can the Cabinet Secretary justify an eye-watering 10% tax on houses over the value of £250,000?

"There are pockets of this country such as Edinburgh where family homes for hard-working families are considerably in excess of that.

"We all understand that it increases as houses go up but a 10% I think is difficult to justify.''

Mr Brown said the non-residential rates announced by Mr Swinney would make investing in Scotland less competitive than other parts of the UK, and called on the Finance Secretary to confirm that enterprise agencies were to receive less than promised a year ago.

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "I do welcome the progressive nature of the taxes that he set today based on the ability to pay. That is something that we can agree with.''

Mr Rennie said his party would seek to make an impact on the Budget in the areas of childcare, colleges, mental health and transport in the north-east and Highlands and Islands.

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