Standing up for Scotland’s rural communities

Scotland’s communities have distinct needs – but all deserve the same opportunity to thrive.

In government the SNP has taken strong action to support the needs of rural Scotland. If re-elected an SNP Scottish Government will continue to be a champion for all of Scotland’s communities.

Here are just some of the action we will take for Scotland’s rural and remote communities.

Investing in affordable homes

We know building affordable housing in rural areas presents different challenges compared to urban areas. That’s why we are investing £25 million in a Rural Housing Fund, which will provide around 500 new affordable homes in rural areas and fund the refurbishment of existing buildings too.

Cutting ferry and air fares for islands communities

Our ferry services make a big contribution to the social, cultural and economic wellbeing of our islands, and we’re committed to keeping fares affordable. In government we have put in place a freeze for all lifeline ferry fares – covering passengers, cars and commercial vehicles – until 2017.

In the next parliament we will continue the Air Discount Scheme, which means residents of Caithness and north-west Sutherland, Colonsay, Islay, Jura, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles are eligible for a 50 per cent discount on air fares.

Improving transport connections to Scotland’s rural communities

We’re committed to ensuring all parts of Scotland are well connected to the transport network. That’s why we’re making major investments in rural infrastructure. The Borders railway has now been completed and we have started work on the dualling of the A9. We will dual the A96 between Aberdeen and Inverness, and improving rail services between the two cities to bring down journey times too.

Extending superfast broadband to Scotland’s rural communities

In government we’re investing in the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme to extend superfast broadband into areas which are not being reached by the market alone – particularly rural and remote parts of Scotland.

Our £410 million Digital Broadband Scotland programme has already delivered broadband to 85 per cent of premises in Scotland, and is on track to ensure 95 per cent of premises – both homes and businesses – have access to broadband by the end of 2017.

A re-elected SNP Government will use innovative schemes, new technologies and provide financial backing to deliver broadband to 100 per cent of homes and businesses over the next Parliament.

Addressing rural fuel poverty

In government we’ve established the Scottish Rural Fuel Poverty Task Force to come up with a range of specific proposals tailored towards helping people in remote parts of Scotland to reduce their fuel costs and keep their homes warm.

For too long, people in rural areas, have faced extra costs for using off-grid heating and by the time pensioners received their winter fuel payment prices would be at a higher winter rate. We have argued for early payments to be made for households that are supplied off-grid for years. Now the powers are coming to the Scottish Parliament we will act quickly to ensure our pensioners get their payments when they can go the furthest.

We will also help those families with disabled children who often face higher heating costs by extending winter fuel payments to include families with severely disabled children.

Pushing for fair delivery charges

It’s not fair that rural households and businesses continue to be charged an excessive amount when ordering the same items as people in other areas of Scotland and the UK. It’s clear that the current UK legislation to protect online consumers isn’t working. That’s why Drew Hendry MP has introduced the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling Delivery Charges) Bill to the House of Commons. If passed by Parliament, the Bill would require distance sellers to provide purchasers with the lowest available delivery cost option.

Increasing community ownership

In the last parliament we passed a radical and ambitious Land Reform Act to transform rules around the ownership, accessibility and benefits of land in Scotland. One of the first actions of a re-elected SNP Scottish Government will be to consult on the key provisions of a Register of Controlling Interests – to expose who owns Scotland.

We will continue to take action to ensure that one million acres of land are in community ownership by 2020. We are trebling the size of the Scottish Land Fund to £10 million this year. The Fund supports community buyouts, and has already helped 52 communities across Scotland purchase land in the last three years. Over 500,000 acres are already in community ownership – benefitting 71,000 people.