Discovering Property Policy: An Examination of Scottish Executive Policy and the Property Sector

Property is rarely the focus of explicit government policy, at least not in any holistic sense. This research sought to discover what perceptions the Scottish Executive held of the property sector and what implicit policies it pursued towards property between 1999 and 2007.

This revealed the prominence of developers as a policy focus, with the development industry portrayed as a potentially lucrative source of funding for investment that in previous decades might have been met by the public purse. Although the Executive had a general desire to promote investor confidence, it gave little attention to property funding and investment issues. The apparent policy interest in landlord-tenant relations turned out to be wholly devoted to the residential sector. Landowners were seen as an important actor in the development process, although property management received only passing mention. Virtually no mention was made of the word ‘market’ in relation to property, other than when connected to the word ‘housing’. The thrust of the Executive’s pronouncements on land value involved looking for ever more ways in which the State might capture a greater share of that value, principally for affordable housing.

Overall, the Executive’s view of the property sector was implicitly grounded in neo-classical and welfare economics. It saw the State’s main task as influencing the overall quantity of market supply and demand and overcoming market failures. The study period coincided with a rising market in which the concept of market failure was confined to a limited number of locations. This period of prosperity may have disguised more substantial market weakness in Scotland. As a result, there was much less recognition of insights from new institutional economics or the political economy of institutionalism in the sense of attempts to reduce market transactions costs or transform market cultures.