‘Real anger’ at Scottish Government decision to freeze council tax – Cosla

The announcement attracted the ire of Cosla leaders who are due to meet the Deputy First Minister on Wednesday.

Craig Paton
Wednesday 18 October 2023 17:02 BST
Humza Yousaf announced the move on Tuesday (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Humza Yousaf announced the move on Tuesday (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Wire)

There is “real anger” about the announcement of a council tax freeze by the First Minister and no agreement has been reached with local authorities, Cosla has said.

In a statement, Shona Morrison, president of the Scottish local authorities’ association, and its vice-president, Steven Heddle, have called for an urgent meeting with Humza Yousaf.

Ms Morrison – an SNP councillor – and Mr Heddle will meet with Deputy First Minister Shona Robison on Wednesday.

Mr Yousaf announced the move to the SNP conference, scrapping plans released in a consultation that could have increased council tax by between 7.5% and 22.5% for the highest valued properties.

But Cosla said they had not been consulted on the policy – which was the key announcement from Mr Yousaf’s first conference speech as leader – and that such a decision should be left to councils.

The Cosla statement read: “The announcement of a council tax freeze as we said yesterday was made completely without reference to local government and there is no agreement to freeze council tax next year, the decision to freeze council tax is one which can only be made by councils.

“Our cross-party group leaders held an emergency meeting first thing this morning on the back of the announcement and there is real anger at the way this has been handled and what it puts at risk.

“On the back of this, our political group leaders also asked us to seek an urgent meeting with the First Minister.”

The announcement breaches the Verity House Agreement – a deal between councils and central government earlier this year to “reset” the relationship their relationship – Cosla said.

The deal pledged to create a fiscal framework for councils – which was due to be in place by last month – that would ensure there were “no surprises” in budgetary announcements.

“We deplore the way the announcement was made and its substance, both of which fly in the face of the Verity House Agreement which we all recently signed,” the statement added.

“It has been shown that previous council tax freezes have been regressive, having no impact for the poorest in society and eroding the council tax base, compounding councils’ ongoing underfunding.

“We will explore the implications arising and what the Scottish Government might propose when we meet with the Deputy First Minister later today – but we are clear that local taxation and particularly council tax should be left for democratically elected councils to determine.”

The statement comes after STUC deputy general secretary, Dave Moxham, said the announcement was “electioneering at its worst”.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Wednesday morning, the First Minister said: “We will make sure councils are funded by the Government for that council tax freeze,” he said.

“Let’s be frank with each other, we’re living in a cost of living crisis.

“I, in my constituency surgeries, see people who are on above average salaries come to my constituency offices and ask for financial help. People who are nurses, who are police officers, who are teachers.

“Therefore it is right that in this cost of living crisis we try to help them with bills that are rising and rising and rising – one bill we are able them to help with is the council tax.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The freeze announced yesterday, fully funded by the Scottish Government, will benefit every council tax-payer in Scotland at a time when rising prices are putting significant strain on household finances.

“The Scottish Government remains wholly committed to the Verity House Agreement and, as part of that, are continuing work with Cosla on a new fiscal framework for local authorities.

“We are also working on longer term reforms to the council tax system, which are being considered by the working group on local government funding that we are chairing jointly with Cosla.

“Both the First Minister and Deputy First Minister are meeting local authorities as a priority to discuss their concerns.”

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