SNP launch petition against Council Tax rise threat

SNP MP, MSP and Councillors hit the streets on Saturday
SNP MP, MSP and Councillors hit the streets on Saturday

MORAY SNP ACTIVITISTS have launched a petition against Moray Council plans to impose an 18% Council Tax increase in defiance of Scottish Government policy.

The petition was launched at pre-Scottish election rallies in Elgin and Buckie at the weekend, backed by social media posts from Richard Lochhead MSP, Stewart Stevenson MSP and Angus Robertson MP.

Local SNP Councillors also joined party members parading posters calling on the public protest against the Council Tax plan, which was revealed by the ruling Independent and Tory administration last week – sparking a fierce debate throughout Scotland.

The first opportunity for the proposal to be debated in the council chamber could fall on a meeting of the policy and resources committee on Tuesday, where the first item on the agenda is a paper on Council Tax payments for long-term vacant properties in Moray.

A detailed report is being put to that meeting outlining changes by the Scottish Government aimed at reducing the number of vacant properties in Scotland through the reduction and removal of discounts provided to property owners of long-term empty buildings.

Moray had already agreed to follow guidance that allowed an increase in the tax to 50% in 2013 through a levy that came into force in April 2014. That levy was further increased to 100% in April 2015. Now ahead of further guidance from the Scottish Government on the issue Councillors are looking at the result of the previous increases.

These show that Moray had a total of 874 properties that were either fully or partially charged the vacant home levy in 2014/15 – and report that the number of properties subject to the levy had fallen 19% during the course of that year, indicating that the levy did have an impact on the number of long-term vacant properties.

The paper also establishes that a snapshot on August 1 last year demonstrated 40% of such properties were no longer subject to the levy because the properties had subsequently become occupied.

Moray was, according to the report, one of just six Scottish local authorities who introduced the levy following the Scottish Government guidance. The Council is now considering the new guidance which offers some new additional relief to owners of long-term vacant properties.

The main debate on Moray’s Council Tax plans will take place at a meeting of the Full Council on Wednesday, February 3.  While the SNP are protesting the move it remains unlikely that the full 18% increase will ever be acted upon, with the Administration group falling one vote short of the 13 required to force the issue.

The balance rests with two Labour Councillors who have said that while they would welcome an end to the Council Tax freeze, 18% is far higher than they would wish.