THERE HAS BEEN a predictably mixed response to SNP proposals that should they be re-elected in May the nine year freeze on Council Tax will come to an end.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed yesterday how her government would restructure the way council tax is charged, with higher value home owners bearing the brunt of changes with increases of up to £500 a year being levied.
The move was immediately criticised by Administration group councillors in Moray, who say that the plan will do little to assist their attempts to fill a funding gap next year.
Moray Council Convener Allan Wright said that while it was pleasing Councils will again have some control over local taxation, the 3% increase they are being permitted each year remained “insulting and an offence against democracy”.
Councillor Wright added: “There is certainly nothing radical in the local tax proposals – it beggars belief that it has taken nine years to come up with a modest change. All in all, the package can be considered bland and uninspiring.”
While the First Minister claimed that the proposals would generate an additional £100million nationally that she would use to help improve schools, local Labour councillor Sean Morton insisted that the SNP needed to change its position on investment in education.
Pointing to reports that the SNP are considering increasing the top rate of income tax in Scotland to 50p, Councillor Morton said: “Faced with the choice between using the powers of the Parliament to invest in the future or carrying on with the SNP’s cuts to communities we choose to use the powers.
“This is not a hard choice for us. It shouldn’t be so hard for the SNP either. Richard Lochhead needs to be clear with the people of Moray – does he want to use the powers and invest in education or not?”
MSPs argue for and against
Last night Mr Lochhead spoke out in support of the Council Tax plans, pointing out that 75% of tax payers in Moray would remain unaffected by the changes that will see no increase in Band A-D homes.
The Moray MSP said: “The reform to council tax announced by the First Minister this week meets the key tests of making the system fairer, more progressive and locally empowering, in line with the principles agreed by all the parties on the Commission on Local Tax Reform.
“The progressive plans will see three quarters of households in Moray paying the same or even less, while those at the top will pay a bit more in order to fund a major new investment in our local schools.
“We will also see new support for low-income families – supporting 140,000 children and their families to the tune of an average of £173 per year – and additional protection for low-income households in higher bands, many of whom are pensioners.
“While Labour and the Tories are planning to hike taxes across the board, hurting even the lowest-income workers in Moray, the SNP in government has chosen to take a different approach – asking those at the top to pay a bit more, while providing additional financial relief to low income families.
“This is not just the right approach to take – but the only progressive option and other parties claiming to favour fair taxation should back these plans.
“I also welcome the move to consult with councils on a bold plan to assign a portion of devolved income tax – which would be a welcome move in empowering Scotland’s local authorities, incentivising councils to support economic growth and in making Moray Council more accountable to local people.
“Overall, these plans will protect the vast majority of household incomes in Moray, support investment in local schools and make local taxation both fairer and more accountable.”
Meanwhile John Finnie MSP, who is contesting the May election for the Scottish Green party, said that he was “dismayed” by Ms Sturgeon’s announcement, saying that she had decided to “abandon her long campaign against Council Tax”.
Mr Finnie said: “In 2007, she said Labour’s hated Council Tax is totally unfair, and any tinkering with bands won’t make the system any fairer.
“I think she was right then, and it is extremely disappointing that now she’s planning to stick with the Council Tax after all. The Council Tax is regressive, it’s unfair, and it makes Scotland’s housing crisis worse by penalising development and repair. It has to go.
“The Scottish Greens enthusiastically took part in the contributed to the Scottish Government’s cross-party Commission on Local Taxation to find an alternative to the Council Tax, contributing our proposal for a Land Value Tax (LVT).
“LVT would be payable only on the value of the land itself, not any buildings on top. That means householders wouldn’t be penalised for improving their homes, Landowners would be incentivised to make use of land – for example, for much-needed housebuilding – rather than idly owning land as nothing more than a financial speculation.
“Not only would LVT raise the money we need to save services and jobs, it would tackle the blight of derelict land, alleviate the housing crisis, and help to redress the gross wealth inequality that still exists in Scotland.
“The Commission on Local Taxation called Land Value Tax ‘promising’. I urge Nicola to take another look at this promising idea before she gives up and gives in to the hated Council Tax.”
How the proposals will affect Moray householders:
[table id=2 /]