Thursday, 17 March 2011

Advocating against the Council Tax Freeze is an increasingly lonely undertaking.

The SNP has hit the public finances four years in a row. The measure now means that public services and vital community projects are being underfunded to the tune of £300 million a year.

Labour, who were hardly likely to announce an emergency budget to reverse this year’s increase have undertaken to freeze it in 2012-2013 also. 

The Tories don’t like taxes or services, and the Liberals have said they “won’t block a Council Tax Freeze” revealing a surprising optimism about the number of seats they might win in May.

The immediate problem is that, when taken alongside the small business bonus scheme (the only other tax currently devolved and available) the Scottish Government is denying itself funds of more than half a billion - enough to keep higher education free and accessible, fund major improvements in child care, create a significant and real jobs scheme for young people, and still have change left over to go towards paying the Scottish Living Wage.  Or alternatively – just keep a lot of services open.

STUC has long taken the view that the far from perfect Council Tax needs to be made more progressive through widening its banding but has tended to oppose other schemes on the basis that some element of the funding that goes to local government needs to stay local.

Year on year we are witnessing a degrading of local autonomy as the power of councils to influence their own resource levels diminishes. This not only reduces accountability but it encourages a shift away from universal service provision and increases in charging.

It is simply not sustainable to have in place a tax which no-one dares increase. The next Scottish Parliament needs to improve it, change it or make use of it.

Dave Moxham STUC

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