Opposition: Scrapping “regressive” council tax and introducing Scandi-style local powers a boost for democracy

Opposition: Scrapping "regressive" council tax and introducing Scandi-style local powers a boost for democracy
Gerry Braiden, The Herald
25.08.15

Handing Scots councils powers to raise their own taxes would boost turnout at local elections and give them autonomy other countries take for granted, it has been claimed.

As a leading thinktank unveils radical plans to allow authorities to scrap the council tax and replace them with a range of alternative levies, opposition parties have accused ministers of tying the hands of local government.

On the back of the report, the LibDems have called on Scottish councils to be given the power to raise as much as 50 per cent of what they spend, while the Greens described the council tax, frozen since 2007, as "regressive".

Reform Scotland is calling for an overhaul of how local government is financed, saying Scotland’s 32 councils should be given complete control over local taxation via a raft of alternatives such as land value, sales and other property taxes.

Under its proposals, local authorities could set their own council tax and business rates or scrap them altogether and raise cash through other taxation.

Citing the OECD, it said countries of a similar size such as Denmark, Finland and Norway had substantially more tax income controlled locally and that devolving more financial powers to councils would makes them less dependent on central government grants.

Alison Johnstone MSP, the Scottish Greens’ local government spokeswoman, said only 10 per cent of local government revenue was from local taxation compared to an EU average of over 40 per cent.

She added: "Iceland, with a population of just 300,000, has 79 local authorities which raise 92 per cent of their own revenue and turnouts at local elections are above 80 per cent, a level of engagement in local government we can only dream of.

"The council tax freeze, pledged in 2011 by both the SNP and Labour, is the kind of interference that in Germany would have put Angela Merkel in violation of her country’s constitution. Council tax is regressive, and the freeze makes it even more so."

A Scottish Lib Dem spokeswoman said: "Three years ago we published the Campbell Commission, proposing giving local communities the freedom to set their local taxes. "This included a stronger relationship with local business over business taxes.

"More and more people are seeing that the SNP’s centralisation of funding is coming at the cost of the ability of councils to respond to the needs of their area."

Scottish Labour spokeswoman for public services Jackie Baillie said: "The way the SNP have underfunded the freeze has resulted in big cuts to local services that people rely on."

Source: The Herald