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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Council Tax and local democracy

Stirling Council has become the only local authority in Scotland to cut the Council Tax this year following a Labour/Tory amendment to the budget. Residents in Stirling will be 23p a week better off on average as a result. I say on average because of course wealthier households gain more and poorer households get less.  As one Councillor fairly put it "This is quite clearly a Tory budget – tax cuts for the rich and service reductions for the poor."

The poor, in this case the working poor, lose out twice as it appears the Scottish Living Wage may be one casualty of this decision along with other service reductions. Quite apart from the less than prudent use of capital receipts to fund revenue spending. The same workers who won't get the Living Wage are also subject to a pay freeze that will further reduce spending in the local economy.

The SNP minority administration haven't got too much to shout about as cutting the Council Tax is only marginally worse than their policy of freezing it. It is again a regressive measure that has led to increased charges for services across Scotland. If money is available to help people during these tough times then it should be targeted on those most in need - not the wealthiest households. As for 'getting into bed with the Tories', well they and the SNP at Holyrood have done that a few times. In a PR system you sometimes have to sup with the devil. Although that is something Labour groups, including Stirling, should avoid in almost all circumstances. 

There is another interesting side to this debate. One SNP MSP said:
"Does Johann Lamont back the actions of her party's Stirling councillors? Or does she agree with those Labour politicians who want to scrap the SNP government's council tax freeze, which is providing invaluable help for hard-pressed households across Scotland? She can't have it both ways."
Well actually she can. I believe that the Stirling Labour Group made a wrong decision, just as the SNP Government has over the Council Tax freeze. But the difference is that I defend their right to make that decision. Issuing dictats to councils on the Council Tax freeze undermines local democracy, just like the ring fencing of council funding - something else the SNP promised to end but have reintroduced.  

So the debate does illustrate some interesting approaches to local government. The fact that "The SNP have challenged Johann Lamont to say where she and her party now stand on the council tax" does reflect a highly centralised view of government - and for that matter party organisation. But there is another story............

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