Finance minister grilled for council tax rise as services are cut

Scots are facing widespread cuts to services while their council tax bills are set to rise, Finance Secretary Derek MacKay was told yesterday.

Tuesday, 17th January 2017, 7:09 am
Updated Tuesday, 17th January 2017, 7:17 am
Derek Mackay, Cabinet Secretary for Finance. Picture; Greg Macvean

City chiefs in the Capital confirmed yesterday that the council tax will rise next year for the first time in a decade, with some paying up to £600 more than the last financial year.

But it comes as cuts to teacher numbers, swimming lessons for younger pupils, community wardens and care homes places along with hikes to school lunches are among the measures being considered as local authorities grapple with a £327 million direct cut to their funding from Holyrood next year.

Mr Mackay faced a grilling from MSPs over the issue yesterday, but insisted other funding sources will mean that councils receive an overall £240m budget rise. But this includes across the board council tax hikes of three per cent.

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“I do think it’s a fair package to local government,” he told the finance committee.

But Tory finance spokesman Murdo Fraser told the minister: “My constituents in Perth and Kinross are going to be asked to pay more council tax – in some cases substantially more than they’re currently paying – but they’re seeing a cut in service at the same time.”

He added: “If the picture is so rosy, why are they looking at making these cuts to vital services?”

The minister said that the Perth and Kinross settlement from Holyrood was broadly static and council tax increases would give it “increased resources”. He added: “It’s up to each local authority to explain what they propose to do with their individual budgets.”

The minister went on to suggest there was room to make further savings in more collaboration between councils in areas such as procurement.

But Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie pointed to recent research by the impartial 
Scottish Parliament 
information centre (Spice) which indicated that councils would be facing a cut in their budgets this year.

“The most generous interpretation of the figures still shows local government facing the largest real terms cut of any line,” he said.

“It’s not reasonable to suggest, surely, that Spice are making political points for their own political purposes.”

The “most generous” interpretation of the figures show a reduction of £166m to councils, Mr Harvie added.

The Finance Secretary made it clear he would not budge on a January 20 deadline for councils to agree to the package offered by the Scottish Government. It has prompted accusations of “bullying” from some local authority leaders. The proposals are part of the SNP’s budget for 2017-18 which will be passed in March.