Axe council tax to secure budget deal, demand Greens

Mr Harvie is now taking a tough line on council funding. Picture: John DevlinMr Harvie is now taking a tough line on council funding. Picture: John Devlin
Mr Harvie is now taking a tough line on council funding. Picture: John Devlin
A tourism levy for Edinburgh and a clear 'timescale' to scrap the council tax could be the price of a deal to get the Scottish Government's budget passed with the help of its Green party allies.

Patrick Harvie says he is ready to vote down the SNP’s forthcoming spending plans without a clear “commitment” to change the way town halls can raise cash to fund services.

The minority SNP Government has relied on support from the pro-independence Scottish Greens to get its budget passed in recent years.

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But Mr Harvie is now taking a tough line on council funding.

“We’ve been really clear that there needs to be meaningful progress on local tax reform,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland yesterday.

“The last couple of years we’ve worked really hard to prevent the cuts to local councils. That’s been going on for many years. But since the SNP have been back in minority government, we’ve been able to push them to reverse a lot of those cuts, as well as many other issues.”

A Scottish Government-backed commission published in the last Parliament called for the council tax to be axed, but the final proposals of ministers only saw them make small alterations to the bands.

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Mr Harvie added: “Unless we get that agenda back on track, then pretty much any budget published will involve more unacceptable cuts to local services. That’s not something we can support.”

Scrapping the council tax cannot be done in a single year, so it would need to be “commitment to replace the council tax”.

“It clearly isn’t gong to be a short piece of work it’s going to be a major piece of work. So we need a timescale.

“We also need to broaden the local tax base in the shorter term. Many, many councils and Cosla are arguing for a transient visitor levy – a so-called tourist tax. One way to help them raise the revenue they need to pay for the services and the infrastructure.

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“Councils should be in a position of being able to ask their constituents how should we invest for the future, how do you want your community to develop. They should not be in a position of asking where do you want your cuts?”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she is ready to look at a tourist tax and the Greens insist they are ready to take a hardline approach this year.

“We are willing to vote down a budget if we are not persuaded that they’ve made the changes that are necessary,” Mr Harvie warned.

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay will set out his provisional budget on 12 December, before the talks begin with opposition parties in an effort to strike a deal.

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A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We will always consider different views as part of that.

“We continue to deliver a fair deal to councils across Scotland, with revenue and capital funding increasing in real terms over the next financial year. We want to devolve more power to give communities a greater say about their public services.

“That is why we have launched a review, jointly with Cosla, to find ways to transform local democracy in Scotland – and where we would welcome further discussion about revenue raising powers.”