Edinburgh council tax: SNP plans to be put to council and would see council tax effectively frozen for lowest bands
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Council tax could be frozen for households in the lowest bands and increase for those in the highest ones if plans put forward to Edinburgh council get the go ahead.
The Capital’s SNP council opposition group will put forward a plan to reform council tax, creating an effective freeze for households in the lowest two bands but increasing rates progressively for those in the highest. If approved by councillors at the City of Edinburgh Council budget meeting on Thursday, the proposals would raise around £20 million in additional revenue, which the SNP group proposes to use to protect key services, including reversing the administration's intended school cuts, saving the King’s Theatre, reintroducing a bike hire scheme, and increasing funding for rape crisis services.
The plan would make use of existing but rarely used local authority statutory powers and has been drawn up by the former co-convener of the joint 2014-16 Scottish Government/COSLA Commission on Local Tax Reform, Marco Biagi, who is now an SNP councillor in the city.
Key components of the plan
Council Tax would be frozen for the 65,000 households in Bands A and B. The median average Edinburgh household, in Band D, would pay only an additional three per cent, which the SNP expect would be the lowest increase for the average householder anywhere in Scotland. In total, 190,000 households would pay increases of five per cent or less.
Households in the highest value property bands would pay more. Band H properties, worth an estimated £1.06m on average, would face the biggest increases, 20 per cent (£12.99 per week), but occupiers would still be charged less in council tax than Band H taxpayers in most of England, say the SNP.
Plan would “avert the need for cuts”
Councillor Biagi said: “We are proposing a council tax plan that would avert the need for sweeping cuts in Edinburgh and raise revenue in a fairer way. Normally, a five per cent rise in council tax means a five per cent rise for the richest and poorest alike. But by incorporating an automatic discount we could cap council tax rises for the typical Edinburgh resident and restrict big increases to only those in the most expensive properties.
“Even then, we are not asking those who live in million-pound homes to pay any more than they would in places like Brighton, Oxford or Bristol. Council tax is a 33 year-old tax with a lot of well-rehearsed problems, chief among them being that it hits those on modest incomes the most. We can’t fix all its problems at the city level but we can try to make sure that, if we need to raise extra revenue to protect vital services like the city's schools, we try to find ways to raise it as fairly as possible.”
Local authority power
The plan involves using Section 20 of the 2003 Local Government in Scotland Act. This gives local authorities a general power to incur expenditure or provide financial assistance.
SNP councillors propose that the council would fulfil its statutory duty to set a council tax rate under the 1992 Act but also set an Edinburgh Effective Rate. The section 20 power would then be used to create financial assistance in the form of discounting the council tax bill of each occupied primary residence from what they would be charged under the statutory rate to what they should be charged under the Edinburgh Effective Rate.