Arthur Midwinter

A Critique of the Council Tax Freeze

PROFESSOR ARTHUR MIDWINTER analyses the impact of  the SNP’s council tax freeze, critiquing the centralising effects of its implementation.

 

Introduction

The council tax freeze was introduced in 2008 – 9, as part of a new concordat between the Scottish Government and COSLA. The financial mechanism used was ring fencing £70m pa in the Local Government settlement which would only be paid to councils who implemented the freeze.

The Concordat’s rhetoric of partnership and joint accountability falls short in practice. There is a lack of clear lines of financial accountability, and of robust accounting data, which creates ambiguity and confusion over political responsibility for delivery of the policy commitments. 

Moreover, despite expressing concerns over the funding levels and the SNP’s manifesto costing’s COSLA advised councils not to use the settlement to “wrong foot or embarrass ministers” nor blame the Administration for “funding difficulties”.  Problems were to be resolved in private by a joint working group of officials,  hardly the transparency expected from devolution.  Continue reading

Devolution Max – a step towards independence

The Calman proposals on devolution have a major advantage over so-called ‘Devoluton Max’, says Professor ARTHUR MIDWINTER: they are evidence-based

 

In recent months, there have been numerous media reports that the SNP may include a fallback option in the independence referendum – know as “Devolution Max” or Full Fiscal Autonomy (FFA) – in the expectation that Scots will not support the independence option.

The Scottish Government provided a brief summary of the model in its fiscal autonomy consultation paper, referring to it as Full Fiscal Autonomy, and then as Devolution Max in its White Paper on Scotland’s future.

This states that

 ” … full fiscal autonomy would make the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government responsible for raising, collecting and administering all (or the vast majority of) revenues in Scotland, and the vast majority of spending in Scotland. A remittance or subvention from Scotland to the United Kingdom would be required to cover common United Kingdom public goods and services, such as defence and foreign affairs.  The range of services paid for in this way would be subject to negotiation at the time of any revised settlement.  In essence, this framework would be the maximum form of tax and policy devolution short of Independence” (p.29).

It is clear that such a model would be regarded as a major step towards independence, and it is difficult to see what benefit it would be to the rest of the United Kingdom. Unlike the Calman Report (Commission on Scottish Devolution 2009), the SNP does not provide any assessment of the financial implications of such a model, nor any acknowledgement that – unlike independence – this is not a matter for Scottish voters only.

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