Labour must expose the dishonesty of the council tax freeze and the damage it’s doing to our communities, writes DUNCAN HOTHERSALL

 

So all 32 of Scotland’s councils have agreed to freeze council tax for another year. The Scottish government breathlessly announces this in-principle COSLA agreement as “putting over £500 into the pockets of hard-pressed households since 2008”. And no doubt there are hard-pressed households who will have benefited to the tune of an estimated £500 by April 2013, assuming they live in a fairly large house. (Sorry, did you think that was £500 per year for everyone, or even £500 cumulative savings to date for everyone? Fraid not. You’ve got to read these things carefully.)

The freeze is a vote winner. We know this because focus groups, doorstep conversations and, let’s face it, election results tell us so. Working people welcome it as an effective tax cut, and any suggestion that it is depriving councils of proper funding is easily dismissed either by deploying the general “councils are full of politically correct functions nobody actually needs” argument, or by claiming, as the Scottish government does, that the freeze is “fully funded”. That neither of these things is actually true doesn’t seem to matter.

There are substantial arguments against the freeze. First of all, it is regressive – it is a tax cut for the richest as well as the “hard-pressed households” preferred by the government’s press office, while the poorest, who are already in receipt of council tax benefit, see little if any difference. Better Nation had a damning blog on the subject. (It is, of course, also true that CT as a whole is regressive.)

Second, it removes fiscal accountability from local authorities. The 2012 local elections will be the first in which the budgetary performance of councils will not be up for judgement – they can all simply point to the freeze as having cut their cloth for them, in the same way the Scottish government points to the block grant to avoid responsibility for the choices it makes each year. Expect to hear a great deal of that argument from current council administrations over the next few months.

Third, it has no exit – it is a cul-de-sac of a policy, designed as a stop-gap on the way to a local income tax which was never going to be feasible and which the SNP in the end decided not to bring forward. (Cynical readers might suggest a LIT policy drafted in such a way as to slash local government funding, centralise rate-setting control and ride roughshod over the powers of the Scottish Parliament was never intended to be anything but an empty manifesto promise.) Any argument which says “let’s start raising CT rates again now” is going to go down like a lead balloon. Meanwhile inflation is sitting at nearly 5% while the compensatory grant increases from the Scottish Government are sub-3%, meaning it becomes less and less feasible to maintain the freeze every year without drastic cuts to services.

As we know, none of these arguments seems to have traction with the public. The “squeezed middle” see the freeze as a boon and any argument to end it as being an argument in favour of further taxing their incomes, and turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.

But the reality is that this freeze is not a freeze at all for many of the most “hard-pressed households” in Scotland. What the SNP claim is putting money into their pockets is, in fact, costing them a lot more than would an inflationary increase in council tax. It’s going on right under our noses, and the Scottish government is washing its hands of the problem because it has offloaded it onto councils to deal with.

Here are a few examples.

  • In Edinburgh, if you are over 80 or you have a qualifying disability, and you have no-one able to maintain your garden for you, there is a scheme called Garden Aid which provides minimal upkeep (lawn mowing and hedge trimming). Rightly it used to be free at the point of need for the most vulnerable people in the city. As the CT freeze bit into council revenues, a charge was introduced for this service, and it now starts at £85 for a tiny lawn with no hedge; charges increase from there, uncapped, according to the size of garden.
    One elderly lady living alone in the Craigentinny area, in a Band A property, is now paying over £200 per year for this service. Her council tax sits “frozen” at £779.33, but in reality has increased by more than 25% by dint of this one charge. Is hers not a “hard-pressed household”?
  • In Aberdeen, if your primary-age child doesn’t qualify for free school meals – and many families on lower incomes don’t – you are now being charged £1.95 per meal, compared to £1.60 last year – a 14% increase resulting directly from the council tax freeze. For a family with two children that’s an extra £100 per year (more if they are at secondary school). So if this “hard-pressed household” live in a Band D property, their CT is “frozen” at £1,230.39 but on this charge increase alone they are seeing in reality an inflation-busting 8% rise in a single year!
  • In East Ayrshire (where incidentally they have also increased school meals charges by 10%) the “meals at home” delivery service has had its subsidy cut by 50%, leading to an increase per meal delivered of 40p. An average user of the service might rely on it for 250 days of the year or more. Assuming two meals per day, that’s an additional £200 per year from vulnerable people who simply have no other option but to pay. Assuming a Band B property, the CT freeze ensures they still only pay £924.77 in council tax – but the additional £200 per year to allow them to eat means in reality an increase of 22%!

The sad reality is that these examples and thousands more like them are repeated the length and breadth of the country. Instead of a modest rise in general taxation, those in most need are incurring huge additional costs merely to keep the services they rely on. And the SNP’s claim that the freeze was “putting over £500 into the pockets of hard-pressed households since 2008” rings utterly hollow.

This is the argument we need to take to the SNP at the local elections in May. This council tax freeze is no freeze at all – it is a license to bleed dry the young, the old, the disabled and the low-waged. And it must end.

It would be remiss of me to finish this piece without suggesting what should come after the Council Tax freeze. There are several good options. One, as suggested by the Burt review and covered in some depth in an excellent article by Prof Arthur Midwinter on this very site, would be to make CT more progressive by increasing the number of bands, and increasing the multiplier from 3 to 7. Another option – indeed past Labour policy – is the current Green party policy of a Land Value Tax, well explained here [PDF]. While the SNP’s Local Income Tax policy would also be progressive, it would severely limit the tax base and in so doing drive up avoidance, so it is not one I favour.

One thing is certain: we need to come up with a credible plan for what follows the CT freeze – quickly – because the effects of the freeze on the most vulnerable in our society is unsustainable. We cannot – we must not – allow this to last the promised five years. It is simply unjust.

Duncan Hothersall is a Labour Party member and was the founding chair of Pride Scotland as well as a founding director of the Equality Network. Follow Duncan on Twitter at @dhothersall.

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93 thoughts on “The council tax cul-de-sac

  1. The problem with your argument is the continuing lack of a feasible alternative. Land Value Tax is a great idea, but smacks far too much of socialism for modern Labour to ever back. If you can get your party to adopt it as official policy, expect lots of support across the chamber and from the public. But the wise observer won’t be holding their breath, because in 13 years in power in the UK Labour did nothing to make CT more progressive, and in five years in opposition in Scotland Labour abandoned their promise to come up with any sort of policy for council funding at all. We’re still waiting.

    Cranking up CT at higher bands isn’t as simple as it sounds, because to avoid punishing all sorts of people with low incomes who happen to live in valuable properties for a variety of reasons, you need to spend so much on means testing etc that it wipes out most if not all of the extra revenue – which isn’t that much in the first place, because the number of people liable to pay the higher-band rates is fairly small and unless you make their Council Tax £100,000 a year you’re not going to raise a lot.

    There are no easy solutions. You’re quite right that you need to come up with a credible plan, but at five years and counting the “quickly” ship has already well and truly sailed.

  2. DUNCAN

    The snp are just trying to bribe the wealthy to vote for them via the tax freeze
    after all the poor (the snp say) probaly just vote Labour anyway.
    What I wonder is how are to the snp get the wealthy to vote for Independence
    knowing that if they were to gain Independence the snp would(or would they?)
    introduce LIT leading to those who gain under a tax freeze to losing under LIT
    and paying more than under the council tax.

    A bribe to far for the snp perhaps

    An unjust law is itself a species of violence. Arrest for its breach is more so.
    Mohandas Gandhi

    Must admit from day one I thought the Council tax freeze stinks
    after all the English have the answer to the snp

    3 Why not freeze the tax and take the Government’s £3m grant?

    The £3m is only for one year and does not make up for longer-term losses caused by a freeze. Taking £3m this year will have cost Brighton & Hove £5.4m by the end of the following year, which is unacceptable.

    http://www.brightonhovegreens.org/localsites/bh/first-green-budget/frequently-asked-questions.html

  3. Niko……please clarify exactly were the SNP has said the poor just vote Labour anyway? Cant say ive noticed it…and im not even sure what your definition of ‘poor’ would actually be.
    I think going on talk about ‘bribes’ starts (already) to take the debate down a peg or two dont you. Im sure we would all like to see fully funded local authorities but (and you know where this is going) Scotland has to work with what it is given!

    PS Duncan – not sure what a ‘greeze’ is!

  4. yes Duncan ,just lets hope these same Councils don’t have money set aside for a local election campaign or councillors will find it very difficult to justify the charges .

  5. And the only reason we still have this abominable tax is because the Labour Government – ALISTAIR DARLING AND THe LABOUR GOVERNMENT – made it plain that if Scotland adopted the SNP policy of a much fairer Local Income Tax (on which the poor, the sick ,the old and the low paid would pay nothing) he would claw back the Council Tax benefit from Scotland which made it impossible to implement

    Grow up, Duncan

    1. The LIT was never a real policy. It was outwith the competence of the Scottish Parliament, it would have slashed council revenues and it would have left us with a catastrophically limited tax base. And you want me to grow up? Get out.

      1. In what way would legislation introducing LIT be outwith the competence of the Scottish Parliament? Is local council funding arrangement a reserved matter?

        1. It was the SNP’s proposal in particular which was incompetent, not LIT in general. They intended to raise the higher rate of income tax. They also intended to set a fixed rate across Scotland which, while not incompete.nt, was certainly anti-democratic

  6. Don’t know where to begin with this one Duncan, but here goes. As we speak millions of pounds of our council money is drained from our council services straight into the coffers of Unison !
    This doesn’t include the money that is drained from the NHS in the same way.
    The way Unison manage this is through the despicable practice in which Unison staff as well as office space and equipment is paid by our councils/NHS.
    Since Labour and your good self are unionists i am looking at the over all costs to the whole of the UK as I’m sure this is what you would find important.
    This leaves your leader and I suppose you in the political culd-de-sack of having to condemn your leaders pay masters unison and point out that they are draining all this money from council services (including the hard pressed social workers that JL felt that lack of funding for, caused children to be put at risk !!!!!) or you can attempt to claim that money being drained from councils /NHS is disgraceful if you can try to blame the SNP for this, but ok if their is clear evidence that one of the Labour parties biggest donors is doing this.

    1. Clearly you don’t know where to begin. You think the examples I set out above are caused by UNISON? In the words of or friend Dave, grow up. Now how about you address the substance rather than taking a desperate pot shot at Labour yet again?

  7. What is labours alternative,do they have one ?or will they just snipe from the sidelines as usal.Bet i get censored again uncle joe would be proud of his comrades on labour ham.

    1. Perhaps the reason you have some comments deleted is that they are barely readable and fail to address the issue at hand? Did you read to the end of the article? Why not address the issue of the most vulnerable having effectively huge CT rises rather than just have another lazy pot shot at Labour?

      1. The thing about your examples, Duncan, is that most of these people would be the ones that would have to pay for their prescriptions if we still had prescription charges in Scotland, so, by your definition, these are rich people. That being the case, if council tax had increased in line with the sort of increases we had while labour were in power, they would be paying at least 40% more council tax than just now.

        As others have pointed out, the problem isn’t the freeze itself, it’s the actual council tax system. You are right about one thing, though, in that the freeze is a dead end street. Where do we go when the freeze, ultimately, comes to an end? We either introduce another system of LA funding or people are going to face massive bill increases. If labour concentrated on that, rather than on how “unfair” a freeze that leaves money in hard pressed families’ pockets is, the average voter might actually listen to them.

  8. LVT is a great idea and as a policy would align Labour with the Greens – probably the only currently credible opposition party. It’s hard too see why the SNP would be ideologically opposed to such a suggestion, so perhaps there is room for cross-party agreement and a display of proper grown up opposition. Your party needs to learn to oppose well before it can ever expect to be trusted with government. Now that you have finally managed to negotiate your convoluted leadership selection process it’s time to demonstrate some progress, or risk being left behind completely.

    1. You mean you agree that the Council Tax freeze needs to end? Do you agree the SNP are causing these unfair hikes in service charges? I hope so. I’d love to see cross party agreement on this, though I’d be amazed if the SNP were prepared to admit the utter failure of this flagship policy.

      1. “the SNP are causing these unfair hikes in service charges”

        Oh dear. Pick any government policy north or south of the border of the last 20 years and you’ll find someone somewhere who lost out as a result of it. A couple of cherry-picked examples do not prove something is “unfair”, and nor does it prove the SNP – who have to manage a fixed budget – are ultimately responsible. You come close to some interesting points on occasion, but you just can’t help swerving off into lazy Nat-bashing at the end instead of anything constructive. Much like Labour as a whole.

        The CT freeze needs to end *when there’s a viable alternative in place*. Until then it’s the least-bad of some bad options.

      2. Clearly the CT freeze is not a long-term measure – it was a response to the current economic chaos that began under your Westminster Government and that is being prolonged and deepened by its Tory sucessor.

        The SNP’s ‘flagship policy’ is independence – the CT freeze is a response to a crisis created elsewhere. The SNP Gov’t, with few economic powers cannot be held accountable for the situation that created the need for a CT freeze, which of course must have a number of regrettable effects on services. It’s not a proper long term solution, but it is an attempt to create some protection for the people of this country from the catastrophic economic policies of Westminster, and it is widely seen as such. It hasn’t ‘utterly failed’. If you want to find evidence of an utter failure, look at your party’s performance in recent elections, and then consider whether your party has managed to improve its position in any real sense since. Some humility as you learn how to oppose well would seem appropriate. Compulsive Nat-bashing hasn’t helped you yet, but you persist in it. You forget nothing, you learn nothing.

        1. The freeze was brought in as a precursor to the LIT which was never introduced. Are you seriously now trying to rewrite history to claim it was a response to the financial crisis, which it actually predated? Dear me.

          In any case, what I have presented here is evidence that the freeze is NOT protecting the people from anything, but rather placing huge additional burdens on the most vulnerable while giving handouts to those lucky enough not to be young, old, disabled or poor.

          If the comments are to be overrun with SNP apologists yet again how about one of you addresses that issue at some point?

          1. Duncan I think you said earlier that LIT was never really the Nat plan?
            A tax related to income isfairest, even income tax increase with money allocated a la Barnet

          2. I do agree that income tax is progressive and therefore a good basis for our tax system. But we need to be aware of the breadth of the tax base too – i.e. ensuring that measures of wealth other than income are taken into account – because income tax is more easily avoided than most other sorts, so the greater the reliance on it, the more people will be able to avoid paying, mostly from the wealthiest end of the spectrum. Retaining a land/property element to tax reduces this problem.

          3. Mea Culpa, the CT freeze was continued as a response to the economic crisis…. What you present is not evidence that the freeze is not protecting the people from anything, but evidence that Councils are cutting services at a time of economic crisis. This would very probably be occurring however local gov’t was funded. Your problem is that many people feel that that the freeze is protecting them from voracious local authorities. There is a perception that local authorities are lazy, corrupt and wasteful. I worked in local government for 35 years before my illness, and I don’t find it hard to see why people feel that way.

          4. But again that side steps the point, surely, because what I’m showing here is that the freeze is not a freeze for many if not most people. In other words people are not being “protected” from voracious local authorities. Do you seriously think it’s an anti corruption measure? It’s a smokescreen, and any faults in local government continue unabated behind it.

  9. Duncan, here’s a plan to deal with these rising costs, its a bittie radical so an open mind is required. Why dont we take all the taxes and revenue raised in Scotland and keep them in Scotland, I did say it was a bit radical. But then the extra money that currently gos down to Westminster could go to our own councils to help provide free garden care for the elderly, and maybe reduce the cost of school meals and the delivery service of “meals at home”, maybe even help reduce fuel and energy costs which are currently taking the most out of peoples finances.
    I’m willing to go for it,
    Davy.

    1. Oh dear, the least convincing argument of all – Scotland will be rich enough to do whatever we want if only we were independent. I’m embarrassed for you.

      1. Sorry for delay in replying, shift had finished and bed beckoned.

        Where did I say Scotland would be rich enough to do whatever it wants if it was independent ? Or did I imply that if Scotland was in charge of its own taxes and revenues it may be better placed to provide the resources to the local councils to pay for those services that you mentioned in your article.
        And if that meant independance so what ? If that means my mother in her late seventies with Parkinsons gets better care and support, so what. If it means school-kids in Scotland can be provided with more free and better school meals, so what, and if the elderly can recieve a higher level of care and humanity from their country, SO WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT.

        We will always have to pay taxes “council, vat, income”, the least we should do is take the full responsibility for their use.

        And finally Duncan, I am in my fifties, married 27 years with an eight year old son “life in the old dog yet eh”, I have had many friends over the years and even lived down in Yorkshire for eight great years. I have retrained at least twice and I’m currently employed, and I am interested in everything apart from soaps and cricket.
        So where on God’s good land do you think you qualify to be embarrassed for ME.

        Davy.

        A Happy New Year to you all.

    2. You are right Davy, that is certainly a bit radical for us at Labour to accept. The very idea that Scotland should actually generate more income than it receives from Westminster would be a body blow to most of our arguements for staying in this Union.

      However, should this be true, as the late leader of the Scottish Conservatives Bella ‘Caledonia’ Goldie intimated, it is now vitally important that such damaging information is not bandied about in an open forum such as this. It could lead to all kinds of challenges being made to what is our ‘ne plus ultra’.

      In our modern times the following quote could easily be attributed to websites such as these. Duncan will recognise it instantly.
      “A newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, it is also a collective organiser. ”

      Man the barricades…

      1. However clever you think you are being, this is still the argument that says independence solves everything, and it is pathetic. An independent Scotland would still need a method of local government finance! Independence as the land of milk and honey really is one of the more embarrassing claims of online nationalism.

  10. The Council Tax was brought in by the Tories in 1993. Labour denounced it.
    It charges single occupants , pensioners for instance, many of whom live in big houses with high CT, the same as the next door house which could well have four wage earners in it. It is capped to defend the very rich. It bears no real relationship to most persons ability to pay.
    It is a pity we didn’t have a Labour Government to do away with it.
    Oh, wait a minute. We did. Several of them between 1996 and 2010.
    They did absolutely nothing about the Council Tax in 14 years.
    ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

      1. You keep missing the point, Duncan. You’re not a credible opposition if you spend all your time moaning about stuff you didn’t change when you had the chance. Why would anyone believe you’d do anything different if Labour got elected again now? What are the signs that you’ve learned anything or changed anything? You’re not “looking forward”, you’re looking into a dreamland. When Land Value Tax is official Labour policy, get back to us.

        1. You and others really don’t understand the point of this site do you. This is about having a conversion among Labour folk to try to explore policy options! How can you say things shouldn’t be brought up until they are official policy? This is a public web site and comments are welcomed, but if you can’t even comprehend the context in which the site operates it would probably be better not to bother.

          1. Most passing readers, Duncan, might think the point of this site was unrestrained nat-bashing because many of the blog posts (your own included) indulge in it like there’s no tomorrow.

            You could easily have have structured this topic as a pros/cons of the CT freeze without accusations and insinuations about the Scottish government. Accusing the SNP of failing on CT when Labour did nothing about it (and actually dropped plans to look at replacements) does leave you with questionable credibility.

            Everybody accepts that the CT is not very good. We need to look at replacements. LIT was a possibility but is now dead in the water. The LVT is interesting but I’d like to see a blog posting exploring what that would mean to the average Scot, including those who would pay prescription charges in Labour’s Scotland.

          2. Indeed such things ARE supposed to be the point of this site, as I understand it. So why you insist on framing it all as Nat-bashing and directing it at the SNP rather than Labour is something of a mystery. I wish you nothing but good luck getting your party to adopt LVT. I’ll be right behind you if you succeed, but in the meantime there’s no point in you getting huffy when people point out Labour’s actions in power, because that’s all voters have to go on.

  11. Just a wee observation Duncan

    I dont want to sound too pedantic, but in one of your responses above you make the assertion that the CT freeze was an SNP flagship policy

    We do know of course that it was introduced originally by your goodselves via GCC long before the SNP adopted it

    Just saying

    Personally I am in favour of an income based tax based on the ability of the individual to pay, however as you point out there are always going to be winners and losers irrespective of the system in place

    1. Are you saying the freeze wasn’t a flagship policy for the SNP? I’m pretty sure it was even described as such by SNP leaders.

      I think a local income tax would enable too many people to avoid taxation altogether, because the tax base would be so narrow that tax avoidance would become a lot easier.

  12. Forget the past when it’s a bit of a problem?
    Nice trick if you can get away with it.

  13. Duncan
    you highlight the inequity of the Council Tax freeze very well. Showing the weakness of the spin and the reality.
    However, It has been a failure on our part to offer a workable alternative that has given life to such a poor policy.
    Economics is scarcity and choice and a council tax freeze effectively removes many choices from local Government. A local Government that is democratically elected to make choices for their individual areas. The democratic deficiencies of centralised control should not be ignored.
    LIT was a load of nonsense and rightly was ditched. Local Govt funding is a difficult issue and shouldn’t be an attempt to bribe the electorate (although all parties have tried this).
    Vitriol aside, and there’s plenty to go round, we need a system that gives councils the ability to meet their obligations and deliver services effectively. A council tax freeze (while looking a vote winner) is unsustainable over the longer term – unless, of course, you accept a deterioration in service levels.
    Labour should have spent more time on looking for an alternative, but heigh ho we didn’t, and were punished at the polls. this doesn’t make the freeze the right policy.
    There is a words and deeds disconnect and its time it was exposed.
    Duncan you try to do this, unfortunately some on the other side aren’t listening.
    This is a thorny problem, and anyone who thins there is an easy solution is deluding themselves.
    I don’t know the answer to this but I am willing to look for one. Its time we all did the same.

    1. Thanks Altany, good points there. I think the freeze will become unsustainable more quickly than we imagine. We need to be ready with an alternative, as you say.

  14. The dishonesty of the SNP’s Council Tax Freeze is that they don’t have the courage to state that this will equate to a deterioration of Council Services.The SNP’s plan to make up any deficit was to Local Income Tax – ie Tax The Workers more.Since this proved to be such a ‘vote winner’ for the SNP it was conveniently dropped like a ton of bricks.The local Councillors I talk to now speak of a desperate funding situation ‘the worst for 30 years’

    1. The combination of the removal of ring fencing, the famous concordat shifting all responsibility for policy delivery into councils, and the freeze shifting control to the centre and taking money away, has created the desperate situation you rightly speak of, David. It really is unsustainable.

  15. This whole argument is a cul-de-sac and also pretty dishonest because Labour are not going to fight the council elections on a platform of raising the council tax otherwise you would be writing off your chances at the outset.

    What would be more sensible would be to use the next 4 years to find some agreement on what to replace the council tax with, whether that be an income-based local tax, a land value tax or some combination of the two or possibly something else entirely.

    1. The fact that no party can now argue to raise council tax is one of the central points of the article and the reason for the title! Not sure why you think I was arguing for Labour to campaign on that basis when I pretty much said the opposite. It is indeed time to find a way out of this mess, but it needs recognised that the SNP is responsible for putting us here, and Labour can and should go into May’s elections making that point.

      1. There’s no denying that the CT freeze must, at some point, come to an end. However, how much credibility will labour, who advocate a freeze going into last May’s election, have if they try to make the point that it’s all the SNP’s fault? With most voters, none at all.

        The nat-bashing and finger pointing will, as shown in May’s election, get Labour nowhere. Yes, point out we need an alternative. Yes, come up with ideas of an alternative but lay off bashing the nats over something that also appeared in Labour’s manifesto.

      2. The SNP didn’t invent the Council Tax. No-one would want to be in this position but we have played the hand we were dealt. There’s not going to be new form of local taxation introduced in this parliamentary term but the time can be used to agree a replacement. If it turns into a political football that won’t happen.

        I suggest starting out by trying to find agreement on what we want local tax to do – do we want most local government finance to come from the centre or to be raised locally, how would we then ensure that local government finance was needs-based etc – and then agree that it has to be progressive and then take it from there.

        But if you spend the next 4 years going oh the council tax freeze is awful, the SNP are so awful etc etc it will just be the same old same old.

        Basically, everyone (except perhaps the Tories) knows the council tax is unfair and regressive. It needs to be replaced. So let’s talk about what to replace it with now and who knows by the time we get to the next election there may be agreement and it can happen without a lot of silly squabbling.

      3. “The fact that no party can now argue to raise council tax is one of the central points of the article and the reason for the title! Not sure why you think I was arguing for Labour to campaign on that basis”

        Um, possibly because of this:

        “This is the argument we need to take to the SNP at the local elections in May. This council tax freeze is no freeze at all – it is a license to bleed dry the young, the old, the disabled and the low-waged. And it must end.”

        If you’re arguing for an end to the CT freeze, then you’re clearly arguing for it to go up. And hey, good luck campaigning in May on that platform.

        😀

        1. I’m not arguing for CT to go up. I find it astonishing that anyone could read the piece and think that. Maybe you didn’t?

          1. So you think ending the freeze will bring it DOWN? I’m lost. Labour are not in power, so we’re stuck with CT for at least another four and a half years. Either you want it to stay frozen during that time, or you want it to go up. Which is it?

          2. What paucity of argument; what limit of ambition. How about we scrap it and introduce something better? SNP positivity? Anyone?

            You realty are determined to ignore the central point here aren’t you. The freeze is not a freeze. It’s a fake.

          3. Again, I’m confused. Earlier on you said “This is about having a conversion among Labour folk to try to explore policy options!”, but Labour have no power to do anything about it so again you’re talking to the SNP, who were elected on a clear manifesto promise of a five-year council tax freeze. Abandoning that would be simply morally wrong, as well as politically suicidal.

            You also said you wanted to campaign THIS May on a policy of ending the freeze, but again – an alternative is not in your power, so all that can possibly mean in reality is CT going up to pay for local services.

            “You really are determined to ignore the central point here aren’t you.”

            Not at all. I’ve expressly agreed with you that LVT is a far better way forward. But so long as we’re dreaming, I’d like a pony. It’s a shame you find it so astonishingly difficult to be honest about what you’re saying, or to acknowledge reality. All you’re really interested in is hypocritically bashing the Nats.

          4. The arrogance of the SNP in power! I’m arguing for a policy for Labour to adopt. The idea that because the SNP won the election Labour shouldn’t even put forward policy suggestions takes nationalist arrogance to new levels. You are wilfully ignoring the argument that the freeze isn’t really a freeze, and merely promoting an elected dictatorship. Bizarre.

          5. I’m afraid you’re losing it, Duncan. You want to direct a demand for LVT at Labour? Brilliant. I couldn’t agree with you more, and I wish the SNP would adopt that policy. But they won’t, because they just got elected on an unprecedented scale on a promise to freeze Council Tax.

            What you’re demanding NOW is an end to the CT freeze. And with nothing to replace it until at least 2016 (realistically 2017/18 at the earliest by the time whatever it was could be implemented), what that means is Council Tax rising for the best part of a decade in the meantime. If you’re really deluding yourself that you can duck out of that reality by twisting your own words, you’re beyond any help.

            “Elected dictatorship”

            Oh dear God. Are you 16? ALL democratic majority governments, ie almost every British government of the last 100 years, are “elected dictatorships”. And calm yourself down – as I’ve said three or four times now, I hope you succeed in getting Labour to adopt LVT, as I’d very much like to see it on the political agenda. So “Labour shouldn’t even put forward policy suggestions” is quite clearly the precise OPPOSITE of what I’m saying.

            (But you’re not Labour, are you? Labour ISN’T putting forward that policy suggestion, some random party member is. If you think that you and the party are the same thing, I’m not sure you should be calling anyone else arrogant.)

            The cold hard fact, however, is that no replacement to Council Tax is coming for at LEAST six years, and if you’re going to campaign this May to “end the freeze”, then what you’re campaigning for IN THE REAL WORLD, IN PRACTICE is rising Council Tax for six years (or more). And, y’know, good luck getting elected on that one.

  16. Duncan,

    What was wrong with my post where I pointed out differences in average council tax levels between England and Scotland. I thought it was a very relevant point in the discussion and couched in very moderate language

  17. Dunc – No, new labour supporter should go into the election showing thier alternantive! It seems pointless to me, for you NL folk, to continue to say ‘look how bad the SNP are doing’ – it just wont wash! To say the SNP are responsible for putting us here will simply be seen as positive by the electorate. So how can using that slogan be a vote winner for you? Unless, of course you do have a detailed alternative. And im sorry duncan but ever time there is a council tax freeze labour council leaders are falling over themselves to tell us what a bad thing it is – so you may need a word with them

  18. Hi Duncan,

    I’m no expert on this subject, but is it not the case that councils can opt out of the government’s council tax freeze programme if they so wish? That being so, if Labour think the council tax freeze is unfair and regressive, why don’t all the Labour run councils opt out and raise their council tax rates to suit their requirements?

    1. Very simple reason: the freeze is a mobster’s offer. Councils can either take a hefty cut and accept the CT freeze, or take a massive cut, pretty much impossible to live with, if they aren’t prepared to join the freeze. It is an offer they cannot refuse.

    2. Yes, that’s right, councils can opt out – and then raise the local Council Tax rates. In return, the Scottish Government will cut the funding it provides to that Council – often, councils have estimated, by more than would be raised by the extra Council tax. (Glasgow City Council officials have done this calculation if you want to check.) ‘A barrel’ and ‘over it’ come to mind!

      In effect, what the freeze on Council Tax and the Concordat that goes with it have done is to make local government even more the creature of central government than it was before. An even larger proportion of local spending than before is provided from central funds and every Council Leader is required to sign a letter every year to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance to demonstrate how that Council is meeting central government objectives. The idea of local government being about meeting local needs according to local priorities and funded largely by local revenue has been fully discarded.

      In 2007 when the Concordat was signed, Councils agreed to take part because there was, at that time, the promise of some extra money and a reduction in the ‘ring-fencing’ of that central government money. No one – except perhaps the shrewd John Swinney – looked ahead to what the real results would be, in terms of greater central government control, as the money got tighter and the impossibility of ending the freeze and Concordat became inevitable

      Duncan is right. The only way out of the mess is to find a new, fairer and more effective system of local government taxation which widens the tax base and gives more, not less, independence to local government. It would be good to see an explanation here from someone in the Green Party on how the Land Value Tax might work for local government. To me it has the same attraction as Council Tax – it is a tax on wealth rather than income, and therefore harder to evade

      and Duncan – I do admire your dogged commitment to principled debate and argument in the face of the onslaughts of those who think that by ‘debate and discussion’ we mean ‘slagging off other people’.

      1. Thanks Trevor. I think you set out the problem very clearly. I do think we can learn a lot from Green policy in this area too.

  19. I know it is history, but I take it that the two year CT freeze in the Labour manifesto for the May Elections was, in your opinion a grave mistake and never really intended? What was really intended in that manifesto?

    1. I do indeed think the support for the freeze in May was a mistake. I think we should have fought the election on a platform of full reform on the basis of LVT or similar. But I didn’t write the manifesto. 🙂

  20. The CT raises so little of council spending ,I wonder if its worth worrying about it at all. Just scrap it and fund local spending out of general taxes. We could have a tax on what are regarded as luxury goods.

    1. And then Gavin local government simply becomes the local arm of the central state. I think a defeatist idea like that would be hugely damaging in a democracy, where all power sits in the hands of a few ministers and civil servants.

      To my mind, renewing local taxation is but part of the wider agenda in the renewal of local government as the next stage of devolution – from a national parliament and central government on to local areas and their democratically accountable councils. To my mind that needs to be high on the agenda of a devolutionary party, as I hope the Labour Party is. It is not something, and we shouldn’t expect it to be, that is in the DNA of a nationalist party, as we have seen with the Concordat etc.

    2. An interesting idea, and more honest than the freeze, but it would completely remove any notion of fiscal accountability from local authorities, and would narrow the tax base to a dangerous level in my estimation.

  21. Of course I’m not blaming Unison for anything Duncan, but what I am saying is that if labour want to attack any lack of money in our councils or NHS, or want to point the finger at the SNP, you first have to explain why this money is being drained from these services and fed into Unison. Who set this system up (as if we didn’t know) where was labours concern for the tax payer then ?
    I’m showing that labour are dishonest and that people are being turned away because of this. ie Johann Lamont attack on the SNP claiming that a lack of money was putting children at risk, while being supported by the very organisation who is draining millions from these services.
    I’m pointing out the flaws in your argument by pointing out your own parties lack of concern for council tax payers and how their council tax is spent.
    Hope this helps.

  22. Can you really blame John Swinney for excersising greater central control given that the destructive opposition that existed in the last Scottish Parliament was replicated at local level by every Labour controlled council. Get real!

    1. Interesting point, and possibly with some justification, but if that was John Swinney’s motivation he has been terribly dishonest about it.

    2. By the ‘last Scottish Parliament’ you mean 2007-2011? When the SNP was the minority government? And the one in which the Concordat and the Council Tax freeze was introduced – at the beginning of that government in 2007?

      If so – was Mr Swinney introducing the Concordat in response to the ‘destructive opposition’ that was yet to happen or ‘destructive opposition’ in the previous Parliament, when the SNP was in opposition?

      Can you give some examples of that ‘destructiveness’ of the opposition by Labour councils in whatever parliament you designate? And were the majority of Councils at that time run by Labour – or by other parties or combinations of them?

      I agree it might have been a deliberate centralising move by John Swinney. But if so, then I think perhaps it was more likely a straightforward grab for control, similar to that of most central governments

  23. Duncan, you are not a socialist. You are a Labour party member. You clearly wish to be a single policy party relating to council tax that Labour actually adopted at the election.

    Nonsensical logic – attacking the SNP (my party now – paid up member, partly due to the right-wing spurious ramblings trying to pass themselves off as leftish-wing here).

    I wish to live in a society with free medicine for all; free education for all and a society that is caring and just.

    Trying to criticise the SNP for ‘regressive’ taxes is just is party politicking and dishonest

  24. I would really welcome a situation where the SNP and Labour came up with a solution to the grossly unfair council tax and cooperated to create workable alternatives for the people of Scotland in the first instance.
    However as an SNP member and former Labour Party member I fear the deep lying prejudice that exists in New Labour will not allow such cooperation. I will however, hold my breath.

    1. While you’re holding your breath would you mind replying to the questions I asked you after your last set of comments about ‘destructive opposition’? If you can.

  25. Duncan, I’ve read both the argument you make and the comments that have followed, and it appears to me that the main weakness of your argument has not been discussed.

    My view is that the Council Tax freeze has to be considered separately from increases in service charges that councils have imposed. Clearly councils claim that they have ‘no choice’ but to seek alternative sources of funding when they are unable to raise more from increasing the Council Tax, but that is not true – the could choose to cut spending rather than increase service charges. Now I don’t want to see spending cuts any more than I don’t want to see increases in service charges or rises in Council Tax, but it is important for the argument that we accept that freezing the Council Tax need not lead to increases in service charges – that is down to the decisions of individual councils.

    On the wider topic – where I believe we should all be concentrating our minds – I hate the Council Tax and therefore welcome it not being increased as an interim step until it can be abolished. It was introduced by the Conservatives and is now being defended by the Labour Party. What we need is a fairer alternative.

    By the way, your examples (Edinburgh, Aberdeen, East Ayrshire) all assume that those service charges would themselves have been frozen if it hadn’t been for the Council Tax freeze. Aye right! Assume at least a 5% increase for inflation and your figures look very different.

    1. Blaming the councils for all cuts while taking the credit for the freeze is certainly the SNP’s aim; I don’t think many folk buy that argument though. There have been massive spending cuts alongside service charge increases – look at the numbers of teachers put out if work in cities like Edinburgh, look at the knock-on effect on class sizes, and watch as the Scottish Government blame councils for failing to deliver manifesto promises. It’s a scandal.

      As for taking inflationary increases into account, with inflation at around 4% a 25% charge increase is still utterly unreasonable.

      1. That comment doesn’t make sense. There are going to be elections next May. The SNP is aiming to end up in control of as many councils as possible. That’s a key part of the referendum campaign. So the Scottish Government won’t be able to blame councils, as you suggest, because hopefully most of them will be SNP controlled councils. They will be working with the SNP Government, not against them. You will need to come up with another theory!

  26. Dunc – the more you make you point the clearer it is to me the Scotland should be in control of its own affairs. While we receive limited funds from London this will always be passed on, and down the chain, affecting folk like you and I. You need to be honest here; if new labour was in power in Scotland you would also be struggling trying to cut your cloth so to speak. At least some folk on here are honest enough to admit the Scottish government are doing a fair job given the financial constraints that come with this union you seem to love so much.
    To pick up seaetagip’s point above, even if we did have full control of our finances, labour would still have to work with the SNP to agree an alternative – and that’s not something we have seen then do yet? So, I too wont hold my breath.

  27. I am afraid that it is the attempted character assasination which weakens Labour`s arguments. Anybody who has met and dealt with John Swinney must realise that dishonsty and a tendency to deliberately mislead is NOT in his make up. Indeed I would go further and suggest that perhaps the time has come to invite a group of opposition observers to an SNP conference. My wife attended one for the first time last year and was surprised by the integrity of the people she met and the earnest standard of debate.

  28. So , people think it fine that Scotland subsists on a block grant but that local councils require fiscal accountability to be credible. Unless there was a huge increase in the percentage of finance raised locally, then I think that notion is nonsense. What we need is a formula for distributing funds in a fair manner and a guaranteed linkage to a fixed share of national income so that councils can plan their budgets accordingly. This would save hugely on council time and staff by not collecting a council tax. If you wanted, you could have a local tax on luxury goods but it would possibly cost as much to run as it would raise. Somewhat like the council tax.

    1. “it would possibly cost as much to run as it would raise. Somewhat like the council tax.

      Can you provide the figures please to back up this assertion – that Council Tax costs as much to run as it would raise?

      There will be figures available on most Council websites for you to check.

      I ask because I doubt that you are right.

  29. I bet if we retuned all the “extra” income that labour councillors paid themselves in Glasgow the council could have REDUCED glasgow council tax

    1. Try doing the calculations to support that if you want to make a serious point; otherwise please don’t spread Newsnet style hearsay here thanks.

  30. Hi Duncan – I’m probably a bit late to get a reply.

    I read a some of your replies above saying that it is a pathetic argument that ‘Scotland will be rich enough to do whatever we want if only we were independent’ and that ‘ Independence solves everything’ – and I agree. However, it would appear that representatives aplenty of the Labour, Tory and Liberal parties disagree, given their insistence that, in monetary terms, we would be worse off and that that is an argument against independence.

    I think independence is about having control over your own affairs and, among many other things, that would include control over how we raise our revenue and how we allocate the proceeds.

    What do you think?

  31. Those who oppose the council tax freeze miss the point. Ask the average person living in a council house on below average income,struggling to pay bills, if this tax should rise and the answer will be “unthinkable”. The argument the rich may benefit in some way doesnt stand up to any scrutiny as it’s not up to local govt. to levy income tax which could solve this “problem”. Also it’s certainly not proven that services need to suffer because of the CT freeze. My local council (not Labour) are for the first time in years building Council houses and on the whole maintaining basic services. The main threat to public services comes from the Tories and Willie Rennies lot who can explain the need for the most draconian cuts whilst maintaining a deafening silence on tax avoidance and the need to pander to the “untouchables” – the bankers.

  32. Awww, does wee Dunky Wunky not like the comments I make, what a pathetic man you are, as pathetic as this site, and your pathetic party, you so all deserve each other.

  33. I m not buying into this at all.
    The SNP, like them or loath them, have helped a lot of families, myself included, with 4 wee kids to feed the freeze has put money in our pockets. What mr Roden said earlier did not deserve the response mr Hothersall gave him.
    Mr Hothersall, you are a unionist, and if Labour ever get back into power, you will have your council tax hikes to match the UK, and families like mine can suffer.

    1. As I’ve already said, I don’t want CT to rise, and my concern is that hard working families are already paying far more via service charge increases. Did you read the article?

  34. To be honest I didnt read it all, kind of lost interest half way thru.
    If Labour had still be in power in Edinburgh, I wouldnt see the benefits of the spare cash for my family through the council tax freeze.

    1. Lucky you. Many of the most needy families in Edinburgh have ended up paying far more under the “freeze”. If you bother to read the article you’re commenting on you’d know that.

  35. Woopty Doo!
    Read it still dont agree with you.
    Labour would not have frozen the CT.
    I m a working man, 4 kids, so you think I dont need the extra pennies?
    I ve seen Labour MPs and MSPs and councilors going to conference, you can tell they are not poor with their fancy cars, fur and camel haired coats, and yet Scotland still has the lowest living standard in western europe. So all these years of Labour rule and you expect us to believe that ;
    a/ labour will change
    b/ we believe in you

    1. Once again, my point is that you aren’t getting the extra pennies. If you pay for school meals, for example, the increases to cover the loss of CT income are likely to be far greater than any saving you make. I’m saying we should *all* be sharing the burden, not letting the richest off with a tax cut while those who need their money the most have to shell out more of it in increased charges, while being told that the freeze is saving them money.

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