Council tax freeze is a ‘desperate bid to buy votes’ says Fife Council leader
Humza Yousaf said on Tuesday council tax rates will be frozen in the next financial year to protect residents from the ongoing cost of living crisis. He made the announcement during his closing speech at his party’s conference in Aberdeen.
Mr Yousaf said the freeze will “benefit every council tax payer in Scotland at a time when rising prices are putting significant strain on household finances”. However, Mr Ross said he has been blindsided by the freeze.
“This announcement has come out of the blue. It is a desperate attempt by a failing government to buy votes and political opportunism of the worst kind with no thought for the consequences,” he said. “All councils are in different financial positions and decisions on local council tax should be left to individual councils and not imposed centrally from Holyrood.”
The First Minister said the Scottish Government will fully fund the freeze to ensure councils can maintain their services. He said: “Of course, the public sector across the UK is facing budget pressures as a result of UK Government austerity, and we know councils are facing financial challenges themselves. That’s why the Scottish Government will be fully funding this freeze to ensure they can continue providing the services on which we all rely. This is on top of the real-terms increase to local government revenue funding this financial year.”
However, Mr Ross said the claim the freeze will be fully funded is “laughable”. The local Labour leader believes that Holyrood will “simply take the money from elsewhere.”
He said: “The cost [of the freeze] will be at least £100 million. That is £100 million that could have been spent on supporting social care for the elderly, helping fix our roads or invested in education for our children. For many councils this [freeze] will mean more cuts to vital local services and more job losses impacting on the local economy.”
The council tax freeze from Holyrood will impact all 32 of Scotland’s local governments. However, each unique council area will be impacted differently depending on finances. Mr Ross believes Fife is in a better position than other local authorities, but the council tax freeze will mean less money for services.
“As one of the larger councils in Scotland, Fife should be able to weather the storm this coming year, but it means we won’t be able to put extra funding into tackling poverty, fixing Fife’s roads, raising attainment in our schools or addressing the challenge of climate change,” he said. Adding: “It will simply be storing up problems for future years.”
Although Mr Yousaf made the pledge on Tuesday, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), the national association of Scottish councils, has cast doubt over the decision.
COSLA held an emergency meeting of political group leaders on Wednesday morning. Afterwards they said there was “absolutely no agreement to freeze Council Tax next year.”
“The announcement of a council tax freeze was made completely without reference to Local Government and there is no agreement to freeze council Tax next year, the decision to freeze council tax is one which can only be made by Councils,” COSLA’s Presidential Team said in a statement.
“Our Cross-Party Group Leaders held an emergency meeting first thing this morning on the back of the announcement and there is real anger at the way this has been handled and what it puts at risk.”
The group has asked COSLA to seek an urgent meeting with Mr Yousaf about the tax freeze, and they “deplore” both the way the announcement was made and its substance.
“We will explore the implications arising and what the Scottish Government might propose when we meet with the Deputy First Minister later today – but we are clear that local taxation and particularly Council Tax should be left for democratically elected councils to determine,” COSLA’s Presidential Team concluded.