Council Tax: row as Fife leader ‘politicises’ First Minister’s freeze news
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Councillors used the 2023-24 revenue monitoring report as a springboard to hit out at Thursday's cabinet committee meeting - and were assured that although the local authority is facing budget pressures, it is in a relatively good position.
Council Leader David Ross successfully proposed to express the council’s “extreme anger and disappointment” over the substance and the way in which the Council Tax freeze was announced by Humza Yousaf, First Minister. He broke the news at the SNP party conference in Aberdeen a few weeks ago. The Holytood government has subsequently said that it will fully fund the freeze to ensure councils can maintain services, but no solid details about the plans have emerged.
Cllr Ross said the freeze was announced with “no prior discussion” with local government and he claimed it “flies in the face” of the recently signed Verity House Agreement - an agreement designed to forge a stronger partnership between local and national government.
“There’s no doubt it has damaged the relationship between central and local governments. It’s important not just to let this go past,” Cllr Ross argued.
“I think there is the fundamental issue regardless of whether or not we are in favour of a Council Tax freeze. This should be a decision for local councils based on local circumstances and not for the Scottish Government to impose from the centre. The issue of full funding is completely uncertain at this stage. We need more clarity on what that actually means.”
According to Cllr Ross, he has heard rumours that the government is considering a pay package for local authorities that would be equivalent to a 3% Council Tax increase. However, he argued that the majority of local councils have been contemplating a 5-8% in 2024-25. He revealed that Fife Council has been contemplating a 3% increase for the new year.
Cllr Ross insisted that the Scottish Government must give clear guidance about their funding plans so councils can plan accordingly.
SNP councillors rejected the drafting of a letter entirely and criticised the “blatant politicisation” of a simple revenue monitoring report.
“There’s absolutely no place in this revenue monitoring report for this type of politicisation,” SNP leader David Alexander (Leven, Kennoway and Largo) said.
Councillor Brian Goodall (SNP for Rosyth) added: “This report is no place for politicisation. This is going to be seen by the public as you trying to block the freeze.”
SNP Councillor John Beare (Glenrothes North, Leslie and Markinch) continued: “I’m surprised by the politicisation of the revenue report. Frankly I’m astonished to hear that we’re working on planning assumptions between 5-10% council tax increase. If we’re in the middle of a cost of living crisis and the council is contemplating increases like this, maybe it’s just as well that the First Minister stepped in.”
Cllr Ross clarified that Fife Council had been working under a 3% Council Tax increase planning assumption.
Despite SNP opposition, Cllr Ross’ proposal was approved 13 to 9. It was decided that he would write to the Scottish Government expressing the council’s discontent with his announcement.
The letter will also insist that “full funding for the Council Tax freeze should be in the context of the overall local government pay settlement - allowing councils to protect local services, provide funding to cover for inflation and provide a fair pay rise for local workers.”