Scots thinktank urges local revolution in who holds money for councils

Nathanael Williams

Thinktank calls for strengthening of democracy and local power as elections approach

A REVOLUTION in local government can only happen if local councils control and raise all the local taxes in their areas, according to leading pro-market thinktank, Reform Scotland.

This week the body warned that unless all local taxes were put under the complete control of councils “real democracy” would be weakened.

In the group’s manifesto, to be published before the local elections on 4 May, Reform Scotland will also state that such a policy would strengthen local democracy and make councils more accountable.

Geoff Mawdsley, director of Reform Scotland, said: “At the moment local democracy is severely constrained because councils have insufficient power to do what they would like to do and are not genuinely accountable to voters. The key point is that it should be up to the people we elect next month to run our councils to decide how much, and how, we should be taxed in order for those councils to be run.

“Genuine political and fiscal power should be in the hands of local communities.” Andy Wightman MSP

“If voters don’t like how they decide to do it, then they can remove them, just as they can at Holyrood or Westminster. That’s real democracy.”

The Scottish Government recently ended the council tax freeze, but Reform states that the main issue is who is in control of local rates. 

Reform Scotland said it believed that local democracy in Scotland was being eroded because power over local taxation was not under effective control of councillors, and it called for council tax to be devolved in full.

Mawdsley also said that not only local taxes but business rates should be fully devolved with councils being given the power to introduce new taxes, or scrap existing ones, to suit their local circumstances.

“At the moment local democracy is severely constrained because councils have insufficient power to do what they would like to do.” Geoff Mawdsley

Together, these changes would give councils complete power over about half the money that they spend, with the rest coming from central government.

Andy Wightman MSP, local government spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, said: “Genuine political and fiscal power should be in the hands of local communities. Instead, we’ve seen increasing centralisation that undermines councils and the services they deliver. Reform Scotland’s contribution is well timed and well made.

“In November, I led a Holyrood debate on local democracy, in which SNP and Conservative MSPs disappointingly voted against a motion endorsing the final report of COSLA’s cross-party Strengthening Local Democracy commission. In parliament, I have argued for a fiscal framework for local government, reform of local taxation and will be consulting shortly on incorporating the European charter of local self-government into Scots law.

“Greens at council level are fighting hard to revitalise local democracy, pushing for every community to have a say in council budgets and for councils to have the powers other European towns and cities take for granted. While some other parties are shamefully treating the council elections as a proxy for constitutional issues, Greens are clear that local services matter, communities should be trusted to decide their future, and that local democracy is worth fighting for.”

Further Reading: SNP say “transformative” plans for local elections will survive #ScotRef polarisation

Picture courtesy of Howard Lake

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