Rich will pay slightly more – but regressive tax stays in place
THE END of the council tax freeze was met with criticism in the Scottish Parliament last night [Thursday 3 November] as opposition MSPs called on the government to go further to reform the system of local taxation.
SNP plans to alter the top four bands and allow limited council control on rates, was passed overwhelming – but only after wording criticising the plans was included in the official motion.
The Scottish Government moved an order in parliament to enforce its tax proposals – which are legally required to gain the support of MSPs. Without a majority following May’s election, the SNP could have been defeated if all other parties had opposed the plans for different reasons.
However, Labour and the Scottish Greens instead supported an amendment calling for further action, and then supported the final motion – meaning the tax plans were passed 92 votes to 35.
The parties, including the SNP, supported a motion that stated the parliament “regrets” the tax proposals “undermining the principle of local accountability and autonomy”, adding there are “opportunities” to make progress on the issue in parliament.
Scottish Green MSP Andy Wightman, whose amendment was included in the order, said: “This minority government must expect their record to be challenged, and Greens will always seek to do this in a constructive way. At no point have we ever stood in the way of the changes to council tax as they are better than nothing. It has been bizarre to see SNP ministers threatening to vote down their own policy simply because they don't like fair criticism.
“Level heads prevailed tonight and educational attainment will be boosted by £100m. But what has also prevailed is an agreement by all Holyrood's five parties that the current system of local taxation is broken and that in this five-year parliament we have an opportunity to fix it.”
However, the SNP were far from happy with having to support criticism of its policy to pass the government order – accusing the opposition of “gamesmanship”.
Bob Doris MSP said: “Labour and the Greens should hang their heads in shame tonight – for teaming up with the Tories to vote down the opportunity to embed fair taxation in future reforms.
“Every party at Holyrood put their plans on local taxation to the test in May and the SNP was returned for a third term in government.
“The SNP is determined to see a further £100m invested in education and that is why we ensured our manifesto commitment passed through parliament tonight.”
Council tax rates remain regressive, as those on lower bands pay a higher percentage of the home’s value in taxation than those in richer valued properties.
According to Commission on Local Tax Reform evidence, a majority of homes are likely to be in the wrong bands – meaning most council tax contributions remain based on out of date 1991 valuations.
The SNP previously promised to scrap what the party called the “hated” council tax. Plans for a local income tax were voted down during its first session in minority government (2007-2011) leading to the party’s policy of a council tax freeze.
After a cross party commission, which concluded that “The present council tax system must end”, the SNP proposed keeping the tax with slight alterations of the current band rates.
The vote on the tax order is a precursor to the next Scottish budget, where the Scottish Greens have said taxation reform is its number one issue to supporting overall SNP plans.
Picture courtesy of Scottish Parliament TV
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