‘Scrap Council Tax’: Scottish Greens to bring vote on red line issue

Greens urge fellow MSPs to back proposals to overhaul the Council Tax system

MSPS WILL vote on Wednesday 28 March on a motion to scrap Council Tax and convene a cross-party group to establish a ‘fairer’ replacement, put forward by the Scottish Greens.

The vote will not be binding, but Green MSPs intend to use this to keep pressure on the Scottish Government on an issue which co-convener Patrick Harvie described as a “deal-breaker” for next year’s budget at the party’s conference earlier this month.

This follows from Green successes in securing changes to the minority government’s 2018 budget, including an increase in council funding and public sector pay, and additional capital investment in low-carbon infrastructure.

The Greens argue that the Council Tax system is unfair, with people living in homes worth fifteen times as much as the lowest value properties paying just three times as much in Council Tax.

READ MORE: 'Council Tax has to go': Patrick Harvie on tax reform and a new philosophy for local government

Andy Wightman MSP, local Government spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, said: "The public are being penalised with an outdated, unfair system under which most households are paying the wrong amount.

“Successive Scottish Governments have ducked this issue but with a parliament of minorities, we have a chance to build on the agreement struck during the 2015 cross-party Commission on Local Tax Reform that the present Council Tax system must end.

"In the same way that Green pressure has resulted in a shift toward a fairer system of income tax, with lower earners paying less and higher earners paying more, we must see a shift in local tax so we have a fairer system that gives local authorities flexibility to raise the funds they need for local services.

“I hope other parties agree that after years of talking, it's deeds not words that count, and we must see movement on this issue before the Summer."

The party put forward a proposal to phase in a replacement system in the 2016 Scottish Parliament election, in the form of a proportionate and locally-controlled property tax, which they would result in most households paying less than under the current system.

Commenting ahead of Wednesday’s debate, Scottish Labour's finance spokesperson James Kelly MSP has backed the Scottish Greens’ proposals and said the SNP “can’t be trusted” on local tax reform.

READ MORE: Details revealed of budget deal between Greens and Scottish Government

Kelly said: “The SNP came to power more than ten years ago promising to scrap the unfair Council Tax yet its successive governments have failed to do so.

“Scottish Labour has put forward proposals which would see the Council Tax abolished and a new property tax introduced which would make 80 per cent of households better off.

"Scottish Labour has radical plans to properly fund local services and we want councils to have more say over this. That’s why we support councils having the choice to raise income in different ways including a tax on vacant land and a levy on tourists, which works well across Europe."

However, Scottish Tory MSP Alexander Stewart said the proposals would “punish hard workers across the country”.

He added: “Even those on modest salaries, or living in very normal homes in certain parts of the country, would be hammered if this went through.

“Taxpayers in Scotland will be hoping the Greens’ cosy relationship with the SNP, which has already seen two budgets go through, won’t lead to these madcap changes too.”

READ MORE: Greens push for legally binding target on bus service use

Finance secretary Derek Mackay noted that the Scottish Government, along with Cosla, had launched a local governance review to “make sure communities have more say about how public services in their area are run”.

He added: “This government remains committed to making local taxation more progressive and we have made clear that we are open to further dialogue on options for local tax reform.

“A transformation of local democracy can be best achieved by looking at how public services work with each other and inviting communities to identify the powers and resources they need to thrive.

“We have also made council tax fairer and included a 25 per cent increase to the child allowance in the reforms that were introduced last year.

“In addition, the Scottish Land Commission is researching Land Value Tax in the wider context of Land Reform.”

Picture courtesy of Colin Hattersley

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