Majority of Scots favour scrapping the council tax

23 Nov 15

Two-thirds of Scots want to replace the council tax, according to an online poll run by the cross-party Commission on Local Tax Reform set up by the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

The commission, which is set to report within the next few weeks, is expected to recommend a new local tax based primarily on income rather than property values, though there has been speculation that it may favour a system that contains elements of both.

Its report is likely to canvass several possible options ahead of next May’s Holyrood elections, and also to call for councils to be allowed much greater discretion in setting local taxes. Ministers last month gave councils power to vary business rates, and it is widely expected that an eight-year council tax freeze, offset by Scottish Government subsidies, will end next spring.

The poll, which drew nearly 4,500 responses, found that young people and those from lower-income households were most opposed to the present council tax, which they saw as unfair and unforgiving to those unable to pay, though there was broad approval for its transparency and ease of collection.

Joint chair of the commission, local government minister Marco Biagi, said: “There is clear consensus from those that we have heard from – whether through this survey, our call for evidence and the public events that have taken place  – that the current system of council tax, while highly visible, is in urgent need of reform.”

His co-chair, COSLA President David O’Neill, said: “Each and every one of us is affected by the way we pay for vital local services so the views of those who have responded to our online survey will have a great deal of resonance as we formalise our findings.”

Meanwhile, COSLA today warned the finance ministers in both London and Edinburgh that Scotland’s 32 local authorities were already facing some £0.5bn of cuts this year ahead of the further squeeze anticipated from Wednesday’s Autumn Statement, and that “the communities we represent cannot really take any more pain”.

COSLA finance spokesman Kevin Keenan said: “This time around we are talking about more than soft targets – we are talking of severe cuts in vital services and job losses in communities and undoubtedly these will impact on the most vulnerable in our society.

“We are already operating within a financial straightjacket in terms of the tools we have at our disposal with things like the council tax freeze restricting our ability to operate,” he added.

“Scottish local government is already facing nearly half a billion pounds of spending pressures for next year and this is before George Osborne or John Swinney even have their pencils out.”

Swinney, the Scottish finance minister, has delayed this year’s Scottish Budget statement until 16 December in order to see how Osborne’s statement on Wednesday will impact on Holyrood’s spending through the Barnett Formula.                                                    

  • Keith Aitken
    Keith Aitken

    covers Scottish affairs for Public Finance from Edinburgh. He was formerly economics editor and chief leader writer on The Scotsman and now has a busy freelance career as a writer, broadcaster and event chair.

Did you enjoy this article?