Comhairle joins fury over tax freeze announcement
Mr Yousaf made his announcement, without prior consultation with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, in his speech to the SNP conference in Aberdeen. Since then councils across Scotland have been struggling to understand the implications.
In a statement to the Gazette, a spokesman said: “We have consistently supported COSLA in seeking the earliest possible engagement with Scottish Government on all matters affecting Local Government, including funding.
“The Comhairle shares COSLA’s disappointment that the principles of the Verity House Agreement have not been observed by the Scottish Government in announcing this wish for a council tax freeze without discussion with Local Government, which is facing unprecedented financial challenges.
“These and other policy priorities can be addressed only through structured engagement, recognising the elected status of both arms of Government and seeks to approach shared priorities and challenges in a positive and proactive manner.”
The Verity House Agreement, signed less than four months ago, was supposed to herald a new era of co-operation between the Scottish Government and councils after a decade of fiscal cuts that have seen a 20 per cent loss to the Comhairle’s budget.
However, this consensual approach did not last. Since Mr Yousaf’s announcement, council leaders, including Comhairle leader Paul Steele, have been involved in a series of meetings to formulate a response. They are due to meet again tomorrow (Friday).
In a statement last week, COSLA said: “Leaders reaffirmed the COSLA position that it is for individual Councils alone to set the level of Council Tax locally without interference or penalties from Scottish Government – pointing out that councils across Scotland are all identifying large budget gaps and the Scottish Government is now trying to take away one of the few opportunities councils have to plug that gap.
“There was a feeling from leaders that the announcement on council tax is a serious breach of the Agreement. The chronic underfunding of councils right across the country is there for all to see and has been laid bare by this latest announcement. If the First Minister really wants to help people in financial crisis, funding councils fairly will save jobs and services, and avoid closures and cuts”.
At its recent meetings, the Comhairle noted that “the projected financial gap of £6.8m in 2024/25 increasing to £12.7m in 2026/27 and that more pressures may crystallise that will increase the gap even further”.
A report to councillors presciently warned: “While the Verity House Agreement between the Scottish Government and COSLA set out a vision for a more collaborative approach to delivering shared priorities it would have to be monitored in practice.”
It added: “The Comhairle’s levels of Council Tax was amongst the lowest in Scotland. Income generation opportunities must be developed and should include full cost recovery for services”.