COUNCILS are unlikely to hike house tax above 3% this year amid allegations that SNP ministers have decided to “pass the buck” of financial pressure on local politicians.
Local authority funding will be virtually at a standstill next year, increasing by just £ 40million to £ 11.1 billion – but the councils will need to present more Scottish government priorities with earmarked cash.
Cosla, the umbrella organization of Scottish Councils, has warned that local authorities face tough decisions when setting their next annual budget after a lack of core Scottish government funding – but suggested it would happen through cuts in services rather than “nasty” huge increases in the housing tax.
Gail Macgregor, spokesperson for Cosla’s sources, told MSPs that a request from the 32 Scottish council leaders for an urgent meeting with the Prime Minister after the budget was snubbed, with Ms Macgregor saying Ms Sturgeon ‘did’ is unwilling to meet with the leaders of the council ”
In a response letter sent yesterday to council leaders by the finance secretary, despite a request to meet with the prime minister, only “a meeting with the presidential team of Cosla” was organized, scheduled for January 20.
Speaking to the Holyrood local government committee, Ms Macgregor told MSPs that all council leaders, including SNP politicians, have been angered by the SNP finance secretary’s draft regulation, Kate Forbes.
Ms Forbes has authorized councils to raise the council tax by an unlimited amount to alleviate the lack of funding available for basic services – but many local authorities will have their hands tied given the cost of living crisis , soaring energy bills and the upcoming elections in May.
Ms Macgregor said: ‘I have never seen executives as angry as they were at our special leaders meeting when we were looking at the numbers in the regulation and obviously the easing of the council tax. .
“It was unanimous – every head of council or every political party was really deeply disappointed with this regulation.
READ MORE: Housing tax increase warning as SNP gives authorities carte blanche
“When we factor in all of the additional circumscribed pressures that we will have to face, that makes for a very difficult landscape. ”
Cosla Resources spokesman said the anger was magnified because “the Scottish government has the capacity to raise income taxes itself and has chosen not to do so”.
She added, “What they basically did was turn the responsibility over to the local government to fill that funding gap because there wasn’t enough funding in the block grant – in the regulations.
“There is a real anger among the leaders that the pressure is now on them to make very difficult decisions locally. ”
Pressed to see if local authorities could significantly increase the council tax, given the freedom of SNP ministers, Ms Macgregor said: “I don’t see the leaders’ appetite for hitting households more than it does. is absolutely necessary.
“I think leaders and councilors across Scotland understand the pressures households are currently under.
“A more than inflationary increase in the housing tax would be seen as very unpleasant, so I suspect we’ll see an inflationary mark diverted from maybe 3% – which we have had in recent years.”
Ms Macgregor also warned that a push for a living wage of £ 10.50 for municipal workers is “real pressure on local government” without additional funding.
She added: “We want to deliver for our communities, but this is where we have to cut to continue doing the quartered and protected elements that are going to cause the difficulty.”
READ MORE: Scottish budget: Kate Forbes refuses to acknowledge fears of £ 100million funding gap from councils
SNP MSP Willie Coffey highlighted an increase in funding, in terms of cash, of the Scottish Councils’ annual funding in next year’s budget.
Ms Macgregor said: “I agree that overall there is more money coming to local government. But within that funding, a huge amount goes through local government rather than through – we’re just a middleman in delivering some of these payments and some of these policies.
“The funding does not go directly to the local government. There’s a huge amount of fenced jars – which are for early learning and childcare, expanding free school meals, teaching music – there’s a plethora of stuff.
The Cosla official said many of these policies had been curtailed by the councils in recent years due to lack of funding from the Scottish government, but now SNP ministers have ‘mounted a white horse and there have spent funds, “which she warned” really undermines the role of local government. ”