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Cabinet (Meetings)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 14th January 2016.

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Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

3. I am sure that all our thoughts are with the injured and the family and friends of those who have lost their lives on the streets of Jakarta today. It is a reminder that we must all stand together against global terrorism.

To ask the First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Cabinet. (S4F-03159)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I echo Willie Rennie’s comments. Today, we have seen another terrorist atrocity, and our thoughts are with those who have been affected in Jakarta.

Matters of importance to the people of Scotland will be discussed at the next meeting of the Cabinet.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

The Conservative Party is proposing an 18 per cent increase in the council tax in Moray. Putting to one side the contradictions in Conservative policy, surely that shows the enormous pressure that councils across Scotland are under. The £500 million cut to council budgets will hit schools. The £500 million cut is a choice of the Scottish National Party Government, so will the First Minister review that decision today?

The First Minister:

As I have outlined in previous answers to other leaders, the council tax freeze—as Willie Rennie well knows—is fully funded. Every year that the council tax has been frozen, the Scottish Government has compensated councils for the amount that they would have raised in revenue if they had increased the council tax by the rate of inflation. As I said earlier, a recent report by the Scottish Parliament information centre suggests that the council tax freeze might actually have been overfunded in the past few years.

As a percentage of their total revenue expenditure, the reduction in councils’ budgets is 2 per cent. I do not pretend that that is easy for any council to deal with, but we live in challenging financial times. In that context, it is fair to say that local government has been treated reasonably and fairly. Of course, none of what I have said takes account of the additional investment in social care that we have just talked about.

We will put forward our plans for how we take the country forward and how we invest in the things that matter—how we build up social care, protect our national health service and improve education—and it is incumbent on other parties over the next few weeks to do likewise. It is incumbent on them to do so in an honest way, which is not what the Tories are doing at the moment. They are putting out leaflets that oppose tax rises in Scotland on the same day as their councillors in Moray are threatening to hike up council tax by 18 per cent.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

The First Minister has many choices, and the following is one of them. Even if Moray Council increased the council tax by just £1, the First Minister would hit it with a £1 million penalty, which would hit schools, nurseries and council services. Will she commit to lifting the threat of that £1 million fine, which would be a double whammy in that Moray Council would be taxed by the Tories and fined by the nationalists? Where is the fairness in that?

The First Minister:

Those will be the Tories that Willie Rennie’s party propped up in government for the past five years and the Tories who, helped by the Liberal Democrats, have imposed real-terms cuts on the Scottish Parliament’s budget. Willie Rennie’s hypocrisy on this really does know no bounds.

The council tax freeze is fully funded. What Willie Rennie wants us to do is to provide money to councils that freeze the council tax and also to councils if they do not freeze the council tax. That does not seem fair on the councils that freeze the council tax.

We will put forward our proposals in this budget and for the longer term in the next session of Parliament. I say again that other parties have a duty to do likewise. If they want us to make different decisions in the context of the budget for the next financial year, they should come forward with costed alternatives. If they want more money in next year’s budget to go to local government, each of the other parties that are arguing that case must come to John Swinney and the Parliament and point to the line in the budget that they want to take that money from. That is what comes with the responsibility of Government, and it speaks volumes that none of the other parties even begins to understand that.