Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Financial Powers)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 6th November 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

6. To ask the Scottish Government whether the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has made any suggestions regarding additional financial powers that it seeks during the remainder of the parliamentary session. (S5O-03708)

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

We are committed to making local taxation more progressive while improving the financial accountability of local government.

We are delivering our commitments on local tax reform, which will deliver the most significant financial empowerment of local authorities since devolution. COSLA has made no specific suggestions, including in its submission to our local governance review, for additional financial powers since we made those commitments in January of this year.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I thank the minister for that reply. COSLA has certainly made a number of suggestions to the Local Government and Communities Committee on the need for additional powers. Does the minister agree that it is incumbent on any organisation that makes representations to ministers or committees for additional funding to at least suggest where such funding should come from, saying whether it should be through transfers from other areas of the Scottish budget and, if so, how much should be transferred, or through additional taxation, in which case it should say on whom that taxation should fall and to what extent?

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work has made it clear to COSLA that we will consider specific proposals that it may have. We have made good progress in empowering local authorities financially in relation to a discretionary local tax on tourism, as well as the devolution to local authorities of non-domestic rates empty property relief.

However, at the end of the day, the member is quite right. It is the responsibility of all parties that request additional funding, including those in this room, to identify where else in the budget they believe it should come from and, if it would involve additional tax-raising powers, who the taxes should fall on and to what extent.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

Given the existing pressures on local government, which I know the minister is aware of—they include inflation, promises and wage settlements—will she ensure that there is proper funding for new Government initiatives? For those areas in which the Scottish Government has ring fenced investment for local authorities, will she commit to that funding?

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

As part of our budget process this year, we will obviously engage with COSLA on the financial settlement for the coming year. Separately from that, in relation to the fiscal framework and the funding settlement, I am leading work to develop a rules-based framework for local government funding, which would be introduced in the next session of Parliament, and that work is being taken forward in partnership with COSLA.

On all matters of future funding, including for local government and particularly with the prospect of a three-year funding settlement, the UK position has changed significantly following the announcement of a general election on 12 December, and that uncertainty over our budget date flows into some of the commitments around long-term funding plans.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I ask Patrick Harvie to make his supplementary question short.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

Does the minister accept that the small, independent northern European countries that Scotland likes to compare itself to do not hoard power at the centre but give not only tax powers but powers over land value capture, energy, public transport services, housing and much else to the local level? Does she accept that the power of local government in those countries to transform communities is awesome? Why should Scotland not expect that strong, creative tier of local government, which we are so lacking at the moment?

Photo of Kate Forbes Kate Forbes Scottish National Party

That is why we jointly launched the local governance review with COSLA—to ensure that Scotland’s diverse communities and different places have greater control and influence over the decisions that affect them most. The reforms that we announced in January delivered the most significant financial empowerment of local authorities since devolution.

We know that there is further to go, and that is why I mentioned in my answer to the previous member that work is being done on a rules-based framework. We recognise that more control should be held at a local level and we continue to work with members in the Parliament to ensure that it is.