I welcome the new minister to his position. In his opening speech, the minister said that no Scottish taxpayer will pay more. I take issue with that, because we all know that it is not the full story. The SNP Government could use its income tax powers to make up the gap in the budget, but its lack of ambition means that it is tinkering around the edges and simply running to stand still.
The bands in the motion are not fair. Someone who earns £44,000 will pay tax at the same rate as someone who earns £100,000. How can that be fair?
And are we really meant to celebrate the fact that people who earn less than £24,000 will pay 36p a year less at a time when the SNP is outsourcing its difficult decisions to councils, which are being forced to raise council tax to offset SNP cuts, and people on the lowest incomes will see their council tax rise?
I welcome the campaign that Citizens Advice Scotland is running this week to raise awareness of council tax discounts and exemptions. CAS has produced a straightforward online tool to help people to find out whether they are entitled to a reduction. We must ensure that everyone who is entitled to a reduction receives it, because statistics that were published this week show a further fall in people claiming the exemptions to which they are entitled. We need action.
The reduction in people claiming council tax exemptions is happening against a backdrop of £7 million of council tax debt in Scotland. Council tax debt is the leading form of personal debt, and the average debt is about £3,000, which is three times the average council tax bill.
There is therefore not much to celebrate in this debate. The SNP, instead of using the levers at its disposal to raise the money that our society needs from the people who can most afford to contribute, is relying on a tax that it knows is regressive. I share the disappointment of Willie Rennie and Patrick Harvie at the lack of progress of the cross-party working group on abolishing the council tax. We need to make faster progress, because council tax is regressive. It takes little note of a person’s ability to pay and it relies on a 30-year-old valuation of the property in which the person happens to live.
After 13 years of underinvestment in local government by the SNP, councils have little choice but to raise the council tax and increase charges. The SNP Government would like us to celebrate the tax resolution that is in front of us, but the reality is that people on low and middle incomes will be paying more council tax and increased charges, whether those are for music tuition or collection of their garden waste.
There is little to celebrate today. The motion is a missed opportunity—it is smoke and mirrors. It does not address the fundamental opportunities that it could have addressed and is nothing to celebrate.