Council Tax Freeze (Cost)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 1 November 2023.

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Photo of Mark Griffin Mark Griffin Labour

4. To ask the Scottish Government what it estimates the financial cost will be of its recently announced council tax freeze policy. (S6O-02659)

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

We have committed to working with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on the detail of the implementation of the council tax freeze over the coming weeks. The quantum will be discussed and agreed in partnership with local government, and that will form part of the broader funding decisions that will be made in the context of the Scottish budget for 2024-25.

Photo of Mark Griffin Mark Griffin Labour

For the policy to be credible, the Government must set out how much it has set aside to cover it. Although households will welcome any freeze in their bills right now, they will want to know that it is fully funded. Can the Government give a guarantee that the freeze will not lead to any redundancies, reductions in services or increases in other council charges?

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

As my colleague Joe FitzPatrick said earlier, we have made a commitment to fully fund the council tax freeze. That will be done by negotiation, because there are various ways in which the final quantum could be calculated, and there might be various opinions about that in local government. It is important that we do that in partnership with local government in order that we reach a common agreement on the quantum.

I say to Mark Griffin that it has taken two weeks for his leader to come to a conclusion about whether he and the Labour Party support the principle of the council tax freeze. I assume that, now that they do, they will support the council tax freeze as part of the budget-setting process. We look forward to working with them on that.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

Labour has spent a fortnight protesting about the Government introducing a council tax freeze, yet the Saturday before the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election, Labour distributed a leaflet that said:

“Vote to stop the SNP making you pay more council tax”.

There was no mention of a freeze or of it being fully funded. Does the cabinet secretary agree that Labour’s contortions on the issue betray the blatant cynicism of a party that will say anything for perceived political advantage?

The Presiding Officer:

Please answer on the substantive related point, cabinet secretary.

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

Kenny Gibson is absolutely right: Labour has been all over the place on the issue. However, as I said, in the spirit of consensus, it is now good to see that Labour is supporting the freeze. I very much look forward to the budget to see whether Labour votes for the freeze to help hard-pressed households. If Labour changes its mind again in that vote, the public will judge it on that.

The freeze will provide much-needed financial relief, particularly to vulnerable households. With household bills rising, the freeze will give some certainty to households for next year. We look forward to seeing how other parties vote in the chamber.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

Councils are responsible for provision of community assets such as swimming pools and other sports facilities, youth clubs and art and drama classes. Does not the cabinet secretary recognise that starving councils of funds is a false economy and that taking those funds out of one page of the ledger means that they will appear on other pages, such as those on health, welfare, justice and education, and with some interest?

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

The tone of that question suggests that Brian Whittle is saying that the Conservatives will not support a council tax freeze as part of the budget. That is a very interesting position for the Tories to take. [

Interruption

.]

We have increased resources to local government by more than £793 million, which represents an increase of 3 per cent in real terms. Of course, that is an increase beyond the flat-cash position that was set out in the 2022 resource spending review. [

Interruption

.] Given the position of local authorities in England—where Brian Whittle’s party is in charge—with some going into administration and going broke, I do not think that any Conservative member of this Parliament is in a position to come and lecture the Scottish Government about support for local government finance. [

Interruption

.] We will get on with supporting local government and discussing the quantum of support as we take forward the budget this year. We will just leave the Tories to snipe from the sidelines, as normal.

The Presiding Officer:

I would be grateful if members could avoid giving a running commentary, because it makes it difficult for all members to hear.