Council tax freeze ‘may last for six more years’

THE region’s council tax payers could be set to enjoy another six years with no rises in what they pay – if Scottish Borders Council leader David Parker is right.

Mr Parker was speaking this week after the Scottish Government announced that local authorities across the country had agreed in principle to the funding settlement for 2012-13.

Finance Secretary John Swinney has welcomed confirmation that all 32 councils in Scotland have also agreed to freeze the council tax for another year.

The Scottish Government’s funding offer for next year, which maintains police and teacher numbers, means a household in the average council tax band will have saved more than £500 by the end of 2012-2013 as a result of the council tax freeze that has been in place since 2007-2008.

The settlement package was agreed in principle by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) earlier this month, but also had to be agreed in principle by individual councils before December 20.

Local authorities had been told to accept their share of the local government budget or take a 5.2 per cent cut, with Mr Swinney warning that the full share would only be given to councils if they agreed to the council tax freeze and other commitments such as maintaining police numbers and a settlement for teachers’ pay.

The overall share of funds totals £11.5billion in 2012-13, while the three-year total comes to £34.6billion. SBC will receive £224.08million in 2012/13 – about £700,000 down on the current year. The central government grant accounts for about 80 per cent of all council revenue spending, with the balance raised from council tax.

Mr Swinney said that, despite the most dramatic reduction in public spending ever imposed on Scotland by the UK Government, over the next three years, local government would receive a larger share of Scottish Government funds than in 2007-08.

“Like the Scottish Government, councils face a number of competing pressures on their budgets, so I am delighted the package I offered to local authorities has been accepted in principle by every council,” Mt Swinney said this week.

“This will see the council tax freeze continue for another year, putting over £500 into the pockets of hard-pressed households since 2008, while maintaining teacher numbers and the number of police officers on our streets – benefitting every household in Scotland.”

Mr Parker described the deal as good news for the Borders, as many more local families were now finding life difficult. “Many will have found their pay being cut or frozen, while those on fixed incomes, such as pensioners or those relying on savings, will not be doing as well – and added to this is the general rise in prices,” he told TheSouthern.

“So the freeze is welcome because a big part of everyone’s monthly outgoings is the council tax and it is therefore only reasonable that councils recognise the pain everyone is going through and work to keep the council tax at a sensible level.”

Mr Parker said he could see the freeze continuing well into the future: “I can’t see the freeze ending for a number of years to come. In fact, I can see it continuing throughout the life of this Scottish Parliament and until the local government elections in 2017, when you look at the level of economic difficulties we all face during that time.”

The freeze would probably continue into 2018, because SBC will set its council tax in February 2017 for year 2017/18 and Mr Parker says he suspects that whoever is in administration at Newtown St Boswells at that time would not want to move away from the freeze, given that this would be the last council tax they would set before the elections in May of that year.

“It would also be the case that council tax would be frozen for 10 years in a row if a freeze is agreed when the budget is set in February 2017,” he added.

“I would also add that I think by this time, the Scottish Government will be once again reviewing council tax and considering either reforming it or replacing it altogether.”