SBC leader holds “constructive” talks with First Minister over Council Tax freeze proposal
The leader of Scottish Borders Council has held “constructive” talks with Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf over proposals for a Council Tax freeze next year – but believes many questions still need to be answered.
The SNP leader made the freeze pledge as he closed his party’s annual conference in Aberdeen this week.
Mr Yousaf insists the freeze is needed to help “almost everybody in Scotland” left struggling in the “Westminster cost-of-living crisis”.
But the announcement has raised serious concerns over how local authorities will now fund services – despite assurances that Holyrood would cover the costs.
As a result the First Minister agreed to meet council chiefs yesterday, including SBC’s leader, Councillor Euan Jardine.
Mr Jardine said: “It was a constructive meeting where we got some of the answers we sought regarding the decision-making process and long-term ramifications in terms of resources etc.
“However, I am not satisfied with many of the answers given or the position we find ourselves in now. The first minister was regretful that we had got here, but this really could have been prevented with proper consultation with councils across the country.
“We will now have an emergency leaders meeting on Friday at COSLA, and we can then see the direction we wish to take nationally. Still, I will also be working with colleagues at Scottish Borders Council to look at the direction we want to take.
“I also want to thank the First Minister for taking the time to meet me and other political group leaders so quickly to discuss this, as I am aware he has a lot on his plate, both personally and professionally, at the moment.
A Scottish Borders Council spokesperson said: “Following the First Minister’s announcement we are awaiting further information from the Scottish Government regarding the Council Tax freeze and implications for our financial settlement for 24/25.
“UK inflation is today running at 6.7% per annum, and any funding provided by the Scottish Government to freeze Council Tax as part of the Local Government settlement which is less than this figure is essentially a real terms cut in funding for local services.
“Each one per cent increase in the Council Tax provides approximately £700,000 per year to fund essential local services.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The freeze announced on Tuesday, October 17, fully funded by the Scottish Government, will benefit every Council Tax-payer in Scotland at a time when rising prices are putting significant strain on household finances.
“The Scottish Government remains wholly committed to the Verity House Agreement, and as part of that are continuing work with COSLA on a new fiscal framework for local authorities.
“We are also working on longer term reforms to the council tax system, which are being considered by the working group on local government funding that we are chairing jointly with COSLA.”
“Both the First Minister and Deputy First Minister are meeting local authorities as a priority to discuss their concerns.”