It is reassuring to hear that the Council Tax freeze featured in the Scottish Labour Leadership hustings in Edinburgh between Kezia Dugdale and Ken McIntosh. In the 2010 election campaign the Labour leadership lost the debate on the Council Tax freeze and found itself backing the SNP’s own version of austerity. Now is the time to revisit this.
The impact of the SNP freezing Council Tax since 2007 should not be underestimated. In her recent submission to the Scottish Parliament’s Finance Committee, Edinburgh University’s Lucy Hunter Blackburn estimated the cost of the SNP Council Tax freeze to be £560m in 2015/16 alone. To put that in context, this cut is more than Scotland spends on free personal care for the elderly or college education. This attack on the services councils provide disproportionately benefits the wealthy – Scots in Band H homes save on average £441 per year while those in the cheapest homes save only £147 a year. Those on welfare don’t benefit at all, but see cuts to the services they need.
I live in a Band G property so benefit substantially. However, I am forced to use the money to pay for school text books councils can no longer provide – 22 in total over a two year period. This is fine for my situation, but where do parents in lower band properties find the money to support their children?
So let’s make local authority taxation a test for Scottish Labour. Let’s see if they continue to follow the SNP’s populist attack on local services or if they are prepared to return to Labour values and make an argument for social justice and local democracy. Ms Dugdale is absolutely correct that the long-term aim must be to reform Council Tax. However, in the short-term, we must end the freeze for higher band properties and invest the money in public services.