During his closing speech at the SNP conference, the First Minister announced a council tax freeze for the coming year. The reason given was to protect the public during the cost of living crisis. The Government has said in its press release that it will "...fully fund the freeze to ensure councils can maintain their services."
While most members of the public will welcome this announcement, it is a surprising step.
Council and school budgets are facing extreme financial pressure. Councils are grappling with the need to make substantial cuts, with many examining options which would previously have been unthinkable - from plans to close large numbers of swimming pools and libraries to plans to shorten the pupil week in school. These options were being considered by Councils when they thought that they would be in a position to increase Council Tax. Alongside that, they are in a position where the pay dispute with Unison is still unresolved and no more resource has been forthcoming from Scottish Government.
This suggests that funding a Council Tax freeze will do nothing to avert cuts to budgets and services.
By preventing local authorities raising revenue in this way it appears that Scottish Government is accepting service cuts rather than mitigating against them.
Our understanding is that no local authority had yet determined what Council Tax increase it planned to implement. This surely means that the Government's financial commitment to fully fund the freeze is unknown but clearly substantial.
AHDS calls on the Scottish Government to provide this funding to local government without tying its hands on Council Tax so that service cuts can be reduced or avoided.
The full Scottish Government press release can be read here: Council tax frozen - gov.scot (www.gov.scot)
A brief CoSLA response is available on their website: Council Tax Freeze | COSLA In an update this morning, they make clear that there is no agreement from CoSLA to the freeze: STATEMENT FROM THE COSLA PRESIDENTIAL TEAM FOLLOWING AN EMERGENCY MEETING OF POLITICAL GROUP LEADERS | COSLA
BBC coverage is available here: SNP conference: Humza Yousaf announces Scottish council tax freeze - BBC News