West Lothian Labour leader rejects claims on Council Tax freeze

Wednesday October 25th 2023

Fiona Hyslop SNP MSP Linlithgow

Fiona Hyslop SNP MSP Linlithgow

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Stuart Sommerville

West Lothian Council’s Labour Leader has rounded on a local MSP who backed the First Minister’s pledge to freeze Council Tax.

Lawrence Fitzpatrick said the SNP Government had set out “to destroy local services”. He branded the announcement: “cheap political point scoring.”

Fiona Hyslop was responding to Humza Yousaf’s announcement at the SNP conference last week.

The First Minister’s unexpected announcement of a Council Tax freeze has already been condemned by the local authority umbrella body COSLA as “regressive” and “having no impact for the poorest in society.”

In a statement on Monday Ms Hyslop said: “Freezing the Council Tax when so many of my constituents are feeling the pressure from rising living costs, will be hugely welcome.”

She added: “West Lothian’s Labour run, Conservative led Council increased Council Tax by £76.25, from £1,314.71 in 2022/23, for an average Brand D property, to £1,390.96 in 2023/24.

“In West Lothian we have one of the fastest growing ageing populations, this Council Tax Freeze will be a particular help to the many pensioners across my Constituency and as this will be fully funded by the Scottish Government, Councils can ensure that they can continue providing the services we all rely on.”

However Council and Labour group leader Councillor Fitzpatrick, said: “The SNP Scottish Government has systematically sought to destroy local services over the past fifteen years by reducing the amount of funding given to councils to provide vital local services.

“Even the local SNP councillors in West Lothian did not support a Council Tax freeze when the council’s budget was set earlier this year. They, unlike Fiona Hyslop MSP it would appear, understood that without additional funding being generated, local services would be under increased threat.”

He added: “Whilst Council Tax only makes up 20% of our total income, it is still an important source of funding.

“Without any planned increase, as things stand, the First Minister’s announcement last week may well result in more local services closing or being reduced.

“If Council Tax levels are frozen going forward, the Scottish Government needs to provide millions of pounds of additional revenue funding to West Lothian Council just to allow us to break even. However, the First Minister has given no such commitment.

“The council must legally set a balanced budget so I will look to Ms Hyslop to set out her plans on how the council can cut further services in order to meet the additional budget crisis that we now face if compensation is not provided by the Scottish Government to meet the reduced funding available to the council as a result of the Council tax freeze.”

Councillor Fitzpatrick said: All councils know this to be the case but it would appear that the SNP Scottish Government are more interested in cheap political point scoring.

“I would fully support COSLA’s Cross-Party Group Leaders position in that there is real anger at the way this has been handled and what it puts at risk.

“People are struggling to pay bills, which is why the Council Tax reduction Scheme and other discounts apply to support those on low incomes pay. However, people are also finding it difficult to understand why local services are at breaking point and some are closing down.

“The hard facts are that the Scottish Government are failing to fund local services and continue to let West Lothian down.”

COSLA responded quickly to the announcement made at the conference. The following day it said in a statement: “Our Cross-Party Group Leaders held an emergency meeting first thing this morning on the back of the announcement and there is real anger at the way this has been handled and what it puts at risk.

“On the back of this our Political Group Leaders also asked us to seek an urgent meeting with the First Minister.

“We deplore the way the announcement was made and its substance, both of which fly in the face of the Verity House Agreement which we all recently signed.

“It has been shown that previous council tax freezes have been regressive, having no impact for the poorest in society and eroding the council tax base, compounding councils’ ongoing underfunding.”

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