The Scottish National Party (SNP) has proposed minimal changes to the deeply regressive council tax system which could have been implemented under existing powers years ago.
STUC general secretary Grahame Smith said SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon’s plan to “make the funding of local services fairer” was “very disappointing”. She set up a Commission on Local Tax Reform and its 2015 report was clear on one thing—the system needs “substantial reform”.
The SNP leader and Scottish first minister is on record saying, "Tinkering with bands would not make the system any fairer".
In 2007 the party promised to abolish council tax. But it has just announced it would lift its nine-year freeze in 2017. It would seem that the council tax is here to stay under the SNP.
Not only has the SNP broken that promise it only plans to tinker around the edges—precisely what Sturgeon said wouldn’t make it any fairer. And in her own words, “Three out of four households, 1.8 million in total, will be unaffected”.
The highest bands will change with the largest annual rise of £517. The plan will raise less than a third of what the SNP government underspent last year—just £100 million a year.
The “radical” SNP image should be punctured by this underwhelming “reform” which does nothing for the poorest households struggling to pay council tax. Since it was introduced in 1993, the property value-based tax has disproportionately hit the poor.
Services need to be funded, but it is misguided to argue for lifting the council tax freeze to stop council cuts. That’s what some unions have essentially done in the hope of winning a few votes for Labour.
It might be true that another £500 million would be available had council tax kept pace with inflation. But making working class people pay a regressive tax is not a strategy to beat austerity.
That argument is a distraction from union leaders’ failure to lead a real fight against the cuts, particularly the 40,000 council jobs that have disappeared under the SNP.
The real solution is to tax the rich—something the SNP’s business backers won’t allow them to do.