A CLEAR split emerged within the Scottish Labour Party yesterday as three Labour-controlled authorities said they were maintaining the council tax freeze brought in by the SNP Government nearly 10 years ago.
South Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and Inverclyde will freeze their basic council tax rate, which contrasts strongly with the country’s largest and second-largest Labour-run councils, Glasgow and Fife, which yesterday both voted for a 3 per cent rise.
Glasgow’s Labour budget was passed by 39 out of 72 councillors. The budget meeting heard that Fife’s ‘Enabling Change’ programme will see the loss of 300 jobs over the next three years. Other authorities such as SNP-controlled Angus and Midlothian have brought in a 3 per cent rise, but the differences between the Labour councils is striking.
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One senior SNP councillor told The National: “Scottish Labour has once again got in a terrible muddle. How can Kezia Dugdale and others attack the Scottish Government for not giving councils enough money when Labour councils are not raising their council taxes, clearly indicating that they have got enough funding.”
All 32 councils have the power to raise the basic council tax bill by up to 3 per cent. This affects every band from A to H, but in all areas, bills in Bands E to H will rise by at least £2 to £10 a week on top of any 3 per cent local rises because of national changes to the system.
Other Labour-run councils such as Aberdeen and West Dunbartonshire have yet to decide on their budgets but indications are that the former will freeze its council tax rate while the latter will bring in the 3 per cent increase.
The Labour-led coalition that rules Falkirk Council has indicated a 3 per cent rise, but the Labour leader of West Lothian Council John McGinty yesterday proposed a 1 per cent increase in council tax to be voted on next Monday.
He said: “Tax increases would fall far short of what is needed to plug our budget gap of £9.8million next year and other measures will be needed.
“We recognise that finances remain tight for families, not just councils. Just this week we have heard about increases in electricity and gas prices and inflation rising again to the highest level since 2014, with experts warning that inflation will rise to 2.7 per cent next year, this at a time when many residents are faced with below inflation rates of pay increases or no pay increase at all.
“Our aim in setting this budget will be to ensure that we find a balance between delivering services and supporting local families.”
West Lothian said in a statement that staffing numbers will reduce by 61.9 full-time equivalent staff members (FTE) which equates to less than 1 per cent of the total workforce.
The council added: “This will be done without the need for compulsory redundancies as staffing reductions will be achieved through effective workforce planning such as retirements, end of some fixed term contracts and staff turnover. The council currently has a no compulsory redundancy position and will maintain that position in 2017/18."