Humza Yousaf’s pledge to freeze council tax without first consulting local authority leaders is a “serious breach” of the agreement he signed with councils, the head of the local government body COSLA has insisted.
Shona Morrison accused the First Minister of having chosen to “undermine the spirit and the letter” of the Verity House Agreement when he announced the headline policy in his speech to the SNP conference.
That agreement, which was signed by both Morrison and Yousaf at the end of June, promised there would be “improved engagement on budgetary matters” in the run-up to the Scottish budget in December.
It also set out that councils and Holyrood ministers would have “respect for each other’s democratic mandate” so that local and central government can “work together more effectively”.
After a meeting of council leaders on Friday, COSLA president Morrison said they wanted to restate their “extreme disappointment that the First Minister chose to undermine the spirit and the letter of the Verity House Agreement, so soon after it being signed”.
She made clear: “There was a feeling from leaders that the announcement on council tax is a serious breach of the agreement.”
But she said councils would not quit the deal – saying there was a “belief” amongst local leaders that “for the good of our communities and public services in Scotland, we should not walk away”.
Morrison stressed the importance of “working to rebuild trust”, adding that achieving this would take “tangible actions on the part of the Scottish Government”.
Her comments came after Yousaf used Tuesday’s keynote speech to the SNP conference in Aberdeen to unveil the move.
Defending the move afterwards, the First Minister said it was “right” for the government to provide such help for people in the midst of a cost of living crisis.
The proposed freeze came after a consultation had considered increasing the charge by between 7.5% and 22.5% for the highest-value properties.
Deputy first minister Shona Robison has previously said that the decision to freeze council tax was made too late for discussions with local councils ahead of Yousaf’s speech.
However, Morrison stressed COSLA’s position was “that it is for individual councils alone to set the level of council lax locally without interference or penalties from Scottish Government”.
She added: “Councils across Scotland are all identifying large budget gaps and the Scottish Government is now trying to take away one of the few opportunities councils have to plug that gap.”
The COSLA president continued: “The chronic underfunding of councils right across the country is there for all to see and has been laid bare by this latest announcement.
“If the First Minister really wants to help people in financial crisis, funding councils fairly will save jobs and services, and avoid closures and cuts.”
COSLA leaders are to consider the issue again when they next meet on October 27.
Meanwhile, SNP economy spokesperson Drew Hendry MP said the council tax freeze would “help millions of families across Scotland who have seen their household budgets hammered by the Westminster cost of living crisis”.
He added: “The SNP will continue to stand up for families in Scotland in the face of the Westminster cost of living crisis – and put money back in people’s pockets.”
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