Yousaf and Robison hold crunch talks with councils over tax freeze

The First Minister and his deputy met with COSLA on Friday to discuss the council tax freeze.

Humza Yousaf and Shona Robison hold crunch talks with councils over tax freeze Getty Images

Humza Yousaf and Shona Robison have held crunch talks with local authority leaders over the Scottish Government-funded council tax freeze.

The policy sparked anger from councils across Scotland when it was announced at the SNP conference in October.

The Scottish Government has committed to funding the equivalent of a 5% council tax rise if local authorities freeze rates.

While the decision ultimately lies with councillors, Robison – who is both the finance secretary and the deputy first minister – warned councils they will not receive any money if they opt to increase the levy.

The Scottish Government has committed £147m to fund the policy.

The decision to raise council tax ultimately lies with councils.iStock

COSLA, the local authority umbrella group, met with Yousaf and Robison on Friday morning to discuss the arrangement.

Speaking after the meeting, Robison said: “The First Minister and I had a constructive meeting with COSLA and we will continue to engage with them over the next month as part of the budget process.

“Good progress has already been made on parts of the Verity House Agreement, including increasing funding flexibility to councils and removing ring-fencing.

“In addition to the £147m allocated in the Scottish Budget for the council tax freeze, the Scottish Budget 2024-25 makes available record funding for local government with a 3.2% real terms increase on this year’s budget.

“We are clear though that the Scottish Government’s priorities remain the council tax freeze, which would benefit council tax-payers across Scotland, and protecting teacher numbers, which is an important part of closing the poverty-related attainment gap.”

Robison insisted earlier this week that the budget settlement for councils was “fair” in the context of what she described as a “real terms cut” in the Scottish Government budget from the UK Government.

“I think the whole of the public sector is challenged and we have to be fair to the whole of the public sector, which means a fair settlement for local government,” she said.

“And, within that, we have prioritised some of the areas that are really important and we want to work with local government to move those forward.”

She said political leaders in COSLA had said they wanted the cash for the council tax freeze, “plus a number of other asks, which isn’t a very reasonable negotiating position”.

“We had been making progress, I thought, to date, but political leaders have passed a motion that makes that very challenging,” she said.

“We will continue to discuss with COSLA where there are areas of further compromise, but it has to be reasonable, it has to be fair to the rest of the public sector, it has to be fair to council taxpayers.”

COSLA has said the council tax freeze should be on a “voluntary basis” and that the £147m earmarked by the Scottish Government for this purpose should be distributed to all councils with the flexibility to raise council tax by up to 5%.

Councillor Stephen McCabe, the Labour leader of Inverclyde Council, said the Verity House Agreement between the Scottish Government and councils could be at risk.

He said: “I think it is absolutely dead in the water. I’ve never known the relations between local government and the Scottish Government to be so low. I don’t know where we go from here, to be perfectly honest.”

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