Humza Yousaf’s announcement of a council tax freeze for Scots next year without consulting local authority leaders or the SNP’s partners in government was “frustrating”, Scottish Government minister and Green co-leader Lorna Slater has said.
She spoke out about the announcement, made by Yousaf to the SNP conference, as Greens prepared to stage their own gathering.
Slater said Greens would now be “pushing hard” during the budget process to ensure councils receive adequate funding from the government to cover the costs of freezing the levy.
While the First Minister announced the move in his speech to the SNP conference, local government leaders in COSLA had not been told about the freeze in advance, while the Greens, who joined the Scottish Government in 2021 as a result of the Bute House Agreement, were only informed shortly beforehand.
Slater said: “That one announcement was indeed frustrating, the Scottish Greens are critical of the council tax freeze, we don’t think that is good policy.
“The challenge now is for us working together in government towards this year’s budget, how do we ensure councils are adequately funded so that frontline services are not affected, that is very important to us.”
In the run-up to the Scottish budget she said her party would be “pushing hard to make sure councils are properly funded”, with Slater adding that she was “optimistic” the two parties will “be able to work through these challenges together”.
She also stressed the “big picture” was that both Greens and the SNP agreed that the current council tax system is “not fit for purpose, it absolutely needs reform”.
She said the First Minister was “committed” to that, with work towards reforming council tax also part of the Bute House Agreement.
Slater, the minister for green skills, the circular economy and biodiversity in the Scottish Government, added that the row about the announcement meant “we now have this opportunity to create that momentum towards that reform”.
Her comments came as fellow Green co-leader and Scottish Government minister Patrick Harvie insisted that the powersharing deal with the SNP was “absolutely” where his party needed to be.
The Green ministers both spoke on a visit to the Rosyth Centenary Orchard ahead of their party’s conference in nearby Dunfermline this weekend – which will include a session on the Bute House Agreement.
Speaking ahead of that, Harvie said: “The Bute House Agreement is absolutely where we need to be. Greens should be in the place where we can make the most difference for people and for planet and that is what the Bute House Agreement gives us.
“The First Minister has openly acknowledged since that announcement that it should have been handled better, there should have been more consultation, not just with us but with local government as well.”
Branding the current council tax as an “out-of-date, broken, dysfunctional system”, he too stressed the importance of reform.
Harvie, minister for zero carbon buildings, active travel and tenants’ rights, said: “It is absurd after 25 years of devolution, with local government finance devolved from day one, the Scottish Parliament has never yet made the fundamental reform that is necessary.
“I think that is a collective failure on all our parts.
“Let’s take this controversy that has arisen because of the way that announcement was made, and turn that into an opportunity to put new momentum into the case for fundamental reform of council tax, so we have a system that is fairer, more equal, so that we have a system that is going to raise revenue for public services, but also does it in a way that respects the autonomy of local government and gives them financial powers.”
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