Poorer residents to be spared council tax hike

Councillor  Eddie McAvoy
Councillor Eddie McAvoy

The vast majority of Clydesdale residents are to be spared a council tax hike next year.

South Lanarkshire Council has announced that it will not seize the opportunity to increase the tax for the first time in nine years following the Scottish Government lifting the freeze on local authorities imposed in 2007.

However, the Scottish Government will be going ahead with its own increases for those occupying more expensive properties in higher council rax bands.

Announcing that it won’t be adding its own rises to any of the bands, the leader of the Labour-run authority, Eddie McAvoy, said that the decision to voluntarily continue the freeze came despite council chiefs facing further Scottish Government expenditure cuts next year.

Warning about the impact of the decision, he said: “The council has a tough job ahead to balance the budget for next year, but we know that our residents are struggling with their budgets too.

“That’s why the council administration has decided not to increase council tax bills, even though the freeze has been ended by the Government.

“I know this move will be welcomed across South Lanarkshire, especially by those who are having difficulty making ends meet.

“Costs are rising everywhere, and I think it is right that we do not add to the burden on our residents.”

Rutherglen Central and North councillor Mr McAvoy went on: “We will deliver on this pledge even though it won’t be easy as continued cuts in our grant have made it increasingly difficult to protect the key front-line services local people depend on.

“In fact, we have been forced to cut more than £120m from our budget in recent years, and we expect to have to find further savings for 2016-17.

“We could, in theory, put up the council tax by as much as 3%, and that would undoubtedly have made it easier to balance the budget. But with all the pressures currently on household budgets, I believe we have to do that without putting up council tax bills.”

He added that the council had been mindful of those in the higher tax bands who would still have to face the Scottish Government-imposed rise in their council tax bills next year.

He stated that one of the reasons he wants to avoid an across-the-board council tax increase is because a number of householders are “already facing higher bills after the Scottish Government introduced an increase across the country on properties in bands E to H.

That change was ratified by the Scottish Parliament last Thursday and will come into effect when new tax bills go out across Scotland next spring.

Mr McAvoy claimed that the Scottish Government will cut the grant it gives to each council by the sum raised in each local authority area.

He added: “I’m all in favour of asking for more tax contributions from people who can afford to pay more, so long as the money raised is used to improve the lives of those who are less well off, but the Scottish Government’s changes to council tax are seriously flawed.

“For a start, any money raised in South Lanarkshire will effectively disappear into the Scottish Government’s coffers rather than being available for the council to use to improve services for everyone.

“This is also seriously damaging in terms of local accountability.

“Taking all these circumstances into account, I believe the best thing the council can do is to keep down council tax bills next year, even though it means we will have to find savings elsewhere if, as we fear, the Government cuts our funding once again.”

The council’s opposition SNP group had yet to issue a statement on the planned freeze at time of the Gazette going to press this week.