Saturday, March 12th, 2016
Author: Anne Thomas
The scale of the planned expenditure cuts by the Highland Council is truly horrendous. What’s worse is that, if nothing changes, the same exercise may have to be repeated, year after year. Such a scenario is intolerable. The amount Highland Council is paying out in redundancy payments is predicted to exceed the costs saved, so they are going to be using up reserves to pay people to stop working and vital services such as already stretched social work and roads maintenance will be cut.
So what is the Scottish Greens’ answer?
The Council Tax needs to be scrapped and replaced with a much fairer system of taxation which would raise more revenue. Currently the highest council band is only three times the lowest, whereas the range of property values is 15 times. A ‘Land Value Tax’ would be fairer and shift the tax base from income to wealth. However Council Tax only provides about 12 % of a council’s revenue. Until now the Scottish Government has protected local councils from UK Government cuts, but their imposed council tax freeze has meant a real-term cut. This year however COSLA estimates that there has been a 3.5% cut in the money councils have received.
With an ageing population needs are increasing all the time. The Highlands has also seen a greater increase in population than other parts of Scotland which also means demands on services are increasing. The amount the Scottish Government is collecting from business rates from larger businesses has increased but this increase in revenue has not been passed on to local councils. Currently shooting estates do not pay and multinationals get away with paying very little. If they did more revenue could be raised which could be passed on to local councils.
The Scottish Government can protect its public services by increasing funding to local councils so that they can maintain existing roads and services rather than ploughing ahead with unnecessary new roads.
Councils should be allowed to respond to local need and raise more of their own revenue. Until a Land Value Tax or similar fairer tax can be introduced councils should at least not be bound by a rigid council tax freeze.
Highland Council has costs of £27 million for waste disposal. All of us can help reduce this by only buying what we need, donating things we no longer want to charity, repairing things rather than binning them, recycling more and composting garden waste. Greens would require shops to reduce packaging and move towards a ‘circular economy’ where things are made to be easily recycled and much more use is made of recycled products. Waste can be a resource rather than an expense.
Scotland is a wealthy country. If tax revenue was fairly collected and passed on and Councils were allowed to raise more money locally, they could protect front line services.