Green budget deals have stemmed local austerity; it's time to empower a fairer system of local taxation

With the Scottish Parliament expected tonight (5.15pm, 21 Feb) to approve the Green budget deal, which delivers an extra £170million for local council services, Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie MSP has published a letter he has written to the First Minister, arguing for a step change in local government funding.

The Green MSPs have already warned that they will be unable to enter negotiations on next year’s Scottish budget if meaningful progress isn't made in the coming months on local tax reform.

In the letter, Mr Harvie says:

"Local tax reform is an opportunity to put local services on a sure financial footing, to ditch a system of taxation that asks poorer households to pay proportionally more, to adopt a fairer system of land and property taxation, to empower local decision-making, and to shift tax from income to wealth where inequalities are greater. 

"The groundwork for reform has been done – the Commission for Local Tax Reform has informed the debate and forged cross-party recognition that the present Council Tax system must end. Successive SNP budgets have squeezed local government harder than UK austerity has cut the national settlement. Since the SNP lost its majority, two Green budget deals have stemmed this added austerity."

Patrick adds:

"Full replacement of the current system of Council Tax will require time for consultation, legislation and implementation. However the initial steps must be taken in order for progress to take place over the rest of the parliamentary session."

Suggestions from the Green MSPs include:

* Devolving or partly-devolving control of non-domestic (business) rates
* Setting a target for the percentage of local council finance which is raised locally
* Introducing a new local government Fiscal Framework
* Incorporating the European Charter of Local Self Government into domestic law
* Committing to multi-year indicative funding settlements so local councils can plan ahead

The letter concludes by pointing out that local councils could also be given the freedom to:

* Raise Council Tax more than the current three per cent cap
* Introduce a vacant and derelict land levy
* Acquire land at current use value
* Create new local taxes such as environmental or visitor levies