Labour councils proved that tax freeze was a great policy by rejecting chance to get rid of it

Duplicity, effrontery... utter desperation. There are many ways to describe the backward roll Labour has performed on the council tax freeze. None are particularly complimentary.

A year ago some Labour councils threatened to take the Scottish government to court to end the freeze, claiming it imposed a nuclear winter on the land hurt local services.

This year they had the option to sweep it away, but a clutch of councils have chosen to continue it.

Worse, these councils, such as South Lanarkshire, Aberdeen and Inverclyde have shouted the loudest against the freeze and complain most loudly about their budget allocation from the Scottish Government.

The SNP council tax freeze was one of the most popular policies ever pursued by a government, so it was par for the course that Labour politicians hated it. No surprise there.

They haven’t exactly had their finger on the pulse of popular opinion in recent times. Under previous Labour governments in Scotland the council tax rose by up to 60 per cent, plunging many households into crisis.

The SNP introduced the nine year freeze starting in 2008 to protect individuals and families faced with rising prices (VAT, rent, fuel, food) while the value of wages fell. It was the one tax controlled in Scotland. So we made sure it was the one bill that was not going to rise.

The freeze was also fully funded centrally by the SNP government, who transferred £70 million a year to councils to enable them to keep bills down. In fact one independent report, by the Scottish Parliament’s information unit, found that the freeze was over-funded by the SNP, meaning councils didn’t suffer.

But Labour MSPs voted against the council tax freeze every time the SNP put it before the Scottish Parliament.

Their leaders attacked it at every opportunity.

On Newsnight Scotland in January 2012, responding to proposals for a further 5-year council tax freeze, Scottish Labour’s then Deputy Leader, Anas Sarwar, said “I don’t think that’s credible. I don’t think that’s progressive.”

The Labour leaders of both South Lanarkshire and Inverclyde Councils condemned the freeze last year. But when the SNP decided the time had come for modest rises to help council’s meet their costs, suddenly the freeze wasn’t the problem any more. They have both chosen to continue it.

This hypocrisy is even more jaw dropping when you consider Labour’s own proposal for council tax reform.  Read the rest of my column here.

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