SNP fail to address affordability of council tax freeze

A senior academic has raised questions over the viability of the SNP’s council tax freeze.

How to finance local authorities has long been a contentious issue as Margaret Thatcher found out to her cost in the wake of the despised poll tax.

Across Scotland, the debate is now raging again following an interview given by a senior academic, raising questions over the viability of the SNP’s council tax freeze, a policy mirrored by the Scottish Nationalist’s bed fellows on this one, the Conservatives.

Writing for Scotland on Sunday yesterday, professor Arthur Midwinter, an associate member of the Institute for Public Sector Accounting Research at Edinburgh University, warned that the council tax freeze is having a detrimental impact on efforts to tackle poverty across Scotland.

Arguing that Scotland’s focus on ‘free’ benefits and on a council-tax freeze has led to cuts in efforts designed to help people out of poverty, Midwinter, who was asked by Labour leader Johann Lamont to examine Scottish public spending, wrote:

“Scotland faces the severest cuts in public spending in modern history. Plans are in place to reduce the Scottish block grant by a further £2.2 billion over the next three years.

“All of the savings have to be made on current spending, rather than on capital investment.

“The Scottish government has already delivered £3.6bn of savings through cuts in staff costs (wages, job losses and early retirement packages), in capital spending and cuts to grants in local councils which have borne the brunt of the savings.

“Yet during the past five years, the SNP has increased spending on benefits (free prescriptions, personal nursing care etc) and subsidised the council tax freeze. Spending on these areas has risen from £568m in 2007 to £1,666m in next year’s budget. It is now 6 per cent of the total budget.”

He continued:

“The major gainers from these universal benefits have been the middle and upper income households, as low income households already received financial support for costs like council tax, prescriptions and education prior to these changes.

“The Scottish budget claims that the council tax freeze is progressive yet their officials have produced statistics for the parliament showing the annual saving in Band A is £60, or 0.3 per cent of net household income, compared with £370, or 0.8 per cent, for Band H residents.

“Prioritising these measures has compounded the UK’s austerity agenda.”

Addressing the impact of the Council Tax freeze, Midwinter concludes:

“The result has been 40,000 job loses, cuts in services and increased charges. In addition, the Scottish government transferred a number of high-profile anti-poverty grants into council overall spending – meaning that they can spend it on what they like. These included the Community Regeneration Fund of £113m, the Supporting People Fund of £384m and the Fairer Scotland Fund of £145m.

“There have also been cuts in the housing and regeneration budget of £307m and Education Maintenance Allowance of £15m. The result is that about £1bn of targeted spend on poverty has disappeared. Despite the deputy first minister claiming in 2008 that her government would ‘address the root causes of poverty once and for all’, poverty levels have increased since then.

The warning has led Scottish Labour to call for a cross party discussion about the future funding of local authorities north of the border. Speaking to the BBC’s Sunday Politics Show for Scotland yesterday, the party’s leader Johann Lamont, who last year questioned the viability of some universal benefits, told the programme:

“I want a discussion not where the parties get dividing lines between each other but come together and address the challenge of how do you properly build a confidence in the way you raise taxes locally?”

In response, the SNP typically failed to step up to the plate and have a sensible, adult discussion about the funding of universal benefits, instead reducing the tone of the much needed discussion to a sound bite attack on what it dubs’ Labour’s “cuts commission”.

As you’re here, we have something to ask you. What we do here to deliver real news is more important than ever. But there’s a problem: we need readers like you to chip in to help us survive. We deliver progressive, independent media, that challenges the right’s hateful rhetoric. Together we can find the stories that get lost.

We’re not bankrolled by billionaire donors, but rely on readers chipping in whatever they can afford to protect our independence. What we do isn’t free, and we run on a shoestring. Can you help by chipping in as little as £1 a week to help us survive? Whatever you can donate, we’re so grateful - and we will ensure your money goes as far as possible to deliver hard-hitting news.

32 Responses to “SNP fail to address affordability of council tax freeze”

  1. Jake Church

    Another bash at the SNP from that labour liar Lamont caught out again lying. If you want to feel hardship and the full force of sanctions thumped upon us from the poshboys in London then vote no but i don’t want to hear one moan from any of you no voters!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Ed Jacobs

    See what I mean about constructive engagement on a serious issue. What have a quoted? Johann Lamont says the party’s should come together to establish a consensus on the funding of local authorities. The rest? Well if you read the article you’ll notice that it’s from Professor Midwinter, not Lamont. And what does he say? The Council Tax freeze is having a negative impact just as the Tories in London are pushing council tax freezes. SNP and Tories, same policy. Well I never.

  3. Garve Scott-Lodge

    We’re seeing a proliferation of articles which quote a source described in a non-partisan way, so as to make the quote seem reasonable and considered. “A senior academic” is one of those descriptions, but it doesn’t really make clear the position of Professor Midwinter in the debate.

    He has been an advisor to the Scottish Labour party since at least 2002, and is reported to have been a Labour councillor in the past. He was criticised by the SNP for calling into question the integrity of civil servants who put together Scottish government statistics.

    Reporting his statements as if they were impartial is not really giving the full picture.

    It’s much like articles which have appeared over the last few days quoting an ‘ex senior police officer’s’ views on the security of an independent Scotland without making it very clear that he was a current Labour MSP.

  4. Alec

    I think you need to lay off the caffeine. The shift+1 key can’t take it any more.

    This overwhelming majority in support for the council tax freeze, by SNP figures’ own admission, is coming from a Panelbase poll conducted by the Wings Over Scotland blog… that is, a free-access web-tool by some blog. Or, if you like, a service open to abuse by a plainly partisan blog… the last bit is, of course, their prerogative but youse really ought to have the basic honesty to admit that this is in no way shape or form a rigorous test.

    Here is the first part of the poll in which they admit the results and conclusions are highly tendentious:

    Politicians and newspapers routinely make all sorts of claims about what the public’s attitude to various issues are, but whenever we Google for polling data backing upthose assertions it’s very thin on the ground, especially for Scotland specifically.

    So as usual, we just went ahead and did it ourselves.

    We didn’t go into any detail on anything – we simply wanted a very broad-brush picture of the Scottish electorate’s gut instinct on the hot societal topics of the day, so we just asked people whether they were in favour of, or opposed to, a wide range of propositions.

    Note the 41/39% for/against the EU. Close, eh? Hold a referendum! I doubt it.

    is the bit which includes council tax. Note that we don’t see the actual question… “do you want to pay more tax” is likely to elicit “no” contrasted with “do you believe it’s acceptable to restrict public spending so tax can be low”.

    See also the 45/37% for/against restoration of the death penalty. Build those gallows high, right? No, of course not. Funny that.

    Or 39/34% for/against nuclear plants. These fine and responsible psephologists of WoS ask themselves if they should have asked a plainly loaded question to secure the result they wanted. Like they did with the question on workfare…

    … 56/32% for/against workfare. WoS admits cheerfully to introducing sheer indefensible bias (cf. “forcing unemployed to work”) but still got let down by the lesser intellects of the Scottish public.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that this ‘study’ comes across as utterly worthless, and that any national politicians who makes appeals to it is a risible lightweight.


  5. Alec

    Now that you’ve done all the tu quoque’ing and nudge-nudging, what about the actual substance? And, in the interest of transparency, is there a link to the original study with returned this 82/8% result?

    He was criticised by the SNP for calling into question the integrity of civil servants who put together Scottish government statistics.

    Were his accusations rebutted by a credible investigation?

  6. uglyfatbloke

    They do have a point Ed. Arthur Midwinter is hardly an impartial observer.

  7. Baxter Parp

    Wait a minute, weren’t the Labour Party claiming to have invented the council tax freeze (amongst other things) in their Dunfermline leaflet?

  8. Alec

    Greater support for the death penalty than against. Majority support for workfare (despite the good Reverend admitting to plainly biased questioning). Greater support for renewal of nuclear (which the Reverend suggests could have been negated by asking a plainly biased question). Gnat’s crotchet of greater support for the EU (still not a majority).

    Shall we set policy on those?

    I don’t really care if Lamont hasn’t offered a credible alternative to council tax. Nor has the Scottish Government, preferring an open-ended freeze with the next Government the ones who’re going to pick-up the pieces.


  9. Alec

    They were. And very cynical it was too.

    How would you recommend solving the funding shortfall?


  10. Baxter Parp


  11. Baxter Parp

    Greater support for nuclear? Nuclear what? Where?

  12. Alec

    Ice cream.


  13. Alec


    In favour: 39
    Against: 34
    Don’t know: 28


    Next out of our policy grab-bag was an issue attracting much less of a consensus. Perhaps because we left out the suffix “anywhere near MY house”, Scots were rather less antagonistic to the idea of nuclear power than is commonly asserted.

    As I said, however, even when a plainly leading question was asked, the Scottish public still let them down:


    In favour: 56
    Against: 32
    Don’t know: 12


    Erk. Can we pretend this didn’t happen, Scotland? We’re ashamed of you.

    We gave you every possible chance. We used the rather leading word “forcing” at the start, and said “unemployed people”, rather than the de-personalised, slightly pejorative“the unemployed”, but despite our gentle nudging apparently more than half of you still subscribe to the idea of slave labour in 2013.

    When there’s a clear majority in favour of NATO, it’s all this-vindicates-the-policy-change-which-some-thought-was-rank-cycnicism… when it’s one in favour of summat he disapproves of, it’s let’s-try-to-forget-that-(with-a-bit-of-chocolate-salty-balls-about-slave-labour).

    What a serious psephologist the good Reverend is.


  14. Alec

    What’s the beef? That anyone linked to the Labour Party is inherently suspect? That anyone expressing a opinion has to announce all conceivable potential sources of bias?

    Let’s start with you… please prefix all your posts with your full name, employment history, political affiliation and voting record. If you’re unwilling to do so, why?


  15. Baxter Parp

    So long as we keep voting for governments that are anti-nuclear, we have nothing to worry about. Not sure what all that has to do with the overwhelming popularity of the Council Tax freeze though.

  16. Baxter Parp

    Independence is a solution, ice cream is a tasty treat.

  17. Alec

    Oil of vitriol is a solution as well. Doesn’t mean I want to pour it all over me.

    How would you recommend solving the funding shortfall?


  18. Alec

    A shockingly anti-democratic statement to be frank. It’s clear that your support for the weasel-word de jour of “consensus” is opportunistic cynicism.

    When it’s against you, you’re for our lords and masters forcing it through no matter what mere voters want. When it’s for you, suddenly you’re all ears.

    Of course, given the good Reverend’s blithe admission that he’s looking for the answers he wants, it’s reasonable to ask how respondents would have answered questions with a modicum of honesty… “do you want to pay less tax” is likely to elicit more +ve responses than “do you want public services to be deliberately underfunded so you can pay less tax”.


  19. Baxter Parp

    So because there is a 5% majority of the electorate in favour of nuclear power we should immediately start building power stations, is that it? Presumably we should also reintroduce the death penalty since opinion polls regularly show a majority in favour of that too. Anti-democratic, my arse.
    The good reverend is as biased as this website but doesn’t make a secret of it. Left Foot Forward (except for viewers in Scotland).

  20. Baxter Parp

    I told you. Independence means we can spend our taxes as we like, not as the neoliberals would like us to. No HS2, no Trident replacement, no redundant aircraft carriers, no illegal wars.

  21. Alec

    Illegal wars, yaaaaaawn. There was a significant “consensus” in Scotland for it [1], not least from Scottish MPs… but, as we’ve seen, you don’t much care for that when it goes against what you want.

    Devolution doesn’t stop anti-poverty funds being ring-fenced. Why is that not happening? Even then, those who are not overgrown sixth years playing at grown-up Government accept that some compromises are necessary until full-control comes (and it might not go in the direction you hope as with workfare, withdrawal from EU, nuclear power, death penalty – only one of which I definitely do not oppose – so you ignore it like a cheap opportunist).

    What public services are you forgoing? Or is it just the oiks in run-down areas who have to go without for you to prove a point?

    [1] Note how I don’t say “them”. I’m aware of the arguments against Iraq, but t’other biggie in Afghanistan was firmly and unequivocally within legal framework.

  22. Alec

    I see you’ve sidled away from the majority support – even in the face of blatant gerrymandering – for workfare. I suppose that’s because you are not at all serious about opinion polls except as manufacturing consent for you and disregarding when it goes against you.

    So because there is a 5% majority of the electorate in favour of nuclear power we should immediately start building power stations, is that it? Presumably we should also reintroduce the death penalty since opinion polls regularly show a majority in favour of that too.

    Why not? It’s the consensus! There are some stark decisions – like judicial killing – which are too serious to be left to simple plebiscites. That’s why we elect politicians… not as grubby vote-chasers, but as representatives who accept the responsibility of office to implement/run an efficient and just national Government.

    If you don’t want that, go and live in some Swiss canton.

    There are others, like nuclear power or changes to the benefits system and local taxation, which are complex policies. You cannot appeal to the easy virtue of simple yes/no polls for one and then tell mere voters not to worry their pretty little heads about others depending on your self-centred opinions.

    That’s the sort of thing which presents you as a cynical opportunist and anti-democratic chancer.

    The good reverend is as biased as this website but doesn’t make a secret of it.

    Don’t tell him Pike! It’s your and his prerogative (and I certainly can disagree with him in respect), but at least have the basic honesty to admit that youse are not honest and unflexing defenders of public opinion.


  23. Baxter Parp

    I haven’t sidled away from anything, you asked for a link to the poll and I provided one. I’m starting to think that you’re shifting your argument every time you’re thwarted, like a very average troll.

  24. Baxter Parp

    …and based on lies and deceit, which is ok in your book, presumably.

  25. Alec

    Now we’re onto the post modern claptrap of throwing an accusation straight back verbatim and thinking it carries special meaning ‘cos you said it. It’s yow who triumphantly referred to the 82/8% for/against some opinion poll on council tax freezes by someone who admits to trying to stack the pack, and then sneered at greater support for policies which he disagrees with and contemptuously told those who disagreed to suck it up.

    Provided the source material? You clearly hadn’t read it! Otherwise you wouldn’t have reacted with disbelief when I – someone who had read it and the first part – spotted the support for nuclear power.

    I’ve spotted other howlers.

    On nuclear weapons, there’s a 46/32/21% of against/for/undecided. The good Reverend observes that despite a clear majority of 3:2 against (there isn’t really a majority, there a plurality) this is “perhaps a smaller margin than you’d have thought”.

    Why might he have thought that? Because he’s mistaken his self-centred views for actual public opinion?

    On the 37/45% against/for on death penalty which, despite all the blather about being less than 50%, is still a “clear majority” according to him, he says “[…] pensioners predictably the keenest at +22”.

    Oh, get to Fife! Why predictably? Because, again, you’re mistaking an opinion poll for rambling speculation? It’s just as plausible to suggest that the older age group have from first hand experience, the sense of horror at the death penalty which caused it to be legislated out of existence, rather than brand pensioners a bunch of blood thirty goons.

    There are interesting points from this survey, but on major topics… the ones which really tickle your interest, the conclusions you and he have drawn are highly tendentious to say the least.

    Now, back to council tax… what would you replace it with? How would you plug then spending shortfall? How are you being affected by reduced services?


  26. Alec

    Yadda yadda yadda. The claim that the vote was based on lies (could only be WMD) is itself a lie. Acquaint yourself with the Hansard record of Mr. A. C. L. Blair’s preamble to the vote on the matter… you’ll see no mention of WMD, and plenty of mention of accepted and proven facts.

    With that vote, it became incorporated into British law and international legislation.

    There are plenty of things which are legal but which I disagree with, and things which are illegal but which I think should be legal. Given that I have an emotional age greater than my collar size, I make the case for or against whatever based on intrinsic argument. Not vacuous appeals to law which I may appreciate or may know naff all about.


  27. Baxter Parp

    I didn’t triumphantly anything, I just provided a link. I should have known when you equated opinion polls with democracy that I was dealing with a troll. Bye.

  28. Baxter Parp

    Afghanistan was based on the hunt for Osama, who wasn’t there. Just because it was “legal” doesn’t mean it was “right”. And it wasted billions of pounds and hundreds of thousands of lives.

  29. Alec

    Yeah, that’s right. Turn-up, scream and shout, run away.

    What a competent debater you are. And, by that, I mean you’re absolute rubbish… you cannot tell me or anyone what to do.


  30. Alec

    Afghanistan was based on the hunt for Osama, who wasn’t there.

    And with this level of ahistorical ignorance, is there any point in taking what you have to say seriously?

    Just because it was “legal” doesn’t mean it was “right”.

    You were the one desperately trying to show that Iraq was illegal ergo wrong. Make your mind up!


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.