Scotland politics

Q&A: Will councils raise council tax?

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Media captionMoray Council looks set to abandon the Scottish government's freeze on council tax in order to avoid cutting services

Moray Council is threatening an 18% rise in council tax bills. Will other councils follow? BBC Scotland's local government correspondent Jamie McIvor answers some key questions.

Q Why is Moray Council proposing a rise so much above inflation?

The way the council tax freeze works means any rise has to be significant to be worthwhile. This is because any council that raises council tax would lose some of its cash from the Scottish government.

That means any council tax rise would first have to balance out this cut. Up until now, this carrot and stick approach has worked.

While some non-SNP councils complained about the terms of the freeze or warned about cuts, this is the first time any council has seriously proposed an increase.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The council tax freeze was introduced by the SNP-administration in 2007

Q Will Moray be the only one?

A number of other councils have not confirmed that they will continue with the council tax freeze. Councils to watch include Highland, Fife, Falkirk, East Lothian and South Ayrshire.

However, the likelihood is that the majority of councils will freeze the council tax.

It's worth remembering that the Scottish election is only three months away - raising council tax by a significant amount is a big political gamble.

By the end of next week, councils should have informed the Scottish government whether they plan to accept its funding package.

Any proposal to raise the council tax would have to be voted on by the full council. Councils typically hold their budget meetings in mid February - any increases in bills would take effect in April.

Talk of a widespread rebellion or of soaring bills across Scotland is, at present, overstated.

Image caption Councils get the majority of their budget to pay for local services from the Scottish government

Q Why has the freeze become a live issue this year?

A number of councils argue that this year's funding offer from the Scottish government is tougher than the one they had anticipated.

This has left them looking at bigger than expected cuts and savings.

In Moray's case, the council argues it had already faced £6.8m of cuts and savings but the figure grew to £11.9m after it learned how much money it would actually get.

Cosla argues that councils across Scotland are facing £350m of cuts.

It is worth noting that when individual councils talk about figures for cuts and savings, they are not always simply referring to cuts in the amount they receive from the Scottish government.

They are under a legal duty to balance their budgets. There is rising demand for some services - so they may look for savings elsewhere in order to pay for that. Hence the totals they sometime quote for savings targets.

Image caption Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs it would be "unfair" to give government cash to those which comply with the freeze, but also give money to those which do not

Q So why doesn't the Scottish government simply tell councils it's ok to raise council tax?

The Scottish government believes the council tax freeze is a socially progressive measure which has helped family budgets.

While, in absolute terms, people in the most expensive properties have saved the most over the past eight years the government would argue that people on lower incomes have gained a greater proportionate benefit.

The freeze was, however, originally seen as a short-term measure which would only last until the council tax was replaced. In its 2007 manifesto, the SNP proposed replacing the council tax with a local income tax.

Image caption Councils provide a variety of services such as fixing roads, collecting bins and education

Q Are the days of the council tax numbered?

A recent report - commissioned by the government and council organisation Cosla - set out details of possible alternatives. The question now is what commitments parties make in their manifestos for May's Holyrood election.

Image caption Council tax accounts for 12p of every pound a council spends

Q Is the issue just about council tax?

Some in local government believe there needs to be a far wider debate. They say the question goes beyond whether the money raised by the council tax just now could be raised in a different way.

A report commissioned by Cosla in 2014 argued that if local democracy was to be safeguarded and strengthened, councils needed to have far more financial freedom and become less dependent on the Scottish government.

Such a move would mean councils having a suite of financial powers.

The council tax typically accounts for just 12p of every pound a council spends.

Most comes directly from the Scottish government or is raised in business rates.

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