Scotland politics

MSPs vote to raise top four council tax bands

Government proposals Image copyright PA
Image caption The government proposals will see council tax rise for properties in bands E, F, G and H

MSPs have voted to increase the top four bands of council tax - despite the final motion approving the order including criticism of the government.

The changes will see council tax bands E-H rise from April 2017.

An opposition amendment meant SNP members were forced to vote for a motion noting that they had failed to make radical enough changes.

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay said the changes were "the first step in a journey of reform".

The council tax freeze is to end in 2017, meaning all properties could potentially see their bill rise. But the order passed at Holyrood means the top four bands will rise in proportion to the others.

The average band E household will pay £2 per week more than at present, and those in the highest band about £10 a week more

Parliament had to pass a piece of secondary legislation in order to raise the bands, and this went before MSPs as a parliamentary bureau motion after Finance Secretary Derek Mackay persuaded the local government committee to support the move.

Green member Andy Wightman put forward an amendment accepting the changes, but noting that parliament "regrets" that the plans "undermine the principle of local accountability and autonomy and fail to address a number of issues".

This was accepted by MSPs, with all opposition members supporting it and SNP members opposed. This meant government MSPs had to vote in favour of a motion critical of their approach in order to get the order passed.

The average annual increase in council tax as a result of the band adjustments would be;

  • Band E - £105
  • Band F - £207
  • Band G - £335
  • Band H - £517

Opposition members have repeatedly called for a different approach from the Scottish government, with many pointing to the findings of the Commission on Local Tax Reform.

Mr Wightman said the government plans were a "tepid re-heat of a discredited system" and were "fatally flawed", but said the Greens would support the order no matter what amendments were made.

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay replied that the changes were just the "first steps on a journey of reform", hitting out at "opportunistic opposition" over the vote.

He pointed out that the plans would raise £100m to be spent on education, and said the SNP would not let party politics get in the way of this.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The most expensive homes in Scotland are set to be taxed more

But Tory member Graham Simpson said this was "uncharted territory", with the government aiming to raise money at a council level and then spend it nationally on education. He called this an "attack on local democracy".

Labour's Alex Rowley said the government had not been honest about their tax plans, but said his party would support the rate rises as they were better than the existing system.

And Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said his party would oppose the order as it would only "embed" the council tax, calling for "true reform".

At decision time, Mr Wightman's amendment was passed by 65 votes to 63 after an amendment put forward by Mr Mackay was defeated by the same margin.

The final motion then passed by 92 votes to 35.

Image copyright PA

Analysis by BBC Scotland Political Editor Brian Taylor

These are not ordinary times; this is not routine politics.

The SNP is in a minority - and, boy, do the other parties want to emphasise that point. I detect a real difference from the parliament of 2007/2011 - when deals were common, especially between the SNP and the Conservatives over the budget.

Now the Tories, emboldened by their electoral second place, are resisting SNP blandishments - while Labour, the Greens and the Lib Dems are similarly immune to appeals for consensus. This may change - there may yet be bargains to come - but right now the tone is different.

The outcome? Parliament carried an amendment from the Greens which gave the go-ahead to the upper band increases but added some decidedly sharp criticism of the government which, understandably, was inimical to ministers and their supporters.

In vain, did Derek Mackay, the finance secretary, accuse his opponents of opportunism. In vain, did he advance a neutral amendment of his own - offering talks and stressing the twin aims of a progressive and fair local government finance system.

In order to secure those higher band charges, in order to secure the anticipated £100m for spending on school attainment, SNP MSPs were obliged to swallow their pride and vote for an amended SSI which criticised their own government.

Read more of Brian's thoughts on the council tax vote.

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