From 2008-09 to 2015-16 the local government budget has fallen by 6 per cent compared to 3 per cent for the Scottish Government. Central control of funding has exacerbated the flaws in the council tax, which is based on property values from 24 years ago. This broken system has unquestionably harmed vital public services.
The Scottish Government knows that reform is needed, and set up a local tax commission, which my colleague Andy Wightman from the Scottish Greens took part in. We can improve our democracy and our public services by giving councils the kind of income-raising powers councils in other countries take for granted.
Labour are right to say that public services can only be protected if we raise the revenue that’s needed. This is a case we’ve been making for several years now, but Labour’s proposal on Income Tax would place a greater burden on income when it is the huge wealth inequality in our society we should be tackling. Their proposal would also increase local reliance on central government funding when we should be devolving power within Scotland.
In years to come, increased powers over rates and bands of Income Tax will give Holyrood real flexibility to target the wealthiest in our society, while today we must focus on giving local authorities the ability to raise funds including from vacant land and under-taxed luxury properties.
The Finance Secretary should not penalise councils who exercise democratic decisions. Scottish Greens have shown we can raise hundreds of millions of pounds in extra revenue from derelict land, and we’ve also made the case for ending the Council Tax freeze and ensuring the owners of luxury properties pay more. These tax policies would protect services, they’d be progressive, but they’d also empower local communities and address wealth inequality.
On housing, Scottish Greens believe Scotland can provide good homes for all but we need to see ministers match their commitment to energy efficient housing with a funding increase rather than a cut, and a specific budget line to demonstrate it really is a National Infrastructure Priority. A clear timescale is needed for bringing all residential buildings up to modern standards, so we can end the scandal of Scotland’s cold and expensive-to-heat homes.
The Scottish Greens have welcomed the decision of Land Reform Minister to investigate the options for bringing Scotland’s 11,000 hectares of vacant and derelict land into the valuation system. Analysis by the Scottish Greens suggests that taxing such land could raise around £300 million a year for house-building. The progress made shows how important it is to have Green voices at Holyrood pushing the Scottish Government to be bold.
Scottish Greens have consistently pushed for community and public ownership of energy assets so the profits can be used to fund the transition our local economies and communities need. Locally owned capacity now operational in Scotland represents only three per cent of renewable ownership in Scotland and includes small private ownership. By contrast Germany has 65 per cent in local or community hands. We could be copying Germany’s programme of switching to renewables and reducing demand through widespread local ownership. Giving communities and public bodies control not only creates jobs and cuts bills but provides revenue to invest in other priorities.
On Monday, 8th February, Scottish Greens are launching the campaign for Holyrood. Tune into Periscope on greens.scot which goes live on the morning and follow tweets on #GreenLaunch16