SIC convener Sandy Cluness says he will be listening carefully to next week’s debate among local authorities about whether the SNP government should end its freeze on council tax rates.
There is growing pressure from a number of local authorities, most prominently from Glasgow City Council leader Gordon Matheson this week, for the freeze to be rescinded to allow councils to raise rates, which they argue would reduce the amount of potentially damaging cuts to public services which will be required.
Mr Cluness said the issue was slightly different for the SIC because the revenue it takes in from the council tax forms a much smaller proportion of its income than is the case elsewhere in Scotland, but that an end to the freeze may be something which the council would support. A council tax take of just over £7 million last year represented less than 10 per cent of the SIC’s overall revenue budget.
“There’s a meeting of Cosla leaders next week and it’s on the agenda for that,” said the convener. “We would listen to the debate next week and see from there, but we haven’t taken any decision on it as yet.”
Cosla president Pat Watters said this week that local authorities wanted the freeze – introduced when the SNP came to power in 2007 – to be rescinded and for councils to keep the £70 million being given to them by Holyrood in return for implementing the freeze: “It sounds as if we want to have our cake and eat it – and, yes, we do.”
Meanwhile, Mr Cluness said the council would strongly resist any move to reduce the number of local authorities in Scotland. Former head of the Accounts Commission Alastair MacNish this week called for the number of councils to be slashed from 32 to 15, which he believes will save up to £100 million a year.
“We’d be against that, naturally,” said Mr Cluness. “You can see the way central government is going, with talk about merging fire services, health services and so on, but I think it unlikely that an SNP government would try anything like that prior to the election next year, so I think we’re safe for the moment.”
He added that there has been talk of working more in partnership with other local authorities and he would be happy to look at ways of doing so, particularly with councils in Orkney and the Western Isles, but he would strongly resist any notion of a merger for the island authorities.