Scottish councils 'need full control' of taxation

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Reform Scotland argue that local authorities should be able to raise more of the money they spend

Councils should be handed full control over local taxation, including the ability to scrap levies and introduce new ones, a think tank has proposed.

Reform Scotland said the measure should form part of an overhaul of local governance in Scotland.

The body argues that successive governments have eroded councils' powers.

The Scottish government said it was committed to making local taxation "more progressive".

Reform Scotland's proposals, set out in its Blueprint For Local Power report, would require new legislation which the organisation said should be brought forward before next month's local elections.

The document states that under the new arrangements, local authorities should be responsible for all areas not specifically reserved to Holyrood, with tasks carried out at "the lowest level practical".

Councils should provide "clear and transparent" information on their activities to ensure proper local accountability, the think tank said.

Tax freeze

On tax, it states: "The way that local taxation operates at present takes no real account of local priorities because local councillors have no genuine control over local taxation.

"Although the council tax freeze has been lifted, increases have been capped by the Scottish government, just as they were in the past by Conservative governments led by Margaret Thatcher.

"The only way local priorities and circumstances can be taken into account is if council tax is fully devolved."

Reform Scotland believes business rates should also be fully devolved to councils, with local authorities free to implement their own area-specific levies.

Reform Scotland's director Geoff Mawdsley said: "Successive governments at Holyrood and Westminster have paid lip service to the importance of local government, while centralising its power and reducing its autonomy and accountability.

"If there is any point in having a level of local government, and if we want it to mean anything, then we have to allow it to exercise power and with it take responsibility.

"That is why we are proposing legislation to cement local authorities' place in the spectrum of governance in Scotland.

Reform 'journey'

Mr Mawdsley said local authorities should be raising more of what they spend - currently this accounts for only £1.40 of every £10 spent.

He added: "Local democracy is at a crossroads - it is time for politicians to follow decades of words with some action."

The Scottish government said its focus was on encouraging councils to empower communities across the country.

"We have committed to a journey of reform to make local taxation more progressive and local authorities can already reduce non-domestic rates as they choose," a spokesman said.

"Our Community Empowerment Act puts additional powers into the hands of communities to hold their local authority to account and our proposals for education would see parents and teachers taking greater responsibility for their schools.

"We expect to see at least 1% of each local authority budget decided by local communities.

"It is important that we do not just consider what power local authorities should have, but how local authorities can transfer more of their power to local communities."

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