Scotland politics

Study says 'no magic bullet' to cure council tax defects

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Media captionCouncil tax alternatives could be challenging, says a review body examining ways to reform or replace the tax

Replacing or reforming the council tax in Scotland could prove challenging, according to a study.

A review for the Commission on Local Tax Reform said there was no "magic bullet" to cure defects in the system.

It said the council tax had built-in problems "from day one" but a failure to modify it had stored up more difficulties for policy makers.

The commission, set up by the Scottish government and council body Cosla, will report back later this year.

Prof Kenneth Gibb, from the University of Glasgow, was asked to review different systems of local taxation across the world.

He found that a tax on property was used by almost all OECD countries and was seen by academics as a "good tax" because it was stable, difficult to avoid and could have a desirable impact on housing markets.

'No link to income'

But it also generated confusion with taxpayers unclear whether it was a tax on wealth or a charge for services such as refuse collection.

Some felt it was unfair because it was not linked to current income.

Prof Gibb noted that a local income tax, used by many countries, was generally perceived as fairer.

But he found such a system created difficulties for local authorities because it meant their income fluctuated. There was also little opportunity to vary tax rates to reflect local priorities.

He said: "It is clear there is no magic bullet.

"Past experience from the UK and across the world shows that reform is always going to be difficult and will inevitably be bound up with the previous experiences and traumas of past reform.

"So whilst the current council tax has many deficiencies, change and reform is a major undertaking."

The commission now intends to hold a public consultation across Scotland before publishing its report in the autumn.

A Scottish government spokesman said ministers consider the current council tax system "as a whole to be unfair".

He added: "That is why, along with our local government partners, we have established the cross-party Commission on Local Tax Reform to examine fairer alternatives.

"The Scottish government awaits the commission's report, which is due in the Autumn."

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