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Council tax U-Turn?

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By Gordon Neish
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Council tax U-Turn?

COUNCIL chiefs will consider reversing the 10 per cent council tax rise in Argyll and Bute – nearly a month after it was set.

The charge will now be subject to a special council meeting after successful talks between council officials and the Scottish Government – but an opposition councillor has warned it will cost “tens of thousands” to reverse the decision.

The call to increase council tax, which was at odds with the announcement by First Minister Humza Yousaf in October that it would be frozen across the country, was made at a full council meeting on Thursday, February 22.

It was part of a council budget proposal put forward by the ruling Argyll, Lomond and Islands Group (TALIG), made up of Conservative, Liberal Democrat and some independent councillors.

Helensburgh Central Conservative Councillor Gary Mulvaney, the council’s deputy leader, ridiculed an extra £62.7million offered nationwide by the Scottish Government the day before the meeting, likening it to “Dibley Parish Council”.

An amendment by the Strategic Opposition Group, consisting of SNP, Labour and other independent councillors, which would have seen council tax frozen, was narrowly outvoted.

Argyll and Bute was one of only two councils in Scotland to initially increase council tax, the other being Inverclyde.

In a statement issued today (Tuesday) by Argyll and Bute Council, its leader, Kintyre and the Islands Liberal Democrat Councillor Robin Currie, said: “We can now look at freezing council tax for the coming year. We have been lobbying hard for equal support for Argyll and Bute which reflects the incredibly severe impact of unprecedented severe weather in October last year.

“We made a very strong case for that to the Scottish Government at a meeting we asked for in January this year.

“We have continued to press ministers ever since on a range of other issues. We are of course delighted that they have listened to our calls for severe weather support, and that they have now provided for Argyll and Bute that extra assistance that we are fighting for.”

“We see this as acknowledgement of a number of significant issues. It is recognition of the unique challenges that Argyll and Bute faces, which we fight for at every possible opportunity.

“It reinforces the important role of local government. And it supports what has been our priority all along – protecting vital local jobs and services.

“I will be recommending that we freeze council tax for this year at a special meeting of the council.”

The special meeting is set to be convened next month.

Lomond North Independent Councillor Mark Irvine, a member of the Strategic Opposition Partnership, said: “I’m sure it will be seen as a great ‘victory’ by the administration but the reality is that they played politics at the expense of people in Argyll and Bute.

“The simple reality is there was no more money put on the table by the Scottish Government and in the meantime many people have been worried sick about how they will make ends meet.

​“The administration might say they felt there was no way they could accept the tax freeze on offer because they did not have clarity on the conditions attached to the offer.

“But initially, of the 32 councils in Scotland, 30 of them did feel they had sufficient clarity and assurances from Scottish ministers and took the freeze that was offered.

“As several well-known political figures have reminded me recently, politics is about making choices. This decision to reverse the tax hike has simply shown this administration made another poor choice at the expense of the taxpayer.

​“Sadly it will now cost the council, and the taxpayer, tens of thousands of pounds in council officers’ time to unwind the decision and correct the billing system – as well as refund and rebate those residents who have already paid. It’s a wholly unnecessary mess.

“​I’ve always said there can be no place in local government for party political agendas. The people deserve councillors who pull together, regardless of national politics, and who put the people who elected them front and centre in all their decision making.

“This is an [general] election year across the UK and clearly this current administration has repeatedly put politics ahead of the people.”

We understand it is too late to stop citizens’ first payment at the increased rate but – if (as expected) councillors vote to stop the rise future payments will be less than notified.

More in Friday’s print editions.

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