The Scottish Parliament passed the SNP Government’s budget settlement last week but politicians couldn’t agree on the benefits it would bring to the Borders.
Conservative politicians highlighted the ‘triple tax whammy’ they say the budget settlement has delivered for the region - higher income tax, the possibility of council tax going up by 4.9% and council workers taxed to drive to work.
A last minute deal with the Green Party, in which the Scottish Government agreed to a £90m increase in funding to local authorities, meant the budget was approved.
Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay’s proposals include raising the cap at which local authorities can increase council tax (from 3% to 4.9%) a move to three-year local authority budgets and legislation that will give councils control over tourism taxes. He also wants councils to charge staff for taking their car to work.
Scottish Borders Council saw an increase in their funding settlement from central government of either less than 1 per cent in real terms (Conservative party estimate) or an extra £1.5m (SNP party estimate).
Councillor Shona Haslam, leader of Scottish Borders Council said: “This settlement does go some way to mitigating the cuts that we were expecting; however it has a narrow focus in terms of local taxation.”
Councillor Stuart Bell, leader of the council’s SNP opposition group, said: “We must wait until the detail of the £187m package from the Scottish Government is analysed by officers, but my provisional calculation is that the new funding announcements could give the council more than £1.5m,
“Significant announcements have been made on a phased development of alternatives to the council tax.
“I am also pleased that talks on meaningful alternatives to council tax will restart and that with a three-year funding settlement, as opposed to the current one-year deals, there will be more clarity for local authorities on future funding.”
Warning that people were about to be hit by a triple tax whammy, Borders MSP Rachael Hamilton (Conservative) said: “This budget not only taxes aspiration, but taxes people for driving to work, which is quite frankly ridiculous in a constituency like mine, where travelling by car is essential.
“We will pay the highest income taxes in the UK, council tax could go up, and now you might even be taxed for taking your car to work.”
Councillor Bell countered: “The Conservatives who lead the council like to highlight that we were told we might see £4.6m less for core revenue funding next year, conveniently forgetting to talk about promised money for new services such as the massive expansion in early learning and childcare.
“They also omit to tell Borderers that we are getting £4m more next year as capital funding, almost exactly offsetting the change in revenue funding.”