How do you solve a problem like local taxation?

Written by Kate Shannon on 28 May 2015 in Comment

A new commission has been set up in Scotland to examine how local taxation could be reformed but will it provide solutions?

Unfortunately, solving the issue of how local taxation should work in Scotland is not as easy as providing it with a rich baron, some mountains and a load of children.

Leaving the Sound of Music analogies to the side for the moment, this is an issue which policymakers and councils have struggled with for years. 

Council tax is widely acknowledged to be not fit for purpose but what it should be replaced with, and how local government in Scotland should be paid for, presents a tricky conundrum.


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In Scotland, 18 per cent of local income is currently raised through local taxation – but is this enough?

The Scottish Greens, one of the few parties to put forward a possible solution as to how local government should be funded, prefer a land value tax.

Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats have said they want to see “radical change” which would see tax powers returned to local communities.

However, in November some light appeared on the horizon.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that an independent, cross-party body would be set up to examine the issue, a solution first put forward by Holyrood’s Local Government and Regeneration Committee.

The commission was tasked with the tricky job of finding a viable alternative to the council tax and is due to report this autumn.

And so the Commission on Local Tax Reform was born.

The commission is co-chaired by Minister for Local Government Marco Biagi and Councillor David O’Neill, president of COSLA, and it took evidence for the first time last week.

Biagi said: “This unique commission sees experts and practitioners together with MSPs and representatives from local government who are working across the political divide to examine alternative systems of local taxation.

“The present council tax is universally acknowledged as being unfair, but our public services depend upon the £2 billion of funding it delivers each year.

“The views of Scotland’s 2.4 million council tax payers are fundamental to our understanding of other potential systems and their likely success.

“Nearly every household in Scotland is liable for council tax, but nobody has ever asked the public how they might best contribute to the funding of public services.”

I think this is an important development. Many people still feel detached from the machinations of governments at all levels, so actually getting council tax-paying members of the public to contribute to the commission’s work would be a great achievement.

Ultimately, the commission’s findings and the subsequent changes to local taxation will be richer for hearing what the broadest cross-section of the country thinks and I really hope many take the time to contribute.

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