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by Louise Wilson
19 October 2023
‘No agreement’ to freeze council tax, says Cosla

Humza Yousaf and Cosla president Shona Morrison signed a landmark partnership agreement between Scottish and local government in June

‘No agreement’ to freeze council tax, says Cosla

Councils have not agreed to freeze council tax next year, Cosla has said.

The umbrella group for Scottish local government has insisted only councils can make the decision to freeze the tax, following the announcement made by First Minister Humza Yousaf yesterday.

Cosla also criticised the Scottish Government for failing to discuss the announcement with local government beforehand.

Following an emergency meeting of Cosla’s leaders, a statement said there was “real anger” at the government’s handling of the announcement and the group would seek an urgent meeting with the first minister.

It continued: “It has been shown that previous council tax freezes have been regressive, having no impact for the poorest in society and eroding the council tax base, compounding councils’ ongoing underfunding.

“We will explore the implications arising and what the Scottish Government might propose when we meet with the deputy first minister later today – but we are clear that local taxation and particularly council tax should be left for democratically elected councils to determine.”

Yousaf made the announced at the SNP’s conference, arguing the move would help households struggling to make ends meet amid the cost-of-living crisis.

But a deal between the Scottish Government and Cosla, signed earlier this year, committed the two to working together to create a “robust and regular process” on budgets.

That deal, known as the Verity House Agreement, included a clause stating there was an “underlying principle of no surprises”.

Cosla said yesterday’s announcement flew in the face of that principle.

Speaking to journalists after Yousaf’s speech yesterday, the FM’s advisors said the block grant to be given to councils from central government would be negotiated with Cosla – with a view to providing enough cash to ensure a freeze on council tax.

The Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) has said decisions on council tax should be left to local authorities, not made by central government. It also critcised the lack of consultation from the Scottish Government.

LGIU Scotland chief Jonathan Carr-West said: “Everyone aspires to a sustainable, stable future for local government finances but this can only be achieved by giving councils control, not by imposing decisions upon them. 

“Scotland had seemed to be making good progress in this regard with the Verity House Agreement and commitments to empowering local government. It’s disappointing to see this backward step.”

The freeze has also sparked concern among the Scottish Greens, who are the SNP’s partners in government.

The Bute House Agreement between the two parties has a similar “no surprises” clause, but it was confirmed that the party was only told about the freeze hours before Yousaf’s speech.

The party’s finance spokesperson Ross Greer said his party would “work through the details” with SNP ministers as a next step, but Green MSPs would want to unsure no local services are “underfunded as a result” of the freeze.

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