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by Louise Wilson
19 December 2023
Scottish Budget: Offer to councils is ‘fair’ says Shona Robison

Shona Robison delivered her first budget as finance secretary | Alamy

Scottish Budget: Offer to councils is ‘fair’ says Shona Robison

Shona Robison has insisted the proposals for council block grants in next year’s budget is a “fair offer”.

The finance secretary was under pressure to provide local authorities with enough cash to avoid any increase to council tax.

That announcement was made by First Minister Humza Yousaf in his SNP conference speech earlier this year, sparking furious reaction from council umbrella body Cosla which had not been consulted beforehand.

Delivering her first budget on Tuesday, Robison said councils would receive an additional £140m – roughly the equivalent to what a five per cent increase to council tax would provide.

But some councils had been considering larger increases in light of spending pressures. A statement from Cosla published earlier this week warned that not fully funding the freeze would result in “serious consequences for communities”.

Speaking to journalists after the statement, Robison said: “It's above inflation. It's a reasonable offer, and we'll continue to discuss with Cosla who we'll be meeting soon and having those discussions about how we take that forward – but I think it’s a fair offer.”

Asked why the government had chosen to prioritise the council tax freeze over other measures, the finance secretary said it was “important to deliver a balanced budget” which recognised the need to invest in public services as well as protect household incomes.

She added: “We've actually given a real-terms increase to the NHS and over £14bn to local government, which is a record level of funding. So I think in light of these really, really difficult challenges, we've done the best we can in the circumstances.”

Some groups have criticised ministers for pursuing the freeze, which will benefit all households including the wealthiest, instead of increasing the Scottish Child Payment to £30.

Oxfam Scotland described the government’s tax policy as “disjointed”, while the Child Poverty Action Group said it was “hard to understand why [this] government couldn’t choose to boost the incomes of our hardest-up families”.

But Robison said it was important to support households “across the board”, while also highlighting that the highest paid in Scotland would be paying additional tax under the new advanced band.

She added: “We've always expected those with the broadest shoulders to pay that bit more. If you look at the decisions that we made over the last few years, taken together that will mean £1.5bn of additional tax revenues available for the budget for next year that wouldn't have been there had we stuck with the UK Government tax plans.”

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