FIRST MINISTER Humza Yousaf is facing opposition from his own council members following the announcement of a council tax freeze in Scotland, which he failed to communicate to town halls in advance, The Telegraph reported.
Cosla, which represents Scottish councils, expressed “real anger” about this unexpected move, which was the most notable part of Yousaf’s inaugural SNP conference address as the leader.
With the first minister’s party anticipated to face substantial losses in the upcoming general election, he has reintroduced the freeze, previously initiated by Alex Salmond but discarded during Nicola Sturgeon’s tenure, as an attempt to win back support from middle-class Scots.
This marks a significant reversal from prior intentions to raise council tax rates by 7.5 to 22.5 per cent for properties in the top four bands, in addition to the across-the-board increases proposed by councils starting in April.
Shona Morrison, an SNP council member in Moray and the president of Cosla, has requested an urgent meeting with Yousaf and hinted at the possibility of refusing to implement his flagship policy.
While Yousaf has affirmed that the freeze will be “fully funded,” he has refrained from specifying the amount councils would receive if they agreed not to raise fees. Most councils had been planning for increases ranging from 5 to 10 per cent.
According to Morrison, “there is no agreement to freeze council tax next year; the decision to freeze council tax can only be made by councils.”
She emphasised the anger felt by cross-party group leaders after this announcement and the associated risks.
Cosla argued that this announcement contravened the Verity House Agreement signed by Yousaf with councils in June, which had promised a fiscal framework ensuring budgetary announcements would hold no surprises.
“We deplore the way the council tax announcement was made and its substance, both of which fly in the face of the Verity House Agreement which we all recently signed. Previous council tax freezes have proven to be regressive, offering no relief to the most economically disadvantaged while diminishing the council tax base, exacerbating ongoing underfunding issues for councils,” Morrison was quoted as saying.
Yousaf’s unexpected move is perceived as an effort to regain support from younger, aspirational voters who, according to research, are shifting their allegiance from the SNP to Labour.
Nevertheless, the Scottish government was already grappling with funding its current services, which became more challenging after it endorsed several generous pay agreements for public sector workers.
Yousaf explained that he aimed to assist individuals with “above average salaries” who were also confronting increasing expenses, particularly during the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.
He emphasised that the freeze on council tax was one way to alleviate the financial burden on these individuals.