The Scottish Government has announced the remit and membership of the Commission on Local Tax reform. I am very pleased to have been nominated as a member of the Commission on Local Tax Reform and look forward to meeting the other Commissioners on Monday at our first meeting.

The Commission will be co-chaired by Local Government Minister Marco Biagi and President of COSLA Councillor David O’Neill. The Commission will meet for first time on February 23 and will report to the Scottish Government and COSLA in the autumn.

Marco Biagi said:

“The Scottish Government believes the current council tax system is unfair and we are acting on our manifesto commitment, and the recommendations of the Local Government and Regeneration Committee, to look at alternative approaches to local taxation.

“The Commission on Local Tax Reform will consider progressive, workable and fair systems, taking into account domestic and international evidence on tax powers and wealth distribution, the autonomy and accountability of local government and the impact on individuals who pay the tax.

“The members bring a broad range of expertise and experience and I look forward to starting this important work.”

David O’Neill said: “A great deal of work lies ahead, but this Commission is a chance to take a step back and think about the best way to pay for the local services that communities rely on every day.

“Across Scotland people are looking for the debate to break new ground, and that’s why I am determined that this Commission will be listening to people and organisations from all parts of the country, and setting out what it would take to give our local communities a real say about what matters most to them, and the best way to pay for it.”

The Commission’s Remit is:

“To identify and examine alternative systems of local taxation that would deliver a fairer system of local taxation to support the funding of services delivered by local government. In doing so, the Commission will consider:

  • The impacts on individuals, households and inequalities in income and wealth;
  • The wider macro-economic, demographic and fiscal impacts, including housing market and land use;
  • The administrative and collection arrangements that apply, including the costs of transition and subsequent operation;
  • Potential timetables for transition, with due regard to the 2017 Local Government elections.
  • The impacts on supporting local democracy, including on the financial accountability and autonomy of Local Government;
  • The revenue raising capacity of the alternatives at both local authority and national levels.

In conducting its work, the Commission will engage with communities across Scotland to assess public perceptions of the emerging findings and to reflect this evidence in its final analysis and recommendations.

The Commission will be supported by an independent secretariat comprising staff seconded from COSLA and the Scottish Government.

The membership is as follows (the Scottish Conservative Party has declined to take part).

  • Councillor Susan Aitken, SNP Local Government Convenor and Leader of SNP Group, Glasgow City Council;
  • Councillor Catriona Bhatia, Leader of Liberal Democrat Group and Deputy Leader, Scottish Borders Council;
  • Marco Biagi MSP, Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment (Co-Chair);
  • Councillor Angus Campbell, Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Leader of the Independent Group at COSLA;
  • Councillor Rhondda Geekie, Leader Of East Dunbartonshire Council and Leader of Labour Group at COSLA;
  • Dr Angela O’Hagan, Research Fellow in the Institute for Society and Social Justice Research and Convenor of the Scottish Women’s Budget Group;
  • Isobel d’Inverno, Convenor of the Tax Committee of the Law Society of Scotland and Director of Corporate Tax at Brodies LLP;
  • Mary Kinnonmonth, Manager of Dundee Citizens Advice Bureau and Member of Citizens Advice Scotland Board of Directors;
  • Dr Jim McCormick, Scotland Advisor, Joseph Rowntree Foundation;
  • Councillor David O’Neill, President of COSLA (Co-Chair);
  • Don Peebles, Head of CIPFA Scotland;
  • Alex Rowley, MSP for Cowdenbeath and Shadow Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment;
  • Andy Wightman, Writer and Researcher, representing the Scottish Green Party.

 

I will be using this blog to explore in an open manner some of the issues to be resolved in devising an enduring and robust system of local taxation. The focus is very much on what to replace the Council Tax with but of course that replacement could involve not just a better system of domestic property taxation but the repatriation of non-domestic rating, sales taxes, local income taxes and other sources of local finance.

I am very clear that we need a new system of local government finance. Any new property tax should be designed in such a way as to endure over the long-term. It should be more reflective of land and/or property values, more transparent and be capable of contributing a greater proportion of autonomous local finance than is currently the case. Local finance and taxation is a vital part of rebuilding and strengthening local democracy.

Finally, this job is unpaid. On the face of it, this means that I will have to inevitably devote less time some of my other unpaid work on, for example, land reform. However, I plan to launch a crowd-funding appeal soon that will allow me to continue (and indeed increase) the time I can devote to that topic in what is a vital year ahead.

Later this afternoon I will publish a link to the Commission’s website. Meanwhile I welcome all views on the challenge that lies ahead.

28 Comments

  1. Well Andy, much deserved for all your work over the years and after your shameful omission from the LRRG. I hope they have at least the decency to offer you fair expenses to cover costs.

  2. May I with all due humility offer the Commission the following advice:-

    1. Don’t try to pretend that whatever may be recommended to replace Council Tax is not a tax.
    2. Communicate in plain English rather than jargon or academic gobbledygook.
    3. If there is any “bad news” inherent in its proposals, then get it out there, be honest about it and explain why it is outweighed by other “good news” – don’t try to pretend the “bad news” doesn’t exist or try to hide it beneath incomprehensible jargon.
    4. Keep in mind the end result has to be sold to the electorate, not imposed upon them by decree because an august group considers it intellectually elegant.
    5. Above all, resist the temptation to treat the public like fools.

    Good luck.

  3. Andy

    Congratulations . Could not think of a better person to be appointed to the commission on local tax reform .

  4. Congrats. You’ll have to speak loudly to be heard in this large group. In my experience, not only the report has to be as good as possible, but the aftermath is equally important and must be followed up assiduously. Recommendations can be eviscerated by lobbyists and others when it comes before the Scottish Parliament for adoption. It will be delightful to receive your reports along the way of the Committee’s progress.

    • spot on George, there’s a variety of sectional interests who would like to see dilution at the very least.

  5. The govt must actually want this to work, unlike the AHRG.

  6. Well done Andy! Go for local share of income tax plus rates on sporting property and land value tax and aim to get 75% of revenue needs, john

    • and a fair rate of local income tax would be and why?

      • The majority of tax (not just income tax) really ought to be raised locally. It’s ridiculous and undemocratic that local government across Scotland now receives most of its money from central government; it means that they have effectively very little room to make local policy for local needs, as we’re seeing just now over the teachers issue.

        What we need is for the most prosperous local government areas to pay a subvention into a common pool from which the least prosperous areas would draw, but overall for all local government revenue to be raised at the local level.

        That would mean, of course, that local taxes would be very substantially higher – but it should also mean that central taxes would be very much lower. After all, most expenditure is local.

  7. Isobel MacLachlan

    Well done Andy !

  8. this should be interesting – lets hope you can keep them ‘on track’ to producing something worthwhile, and not another ‘fudge’ 🙂
    BRs
    Ian

  9. All strength to your elbow on this.

  10. Good to see your expertise recognised. Now look after yourself, as my mum would say, good folk are scarce.

  11. Best of luck Andy, and I’ve a few quid waiting here for your crowdfunding plans.

  12. Alister Rutherford

    Good luck with the commission. I do feel though that you cannot have a meaningful discussion of local finance without first determining what local government should do and what size of local governments we want.

    • This is true. But they have David O’Neil, who convened the Commission on Local Democracy as co-star, so they’re not going to miss these issues. I’m quite hopeful – which is unusual for me!

  13. Great contribution to the land tax reform conference on Wednesday . Wish you well on getting those ideas into the commission’s findings .