Invite to CSPP Members: Submission to Commission on Local Tax Reform
The current draft submission reads as follows:
The Commission on Local Tax Reform
Evidence Statement from the Centre for Scottish Public Policy
The Centre or Scottish Public Policy [cspp.org.uk] is an independent public policy think tank. Our unique voice stems from our cross party and no-party approach, as well as our membership base which includes individuals, trusts, public, private and voluntary organisations. We are a not for profit guarantee company.
This submission is made on behalf of the CSPP by Professor Richard Kerley, Chair of the Centre.
In terms of your evidence categorisation criteria:
- We are a Third Sector organisation;
- We are agreed that our response and web site address can be made public;
- We have in our membership and amongst supporters people living in various parts of Scotland. The largest number are located in the Central Belt.
We are delighted that the Scottish Government and COSLA have collaborated to create the Commission on Local Tax Reform [CLTR] and regret that one of the parties represented in the Scottish Parliament has chosen to absent itself from the discussions and debate.
We are encouraged by the creation of the CLTR as this matter has in the past proved in the more often be a matter for political evasion rather than serious and considered debate [and possible legitimate disagreement]. We therefore hope that the work you put in to this, and the evidence we have submitted to you, is treated appropriately by all parties in the Parliament. We hope this will not be dismissed in the manner the very substantial work and the serious conclusions of the Burt Committee were by both the largest parties represented at Holyrood back in 2007.
We are covering a range of matters here, and have not confined our comments to just a consideration of the approximately 18-20% of council income that is covered by the council tax, i.e. in gross terms only a little under £2bn last year compared to a total local government revenue spend much greater than that.
A major theme of the work of the CSPP, and a statement we often use, is to stress the importance of ‘people and place ‘.
There are clearly many ways of interpreting this phrase, but central to this theme is that for us great emphasis should be given to people determining what is, in their views, appropriate for their place – whether that place is the UK, Scotland, a given council area, or a community within that council area. Of course all of that has to be set in the context of shared rights, and the responsibilities we believe we all share to ensure equitable treatment of all peoples regardless of where they live.
1] For us, this is an argument for a default assumption that specific competences and decisions – e.g. on local tax levels, should be made as locally as possible. Local government data already shows that assessment of Scotland-wide per capita spend [excluding the Islands] ranges between a little over £2000 to a little over £3000. Such a variation on spend should logically be matched by a variation on local tax raising.
This is why we consider the current system of council tax, particularly with the current ‘freeze’ that will have been in place for 8 years by the next election, to be a flawed system.
The standstill on council tax levels is regressive, not providing material advantage to the lowest income households, and also infantilises local authorities and those who elect them by denying them options of specifically increasing local taxes to support proposed initiatives and expenditure.
2] It seems very limiting for the review to confine itself only to Council Tax [CT], particularly when the Chancellor in England has initiated a review of NDR [Non Domestic Rates]. Previous Scottish governments have followed NDR policies from England closely, and there are clear reference points here for the many multi-site businesses that operate across the UK; if this is not reviewed in Scotland there is a clear risk of the government being caught on the hop by an announcement in England [and Wales?].
We would urge the government to review NDR reach by, for example, ending agricultural and rural estate de-rating along with the de-rating for various other subjects that are category exempt from NDR.
We would also urge the government to re-localise NDR and enable councils to make choices on NDR that they consider appropriate to their areas, with a legislative requirement to consult with all representative business of organisations on proposed budget changes that impact on NDR.
If this were to happen then both CT and NDR, along with local fees and charges would approximate to some 60 % of local council spend and eco the kind of revenue raising financial balance likely to emerge from the current Scotland Bill .
3] Aspects of the Council Tax itself are flawed: this partly arises from the artificially created multipliers built into the original scheme; the failure to revalue since 1991, and the constrained banding. It also arises from the hybrid nature of the tax: it is partially a charge for services [hence the discount for 2nd homes and the reduction for solo occupancy]; partially a property tax; and partially income contingent [the rebate scheme].
We do favour a form of tax that relates to property. Property is the most substantial real asset most people own or enjoy and it would seem odd to have tax on it at all.
In the longer term we think there is a lot to be said for discussion about land value taxation, or a form of domestic property taxation based on capital values and annual percentage levies [a la Burt Report].
That may be too ambitious for agreement now, so in the meantime various changes could be made to the CT.
- Revaluation in the near future – and the creation of a formalised mandatory quinquennial review of domestic subject values to prevent future governments avoiding this sensible necessity.
- The extension of bands above H, and the precise number of bands, would depend upon the nature of the revaluation. One more band is not enough; while there may be little sympathy or people owning properties valued in excess of, say £1M, it would be equally as inequitable to lump them in with £5M + properties.
- The removal of the single person discount.
- The removal of discount for 2nd homes.
- Revaluation and therefore possible re-banding of improved or extended properties should be triggered on the issue of a completion certificate for building works, not – as at present – on future resale. Particularly in the period since 2008 – according to press reports and trade reports – there is a large backlog of extended properties that may not yet have been re-sold and hence revalued.
4] We also recommend a programme of public education and reference to experience in, say Wales, in relation to any suggested changes in banding and valuation. There appears to be a broadly held view that both equate to a massive increase in local taxation and the Welsh experience has shown that this is not the case.
CSPP Recommendations on Local Tax Reform in National Media
The CSPP’s draft submission, made available last week, received national media attention, with an article about the recommendations published in the Herald newspaper, and CSPP Chair Richard Kerley interviewed on Good Morning Scotland (01:36). Meanwhile, the CSPP spin out, Adopt an Intern, was featured in an article in the Scotsman about its contribution to graduate employment and the economy.
During his interview on Good Morning Scotland, Professor Richard Kerley was asked about the millions of pounds in savings that councils will be required to make in the next few years as a result of planned cutbacks in public spending decided at Westminster.
Professor Kerley gave his view that it would be hard for local authorities to “square the circle” of reducing staff numbers while maintaining the quality of local services in the face of rising demand.
The CSPP Chair, who is also a Professor Emeritus of Management at Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret University, said that funding pressures increased the need to find an alternative to the Council Tax in its current form, stating:
“Even if the standstill in the council tax were lifted tomorrow, barring some dramatically large increase in council tax levels, this would not address these kind of gaps in budgets. It [The situation] argues for a combination of further central government support, or a change in the mix of services that local authorities provide, or a shift in direct levels of taxation levied by local authorities”.
“What it means of course is that across the piece we can expect to see a trimming, a scraping and a re-shaping of services to narrow them down, and increases in charges”.
The CSPP’s submission to the Commission on Local Tax Reform suggests that councils should be given greater control over the money they raise, to be able to generate around 60% of their total budgets. This would include control over non-domestic rates and a reformed council tax, with the current system described as “flawed” and the freeze on rates “regressive”. The submission advocates revaluing properties to reflect current values and introducing perhaps three new bands including above the H band, among other measures.
In the longer term, the submission advocates a land or property value based tax instead of the current Council Tax, however recognises that this “may be too ambitious for any agreement now”.
As a guiding principle for local tax reform, the submission argues, “specific competences and decisions – e.g. on local tax levels, should be made as locally as possible”.
The CSPP’s final submission was created after receiving input from several of our members, who responded to a call for feedback on our draft submission. The CSPP is an independent, cross-party and no party think tank with a membership base which includes individuals, trusts, public, private and voluntary organisations.
Our work on local tax reform forms part of our wider focus on community empowerment, local democracy and innovation in public service delivery, in conjunction with our partner organisations.
CSPP Chair Highlights Unequal Engagement in Universal Public Services
16/4/15 (Centre for Scottish Public Policy) – CSPP Chair Professor Richard Kerley today highlighted the problem of unequal engagement in universal public services by different sectors of the population, which he described under the concept of “realised universalism”.
The issue was raised at a conference in Edinburgh today about how Scotland’s public services should respond to the challenges of “more powers and less money”, with the Scottish parliament’s budget to be cut at the same time as new powers contained in the Scotland Bill are set to be devolved.
Organised by MacKay Hannah, the conference brought together policy experts from a range of organisations and sectors, including keynote speaker Marco Biagi MSP, Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment.
CSPP Chair Richard Kerley was asked to speak on the Powers and Purpose panel, where among other issues he focused on the unequal participation of citizens in universal services.
“We have made a great deal of the virtues of universalism, yet the reality is that in a whole array of publically provided, no charge services, they are not realised by a universal population”, he said.
Examples given included lower university attendance by those from low income families, and how people from disadvantaged backgrounds have a lower opt-in rate to medical screening services.
The issue ties into the CSPP’s examination of how public service innovation, as part of a wider policy approach, can help reduce inequalities in life outcomes in Scotland. It is also part of the organisation’s policy work on issues pertaining to both ‘people’ and ‘place’ and how to better life quality and outcomes for all citizens.
The issue of inequalities in life expectancy and income was also treated by other speakers, with John McLaren of Fiscal Affairs Scotland arguing that reducing the life expectancy gap should be a primary goal of the Scottish parliament. Meanwhile, Alison Payne of Reform Scotland spoke of the need for greater lines of accountability and to overcome the “postcode lottery” by devolving more responsibilities to local authorities and communities.
Richard Kerley also used Donald Rumsfeld’s concept of “Known Knowns, Known Unknowns and Unknown Unknowns” to offer insight into different dimensions of how we think about public services, both in the short and longer term.
An example of a Known Known was that in some local authority areas both demography and workforce availability affect the delivery of services as much as funding pressures.
Meanwhile a Known Unknown was whether the integration of health and social care will have the desired results, with one possible effect being the withering of the role of health boards in some areas. Further, Unknown Unknowns include how differing trade practices, such as methods of notetaking between social workers and health practitioners, could have a practical implication for integration efforts.
For his part, Marco Biagi MSP said that in the face of spending cuts from Westminster, the Scottish Government seeks to “squeeze every last bit of value out of the resources that we have, and ensure that the devolution of more powers from Westminster to Holyrood also leads to the pushing out of power and influence to those most affected by decisions”.
Further, the minister argued that the Scottish approach to these challenges was “partnership working” between government, local authorities, and the private and third sectors. Other responses included a focus on prevention, performance and a focus on the people who deliver and receive services.
The conference “Scottish Government and Public Services: the challenges of more powers and less money” was chaired by Lynda Gauld of Baccus Consulting. For a full list of those who spoke see the MacKay Hannah website.
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