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CSPP Recommendations on Local Tax Reform in National Media

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CSPP (22/6/15) - The Centre for Scottish Public Policy has submitted written evidence to the Commission on Local Tax Reform, arguing that councils should be given more control over local taxation.

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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.

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CSPP Chair Highlights Unequal Engagement in Universal Public Services

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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.

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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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Jobs cull and services hit predicted as Scotland's councils face £1billion black hole

CSPP Chair Professor Richard Kerley was cited in today’s Herald and Glasgow Evening Times on the need for councils to plan ahead for budget cuts as a result of the reduction in UK public spending. The article follows.

Herald / Evening Times (15/6/15) - THOUSANDS of jobs face the axe and a range of frontline local services reduced or withdrawn as new figures show Scotland's councils approaching a financial blackhole of around £1billion.

The Scottish Government's most up-to-date data on projected cuts to public spending shows it will have £2billion less over the next three years, with local government now bracing itself for the brunt of the burden.

If alternative savings cannot be found however the reduction to the Scottish budget would be around £3billion, with a deeper impact again on vital services such as care, schools, refuse collection.

Several councils have told The Herald, which today relaunches its Reshaping Scotland series, they are facing funding gaps between 2016 and 2019 in excess of what they had to deal with in the previous six years combined.

One leading political economist has warned the need for dramatic savings will mushroom after the current financial year, with funding for frontline services and salaries now expected to feel the impact.

Professor John McLaren, who heads think tank Fiscal Affairs Scotland, said: "Scotland, like the UK, is only around a half of the way through the cuts to public services process initiated by the UK government

"Unlike the earlier years it is expected to be day-to-day spending budgets, rather than capital/investment budgets, that take the hits in the coming years

"At over -5 per cent in each of the next two years, the cuts in spending could be over double the average size seen in the past four years.

"As the NHS budget will continue to be protected the position for all other public service budgets will involve even bigger cuts."

Since 2010 councils have received £800million less in real terms in their grants, with over 40,000 posts removed through voluntary redundancies, natural wastage and internal changes to how they do business .

The imminent cuts to schools' and social work budgets, home helps, parks, libraries, refuse collection and even environmental health services also come amid record levels of demand, an increasing elderly population, high energy prices, debt repayments and wage rises.

Evidence from England, where councils have had their spending power reduced by a third since 2010, has shown how they have had to refocus priorities to cope with the impact of cuts sparked by the reaction to the collapse of the banks on their poorest citizens.

Watchdogs have already warned in recent months that most Scottish councils have failed to make long-term plans for the financial precipice ahead.

With the need for reforming councils again falling under the spotlight, The Herald today asks what national and local government is doing to protect the millions of citizens who rely on their vital local services from the oncoming cuts.

Sir John Arbuthnott, who led an aborted attempt to restructure core council services in the country's most densely populated area, the Clyde Valley, over five years ago, said: "With the financial pressure ahead, we know what is needed and further change has to happen soon. The pace remains extremely slow.

"With elections forthcoming in May next year, let us see clear plans at national level and delivery by local government."

Professor Richard Kerley, of Edinburgh's Queen Margaret University, a leading expert on local government, added: "Plans need to be made now for next year and the year after that. All these changes required by public authorities take a longer amount of time than people think and it’s much easier for trading organisations.

"This should have started long ago, some have but many haven't. All will be required to make significantly different choices in the few years ahead."

 

   

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